Struggle, Survive, and Thrive

Our history is rooted in the quest for a better life.


Galleon Trade

Pre 1900

1587: On October 18, 1587 the first Filipinos in North America land at Morro Bay, near present day San Luis Obispo, CA.

1763: Nearly two centuries later, Filipino sailors who were part of the Spanish galleon trade escape enslavement and settle in Saint Moro, Louisiana. Dubbed the “Manila Men in Louisiana” they establish fishing villages along the bayou.

Spanish Colonization and Filipino American War and Occupation

1800’s to Early 1900’s

1888: Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal travelled throughout the world on his campaign for Philippine independence from Spain. On April 28, Rizal arrives at the Palace Hotel on New Montgomery and Market Streets, San Francisco. A plaque on the hotel site currently stands acknowledging his stay.

1896: The Katipunan led by Andres Bonifacio launches Philippine revolution against Spanish colonialism, mobilizing resistance throughout the archipelago and driving the Spanish out in many parts of the islands.

1898: May 31, the Battle of Manila Bay between Spain and the United States results in Spain’s surrender. The Dewey Monument, a large Corinthian column in the middle of Union Square in SF, commemorates Admiral Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay. On December 10, the Treaty of Paris is signed by Spain and the U.S. ceded the Philippines for $20 million, marking the end of the Spanish-American War. This launches the American occupation of the Philippines and signals the birth of the United States as an imperial power.

1899-1902: Built on Ramaytush Ohlone land, San Francisco’s Presidio military base serves as the principal port of embarkation deploying 126,000 soldiers to fight in the American invasion of the Philippines. 1:50 American to Filipino soldiers lost their life in this war. General Jacob H. Smith orders his soldiers to kill all Filipinos over the age of 10, resulting in over 250,000 Filipino civilian deaths. Subsequent waves of Filipino immigration to the U.S. and San Francisco are directly rooted in the colonial and neo-colonial relations of the two countries.

Manongs and Manangs: United Farm Workers (Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz), Gran Oriente & Victoria Manalo Draves

1900- 1950’s

Due to demand for low-wage labor for the agricultural industry, young Filipinos or sakadas are recruited from the Philippines to work in Hawaii, Alaska, and throughout California. By 1930, over 30,000 Filipino men work in farms and canneries, picking fruits and vegetables across farms in Salinas, Watsonville, Modesto and Delano. They face harsh working conditions, brutal discrimination and race riots. Anti-miscegenation law prevents them from marrying outside their race and many remain single until their twilight years.

In the 1920’s, The Caballeros de Dimas-Alang, derived from freemasonry, is incorporated as a non-profit organization in California. Around the same time, 40 Filipino Merchant Marines belonging to the Gran Oriente Filipino Masonic lodge pull their resources together to purchase property in the South Park neighborhood of SoMa including the Gran Oriente Filipino Hotel -- a place that continues to be the home of elderly Filipinos today.

Victoria Manalo Draves, a Filipino-Irish woman who grew up in South of Market (also known as SoMa), becomes the first American woman of Asian descent to win an Olympic Medal and the first female diver to win two gold medals at the Olympics, winning both the Platform and Springboard events at the London Games in 1948.

Manilatown: I-Hotel, Kearny Street Workshop, Third World Liberation Movements


Filipinos play active and critical roles in the Third World Liberation Movements, the Third World Strike at San Francisco State University, and within a rising Asian-American movement of social consciousness. From 1968-1977, activists like Bill Sorro and Al Robles help lead the organizing of tenants, artists and activists to save Manilatown: a 10-block radius of low cost housing and family-owned businesses centered on Kearny, Bush and Jackson Streets, and home to 10,000 Filipinos. It was also home to Kearny Street Workshop, the first Asian-American arts nonprofit in the U.S.

1977: On August 4, 400 riot police confront 3,000 protesters forming a human barricade to protect the International Hotel, remembered fondly as the “I-Hotel”, sparking a tenants rights movement across the U.S. The fall of the I-Hotel as the last stand of Manilatown also signals the shift of the Filipino community to SoMa.

