Ten blocks were forced into one as Manilatown, San Francisco experienced a devastating loss of culture in the 1970s. When San Francisco’s push for “urban renewal” threatened a community of Pilipinx people living in the International Hotel, also known as the I-Hotel, coalitions organized together in an attempt to save it.
About 50 students explored the enduring issue of housing and the lasting legacy of Pilipinx activism during a film screening of “The Fall of the I-Hotel” on May 10 at the College Nine Namaste Lounge. A panel discussion with UC Santa Cruz professors Karen Tei Yamashita and Christine Hong followed the screening. Yamashita, a professor of literature at UCSC, wrote a novel called “I-Hotel” about the 10-year struggle to save the building from demolition.
The film screening was organized by Anakbayan Santa Cruz and the Colleges Nine & Ten CoCurricular Programs Office, and co-sponsored by the Student Union Housing Working Group (SUHWG) and Students United with Renters (SUR). Anakbayan is a student-led organization that promotes progressive politics in the Philippines and around the world.
“Anakbayan’s main goals do not directly focus on housing injustices, but our mission statement very clearly calls us to fight against oppressive structures of power that exploit communities,” said second-year student Mikayla Ann Aruta Konefał, who organized the event.
The I-Hotel was a low-income residential hotel in the heart of San Francisco’s Manilatown. Many of the Pilipinx tenants who lived in the I-Hotel were retired laborers who lived in the single-room-occupancy residential hotel for more than 45 years.
On Aug. 4, 1977, when police enforced a court-ordered eviction notice, thousands of grassroots activists stood in defiance to push back against the gentrification of Manilatown.
Twenty years after the hotel was demolished, the International Hotel was rebuilt in 2005 as a senior living center. A mural on the hotel’s wall commemorates the former residents’ struggle for affordable housing.
Konefał, co-coordinator for the five-unit class Pilipinx Historical Dialogue (PHD) and a member of Anakbayan Santa Cruz, spearheaded the event with the support of PHD’s class sponsor professor Christine Hong.
Because May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Anakbayan hoped to use the film screening of “I-Hotel” to shed light on Pilipinx history and to honor the struggle of generations of displacement. Anakbayan intended to dispel the notion that Asian Americans, specifically Pilipinx people, are not politically active and have no history of organized resistance.
“The repoliticization of Asian Americans is really important,” said Thảảo Lê, a third-year transfer student at UCSC.
Lê, the housing coordinator for SUHWG, is involved with various housing organizations in the area, such as SUR and Movement for Housing Justice. They were galvanized to organize around issues of housing injustice based on their experiences as a people of color living in proximity to precarious housing conditions.
“Our families have been displaced from our home countries and for our communities here to have to go through the same thing, it’s full circle,” Lê said. “Issues of gentrification are very present in our community.”
Students, laborers, revolutionaries and religious leaders from across the Bay Area came together in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s to organize as a united front when the tenants of the I-Hotel were threatened with eviction.
Angela Tulio, an organizer with SUHWG, SUR and Anakbayan said there aren’t enough on-campus resources offered to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AA/PI).
Political events, like Anakbayan’s screening of “The Fall of the I-Hotel,” represent an enduring legacy of action and a strong commitment to fighting for change, Tulio said, and events like this provide the AA/PI community with an opportunity to come together.
Tulio, Lê, Mikayla Ann Aruta Konefał and countless other student activists have been mobilized in part by the history of those who came before them.
“It’s so important to realize that the struggles each of us face, although they may be different in physical tangibility, are connected to larger systems of oppression,” Tulio said. “When we realize that, we can build a stronger movement.”