40th Anniversary Eviction Commemoration

Friday August 4th, 2017 at 6pm
International Hotel Manilatown Center
868 Kearny Street, San Francisco

“And Still We Rise”
– Bill Sorro, I-Hotel Tenant Activist

Commemoration Program

  • Opening Remarks: Tony Robles, Manilatown Heritage Foundation Board of Directors President
  • Unveiling of Chewang chi Biyeg Tapestry: Kalinga Master Weaver Jenny Bawer Young and the Kalingafornia Laga Apprentices
  • Original Defenders Panel moderated by Journalist Emil Guillermo: 
    • Emil DeGuzman, I-Hotel Tenants Association President
    • Estella Habal, Author “San Francisco’s International Hotel: Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement”
    • Pam Tau-Lee, Co-Founder Chinese Progressive Association
    • Juanita Tamayo-Lott
  • Screening of “The Fall of the I-Hotel” with Director Curtis Choy
  • Current Housing Rights Activists Panel moderated by Joy Ng, Veterans Equity Center
    • Angelica Cabande, Organizational Director of South of Market Community Action Network
    • Theresa Imperial, Veterans Equity Center Housing Case Manager
    • Tony Robles, Senior & Disability Action Housing Organizer
  • Candlelight Vigil led by Emil DeGuzman
  • Also featuring Tony Remington‘s Exhibition, “Launching Point: Portraits of the Manilatown Manongs

Urban Renewal

“This land is too valuable to let poor people park on it.”  So said Justin Herman, Executive Director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, in 1977 to give credibility to the “urban renewal” project in San Francisco that sought to buy up buildings and evict people who were poor, old, black and brown.  In the Fillmore, it was known as the “negro removal” plan and in downtown San Francisco, the International Hotel of Manilatown, became the center of the movement against ideologies like those of Justin Herman.  The longest eviction battle to date was one result of this movement. The commitment to affordable housing and the fight for social justice in the Filipino and Asian communities was another.  The story of the I-Hotel is one of great significance as we enter a more modern era of gentrification in the city.

The I-Hotel

The International Hotel was a low-income residential hotel that became the most dramatic housing-rights battleground in San Francisco history. As a center for Filipino and Asian American activism in the 1970s, the building housed nearly 150 Filipino and Chinese seniors, three community groups, an art workshop, a radical bookstore and three Asian newspapers.  The I-Hotel stood on the last remaining block of Manilatown, a once-thriving Filipino neighborhood that was gradually displaced by San Francisco’s expanding financial district.

The Fall and Rise

From 1968 to 1977, landlords of the hotel tried to evict the residents and build a parking lot.  Resisting eviction for almost a decade, the tenants organized a mass-based, multiracial alliance which included students, unions and churches.  During the final 3am eviction on August 4, 1977, over 3,000 people unsuccessfully defended the I-Hotel from hundreds of club-wielding riot police.  The building was demolished in 1979, and it remained a vacant hole for over two decades.  Thanks to a concerted effort by local neighborhood groups, the I-Hotel was rebuilt in 2005, providing 104 units of low-income senior housing and the International Hotel Manilatown Center to continue the legacy of Manilatown.

The Fall of the I-Hotel

Director Curtis Choy’s The Fall of I-Hotel is the classic documentary on the I-Hotel Struggle.  Released in 1983, it interweaves interviews with the elderly Filipino Manongs and government officials with a history of Filipinos in the United States and documentation of the I-Hotel political protest itself.  Narrated by Al Robles.

Chewang chi Biyeg

The tapestry entitled Chewang chi Biyeg (River of Life in the Kalinga language) illustrates the Kalinga people’s victorious struggle against planned dam projects on the Chico River in the Cordillera Region of the Philippines during the 1960s-1980s. The Chico River is considered the lifeblood of the Cordillera people, traversing villages, ancient rice terraces, and sacred burial grounds – many of which would have been destroyed by the dams.  Our tapestry connects this struggle for ancestral domain to the I-Hotel Eviction Struggle, which was first and foremost a struggle to keep one’s home.  This depiction and honoring of both Struggles was a year-long community engagement project of the Manilatown Heritage Foundation and Kalingafornia Laga that incorporated free community backstrap weaving workshops at the International Hotel Manilatown Center and the creative efforts of the Mabilong Weavers of Lubuagan, Philippines, Kallinga Master Weaver Jenny Bawer Young, and Ms. Young’s Bay Area apprentices.  Chewang chi Biyeg was made possible in part by a grant from the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund that also is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 


Launching Point: Portaits of the Manilatown Manongs
Tony Remington Artist Statement

From 1977 to 1981 I worked with Al Robles, during the post-Manilatown era. I worked as an unskilled laborer, helping in post-Manilatown’s kitchen, delivering meals to home-bound seniors and occasionally as a senior escort. I used to joke with Al, asking questions I didn’t expect answers to.

       “What’s going to change the world?” I asked.
        Without hesitation and very seriously Al responded, “Artists!”
       “What is fine art?” I asked.
        Again without hesitation “The Manongs!”

Reflecting on those days, the legend of Al Robles . . . I was recently struck by this quote from The Golden Age of Zen, by John C.H. Wu. He translated  the Two Fold Path, Bodhidharma’s only writing. Where the wall gazing sage of Ch’an Buddhism pointed out his second approach to the Tao and Truth, point number four in Bodidharma’s By Way of Conduct – The Rule of Accord with Dharma:

“As there is no shadow of pusillanimity in the whole body of the Dharma, so the 
 wise are ever ready to put their body, life, and property at the service of charity, 
 never ceasing to be generous and gracious.”

As I read that I immediately thought of Al.

In a conversation with Caroline Cabading, she pointed out, “. . . the arrival of the 1920s Manong generation was the launching point from which Filipino Americans were able to soar in this country. Everything that we have accomplished we owe to this first major immigration wave.”

With humility I exhibit my work, as there are many more deserving. My only pretense is to dissolve into the anonymity of an evolving collective consciousness. That would be enough, from “launching point” an abundance of new beginnings for us all.

I-Hotel Speaks presents
Manong Al Robles’ Happy 75th B-Day

I-Hotel Speaks remembers our beloved Manongs Al Robles and Bill Sorro at Uncle Al’s 75th Birthday Celebration in the basement of the Mint Mall. Please Click here to view Manong Al Robles’ Happy 75th B-Day. Maybe you were even in this fun video? Current Manilatown Heritage Foundation Board Members Tony, Caroline and Carmen were surprised to find themselves in it . . . before we even knew each other!

I-Hotel Speaks presents
Legacy: The Photographs of Chris Fujimoto

Chris Fujimoto was a Kearny Street Workshop photographer who worked closely with Manilatown Activist and Poet Al Robles to photograph in particular the tenants of the Manilatown/Chinatown SROs.  Chris began taking his photographs in 1971 in the social documentary style.  The MHF Archive collection is composed of pre-eviction, eviction and post-eviction images. Photos include rallies in front of the International Hotel, Manong Wahat Tampao, marches through Chinatown, fundraising events, the party before the closing of the St. Paul Hotel, the party before the closing of the Luck “M” Pool Hall, and Al Robles with Manong Ted Daluyot at St. Paul Hotel. There are also images of the demonstrators locked arm-in-arm and six layers deep in front of the Kearny Street Workshop. Click here to view Legacy: The Photographs of Chris Fujimoto.