Urban Redevelopment, Yerba Buena Displacement, Pistahan

1960’s- 1980’s

1961: The City’s redevelopment of SoMa to to build the Yerba Buena Center, The Moscone Center, and the Yerba Buena cultural/art facilities to attract businesses and tourists displace nearly 4,000 elders, retirees, Filipinos and other working class people. Residents organize against urban renewal and form what is now known as Tenants and Owners Development Corporation (TODCO) which successfully fought to have replacement low-income senior housing built to offset the destruction of existing housing. Community organizers also pushed for the naming of streets in the area after important figures in Filipino liberation struggle such as Rizal, Mabini, Lapu-Lapu, Bonifacio, and Tandang Sora located between 3rd and 4th streets, and between Folsom and Harrison streets.

By 1993, the annual celebration of Pistahan at the Yerba Buena Gardens celebrates Filipino culture, performances, food, trade and crafts, quickly growing into a yearly gathering for Filipino families across the greater Bay Area and Northern California regions.

Families & Culture: FEC ‘69, Westbay ‘77, Kularts ‘85, TnT ‘89

Post ‘65 Family Reunification Act

The Immigration Act of 1965 abolishes a discriminatory National Origins quota system and allows for the new influx and ongoing migration of Filipino families to the United States and San Francisco.

1969: the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) establishes the Filipino Education Center (FEC) as a legacy of the Bilingual Education Act. FEC moves to its site on 824 Harrison Street in 1977 from Bessie Carmichael School.

1977: Six Filipino community organizations are consolidated and form the West Bay Pilipino Multi-Service becoming a 501 c(3) non-profit organization on October 21.

1985: Robert L. Henry, Marcella Pabros and Alleluia Panis form Kulintang Arts Inc., commonly known as Kularts-SF. Originally established to support the Kulintang Arts Ensemble, Kularts-SF emerges as a premiere arts and cultural institution in the City, playing a vital role in developing contemporary art with indigenous Pilipino practices.

1986: Mabuhay Gardens, a Filipino-owned club located at 443 Broadway in North Beach, known for its influence in the punk and new wave scenes goes out of business.

1989: Teatro ng Tanan (Theater for Everyone) is established by the Marasigan family along with Chris Millado of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA of Manila). Bindlestiff Studio, a black box theater, is also established.

Resistance and Resilience against Profit Over People: 1st Dot Com Boom, Legacy Businesses Pushed Out


1992: Tongue in A Mood, a Filipino American sketch comedy group, forms.

1994: United Playaz (UP) is established as a violence prevention and youth development organization. Located at 1038 Howard Street, UP provides a range of services to prepare youth for higher education, employment, and healthy living within a safe, nurturing and collaborative environment.

1997: The Delta Hotel burns down. Home to many Filipino WWII vets, owner Dr. Mario Borja negotiates with TODCO to purchase the site, developing affordable housing and allocating the ground floor as a dedicated community space for Filipino seniors and immigrant families. The Filipino-American Development Foundation (FADF) is established and develops the space as the Bayanihan Community Center (BCC).

1998: Filipinos take over management of Bindlestiff Studio at the Plaza Hotel on 6th and Howard, where the PinoisePop Music Festival occurs the same year. The theater is dubbed the epicenter of Filipino-American performing arts.

1998: Due to the influx of Filipino WWII vets immigrating to SF, the Task Force Veterans Equity forms to provide services and advocate for the rights and benefits of Filipino vets. The task force becomes the Veterans Equity Center (VEC) in 1999, providing housing application assistance, counseling, legal referral services and case management. VEC rebrands as Bayanihan Equity Center in 2018.

The late 90s brings the first dot com boom that takes over the South of Market, with offices pushing out long-term Filipino small businesses and arts organizations. The Filipino community launches the Save the Mint Mall campaign, exposing illegal conversions of retail to office use and resulting in long-term leases for Arkipelago Books and New Filipinas restaurant, now known as JT’s Restaurant.

People Power Prevails: Bessie Carmichael/FEC, Galing Bata, FADF, VMD, BCC, VEC/BEC, SOMCAN, Bindlestiff re-opening


2000: The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency (SFRA) buys the Plaza Hotel, planning demolition of Bindlestiff Studio. South of Market Action Network (SOMCAN) forms to address gentrification and displacement issues.

