Pistahan & SOMA Pilipinas: A Testament to the Resilience of the Filipino community

Pistahan & SOMA Pilipinas a Testament to the Resilience of the Filipino community 


Rachel Lastimosa, Arts & Culture Administrator, SOMA Pilipinas

Steve Rubenstein’s article – edited since published – painted the largest Asian population in California with insensitive broad strokes referring to participants as being “Filipinos-for-a-day”. Although Filipino is the third-most spoken language in the State, we must continue to assert our history and contributions from being overlooked or undermined, as with Filipino farmworkers who led the great grape boycotts in the 1960s.  And as we do here, in response to Mr. Rubenstein’s article, a derivative of the Chronicle’s 1905 piece “Head-Hunting Igorrotes Here” reporting a display of Indigenous Filipinos, uprooted and forced to recreate a village on Market Street as an attraction for the World’s Fair. Rubenstein reported that Pistahan parade participants “banged on drums, danced, twirled sticks” but were unsuccessful in drawing numbers equal to Pride and St. Patrick’s Day parades. He failed to mention that the Filipino population in SOMA has been cut in half due to gentrification; that after displacement of Filipinos in the 70’s from the I-Hotel, the center of the Filipino community moved to SOMA – and again faced displacement when 700 homes were razed at what’s now the Yerba Buena Gardens. He failed to research that the Pistahan Parade and Festival occurs on the second weekend of August to commemorate the hundreds of immigrant families driven out of said gardens in the name of urban renewal – echoed by recent projects like the $1 billion 5M site, home of the SF Chronicle, which recently broke ground despite strong community opposition.

In 2018, the City’s Cultural District Legislation to counteract displacement of marginalized communities included SOMA Pilipinas -- designated in 2016 by SF, and 2017 by California. These designations come after decades of unrecognized Filipino contributions in the economic, political and cultural life of SOMA and the City.  For 17 years running, the SF Parol Lantern Festival brings light to Jessie Square every December; Bindlestiff Studio, the only theater in the U.S. for Filipino arts, turns 30 this year. Twenty-year old Arkipelago Books is one of just two distributors of Filipino titles in the nation. And WestBay Pilipino Multi-Service Center just celebrated 50 years of service in the community. Such a legacy is not built by being “Filipino for a day.”

Through cultural celebration, direct services,  public art, and policy activism, the Filipino community protects our neighborhood and builds community as exemplified when more than 100 youth, artists, service providers and residents spoke at City Hall to stop luxury housing from shadowing our beloved Victoria Manalo Draves Park, named for a Filipina SOMA resident who was the first Asian-American woman to win Olympic gold. Last week, Bindlestiff hosted a vigil for SF native Brandon Lee – the human rights defender shot in the Philippines and currently in critical condition in Luzon. Our community is active, engaged, and rooted deeply in our culture as well as the City.

SOMA Pilipinas lifts up the work that has made the South of Market a cultural hub and source of pride for Filipinos nationwide – as Flora Tsapovsky reported on Undiscovered Night Markets in the Chronicle last month. Our history and current place in San Francisco is made visible through policy advocacy and political activism.  We invite Steve Rubentstein, Chronicle editors, and staff to join an ethnotour of our district so that future articles about Filipinos are grounded in equity, racial sensitivity, and research of a thriving community that’s much more than “the smell of lumpia.” Tours can be booked at: https://www.somapilipinas.org/ethnotour

Paul Barrera