Zialcita, Carlos

Manilatown Blues

Walking towards Manilatown

struck by the loneliness of the streets

crowded with people

yet no one speaks

A stranger in my city

I feel all alone

headed for Kearny & Jackson

A place I call home

they call to me

the voices of the manongs

in the International Hotel

in this morning of winter

the stories I hear

are clear as a bell

I can smell the lumpa & adobo

The strings of a lonely guitar

the stories feel sad this winter

(c)2014 Carlos Zialcita

The Mabuhay Restaurant

My early memories of Manilatown go back to when I was about 12 years old. Some friends of my family—one in particular I called Auntie Pat—owned a small restaurant on Kearny Street next to a pool hall and barbershop. I remember eating there with family and seeing the bustling Filipino enclave called Manilatown. I never called it that—we simply referred to the neighborhood as Kearny Street.

Years later I would frequent Kearny Street again, with most of my visits culminating at the Mabuhay Restaurant owned by Ness Aquino. Memories of my family and childhood in the Philippines would immediately be present in my mind as I saw the bamboo and rattan furniture and smell of delicious Filipino food served daily in this Kearny Street oasis.

It was more than just the food. It was the sound of Tagalog and other Filipino languages being spoken in a manner that resonated deeply in my heart. The unique brand of humor and laughter present in all conversations and of course decoration with our very special accent that speaks loudly to all of us.

Fore years, in between living in other cities and parts of San Francisco, the Mabuhay Restaurant would be my way of “coming home”–to reconnect with present with my past. To my shock, I would come back to a hold in the ground—and feel that a part of me had been surgically removed.