2001: To save the Filipino Education Center (FEC) site at 824 Harrison, FEC-Galing-Bata (Gabay-Lingap Bantay- Bata or Quality Children) is established to provide bi-lingual afterschool programming for Filipino youth.

2003: Workshops for creating Parol (star shaped holiday lanterns) become an annual tradition in South of Market. The Parol Stroll Festival is a Christmas season event -- a community parade from Yerba Buena Gardens to St. Patrick’s Church.

2003-2006: SOMCAN leads community efforts saving Trinity Plaza tenants -- mostly elderly low-income residents and families -- from eviction, preserving hundreds of units slated for demolition and securing housing for existing Trinity tenants.

2004: After decades of community campaigning, a new Bessie Carmichael Elementary School opens on 7th Street. A year later, Bessie / FEC expands from grade K-5 to K-8, and a middle school is constructed.

2005: In November, FADF opens the Bayanihan House and Community Center on Mission & 6th Street to Filipino immigrant families and seniors. It currently houses Arkipelago Books, Kularts, and the Bayanihan Equity Center.

2006: The community pushes SFUSD and SF Rec and Parks Departments for open space at the old Bessie Carmichael Elementary site to recognize Victoria Manalo Draves as a community shero. Named Victoria Manalo Draves Park, two acres of public open space debuts with a community-led ribbon cutting graced by the park’s namesake.

2011: SFRA includes new theater build out with community push, and Bindlestiff reopens at 185 6th Street on September 15.

Stand Up, Fight Back: 2nd Tech Boom, Displacement Census, Cultural District Designation


2016: SOMA Pilipinas is officially recognized by the City of San Francisco as SF’s Filipino Cultural Heritage District, under the leadership of the Filipino-American Development Foundation. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 5,000 Filipino-Americans call this area their home. The Filipino population in SoMa has been cut in half over the last 10 years, and the formation of the Cultural District is a proactive initiative effort to protect our communities, preserve our culture, heritage and cultural assets. SoMa is a place made possible because of our community's struggle and resilience to make a home here along with the leadership of women, workers, artists, youth, seniors and immigrant families. SOMA Pilipinas embraces the spirit of bayanihan: the collective determination to honor and make history, build community and progress forward.

2017: SOMA Pilipinas is recognized by the State of California as 1 of 14 Cultural Districts by the California Arts Council, cited as a cultural, social, arts, and service hub for Filipinos throughout Northern California.

Designing Our District - Being Proactive


2016: A progress report is submitted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as a result of a legislatively-created working group tasked with devising strategies in conjunction with the community stakeholders and city agencies to build out a master plan for SOMA Pilipinas. Since then, a series of events to survey the community and brainstorm plans and strategies in the areas of technology, urban design, land use, economic & workforce development, arts & culture and neighborhood services & action continue to take place, developing a final master plan that is meant to serve and strengthen SoMa’s culture and community.

2017: Kultivate Labs launches its first UNDSCVRD SF Filipino Night Market at the SF Mint, occurring monthly between August and November. Its main goal is to incubate and build a new commercial corridor of Filipino businesses in the district by 2020. It attracted over 10,000 people to it's opening night.

2018: Filipino Mental Health Initiative (FMHI-SF) completes the first SOMA Pilipinas mural through community led workshops; it is titled “Kapwa Rising” and located atop Filipina owned Mestiza Taqueria at 595 Bryant.

Building Our Future

With the launch of new branding, SOMA Pilipinas builds greater awareness about the cultural district with pole banner campaigns. By bridging community and civic engagement to emphasize self determination in an ever changing neighborhood, SOMA Pilipinas strives to honor the rich legacy of those who came before us. SOMA Pilipinas was selected in Spring of 2018 by the National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” program to develop the public arts and place-making component of the cultural district, heightening the visibility of the historical and present day contributions of SoMa residents, workers, families, artists, youth and elders.

2020 and beyond: Public art including murals, plaques, sculptures and placemakers are currently in the works. Special crosswalks with Filipino-inspired designs will be unveiled on 6th street and Folsom and Howard Street, both major corridors of the cultural district.

Future plans also include establishing arts, neighborhood services and business corridors within the district.