Remembering the Manongs of Manilatown

by Miko Santos/AJPress
SAN FRANCISCO – As you come in to the exhibit area of Manilatown Heritage Foundation in the International Hotel in downtown San Francisco, an overwhelming sense of history, both beautiful and sad hangs in the air.


Haunting black and white photographs line the gallery depicting the life and struggle of Manilatown’s former denizens centering on the tenants of the old International Hotel.

The photos include some very beautiful and sad images and stories in the captions: a photo of a distinguished Filipino gentleman and his band, an old man waiting by the stairs, photos of the elderly folk just ravaged with decades of labor and illness.

The exhibit entitled Manongs of Manilatown: The Inspiration of Al Robles, displays rarely seen photographs of Filipino elders by Tony Remington, Chris Huie and others.

Robles, renowned FilAm poet and activist, has dedicated his life to these elderly veteran community members, roaming single occupancy hotels and taking manongs to appointments, bringing them lunch and listening to their stories. He is the link to the disappearing “manong” generation, the bachelor society that came from the Philippines in the 1920s and ’30s as workers. He records, interprets, and channels their stories.

Throughout the mid-twentieth century, the International Hotel was home to elderly “manong” Filipino soldiers who served the United States in World War II and farm workers from Salinas, Watsonville, Stockton and Delano.

In 1977, after almost nine years of court battles and community protests, the manongs were evicted from the I-Hotel leaving many of them with nowhere to live. The event became a kind of civil rights struggle that galvanized Filipinos and other Asian-Americans. Thousands protested to block the eviction.

The show will run from July 26 through September 6 during regular gallery hours Tuesday to Saturday, 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.

The next event, at the International Hotel on August 9, will feature a poetic documentary, Time Travel with Al Robles, by Curtis Choy.

(www.asianjournal.com)

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