It was the night of August 4th, 1977. “We won’t move. We won’t move.” Thousands of protesters gathered in San Francisco. And formed a human barricade around this building to protect its residents. “The police are on their way now. The police are on their way.” It was about 11:00 o’clock. And some inside person called us and said they must be doing something, The eviction is probably going to happen. “Hundreds of police in riot gear forced their way into a condemned hotel in San Francisco today.” “Demonstrators formed a human barricade but it did not prevent police from using clubs and night sticks.” “Their orders: evict the last of the people living there.” For nearly ten years, this building, known as the International Hotel, had been at the heart of a historic battle for fair housing in San Francisco. This is not just an ordinary building. You know, blood was spilled, battles were fought right on that street. It housed hundreds of Filipinos who fought for their right to have a place to call home, in a city where they’d lived for decades. What happened that night changed the community and the shape of the city, forever. While it’s is now a part of Chinatown — this area of San Francisco used to be “Manilatown,” one of the country’s first Filipino American communities. But it wasn’t your typical immigrant community. It was made up of mostly men. And that stemmed from a relationship between the US and the Philippines that ran deep. After a brutal war over a century ago, the US colonized the Philippines and controlled it up until 1946. During that period, two major waves of Asian immigration occurred in the US: first Chinese, and then largely Japanese migrants came to the US to work in mines, factories, on railroads and on farms. But over time both Chinese and Japanese immigrants faced racist backlash — and were eventually barred from entering the country. That created a demand for cheap labor, so
the US turned to a new group: Filipinos. “For the work is hard. And Filipinos and Mexicans are strong and can do it better.” In the 1920s and 30s, the prospect of financial security lured over 100,000 Filipino men to the US. When the U.S. took over the Philippines, they were American nationals. They felt like they were living the American dream. But the reality of it was that they were extremely exploited and wages were really low. Exploitation had many forms. One of the most damaging repercussions for Filipino men settling in the US was isolation. US policies kept the workers from bringing
their families over… and also stopped them from marrying white women. They didn’t build roots. I call it social castration, but this was a way of again trying to keep them under control and being able to abuse their lives. Then that’s where the gender imbalance begins. Many of the Filipino men settled along the West Coast. In San Francisco, about 30,000 of them, started forming a community here on a 10-block stretch — right along the spine of Chinatown on Kearny Street. It was the start of Manilatown. Outside of this area – Filipino workers found it hard to find any affordable housing… and that was by design. The city, at large, was strictly racially segregated. As soon as they crossed the borders of Manilatown — like here, past Broadway and into surrounding white communities — they were shut out, and denied apartments. And even if you walked two blocks that way you could get beat up, even killed. They had white vigilante groups that would hunt them down, try to take them out of town, murder them. That forced Filipino men to stay within the boundaries of Manilatown. But despite the constraints, they found a way to build a home for themselves. By the 1950s, they were part of an entire generation of aging men, who lived out their lives in the US. They were called the Manong generation. Manong is a Filipino word. It’s a sign of
endearment and respect, to an older person In San Francisco’s Manilatown, many of the manongs ended up living in residential hotels like this one called the International Hotel, or I-Hotel. The I-Hotel housed nearly 200 people — largely Filipino men, but some Chinese men, and women, too. They lived in confined spaces, often in poor conditions. Even so…the I-Hotel and Manilatown provided a sense of community, and belonging, to the residents. There were parlors, barber shops, places
where people could play pool. Just places they could just call home, be around with their, we call them “Kababayans.” Like a brother. So then the hotels become these places where it’s like family to them. But, their neighborhood was caught in the middle of a changing San Francisco. San Francisco has consistently been called one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. With the influx of tech companies in recent few decades, it’s struggled with massive affordable housing shortages. But the problems of urbanization didn’t start with Silicon Valley. It started in the1950s, with what was known as the “Manhattanization” of this part of downtown. The city wanted a Wall St — of the west. And to make room for it — they came up with a “master plan” for the redevelopment of San Francisco. This plan for urban renewal called low-income neighborhoods “blighted districts and slums” and asked for these areas to be razed and “rebuilt along modern lines.” In the Western Addition and Fillmore districts, the city evicted around 12,000 largely black and Asian American residents. And here, in the South of Market area, roughly 4,000 people were evicted. The residents of Manilatown, right at the border of the growing financial district, knew they’d be targeted next. In 1968, the owner handed the tenants of the I-Hotel their first eviction notice. The real estate company wanted to demolish the building to make space for a parking lot. But, the tenants resisted. Filipino community leaders and businesses joined the fight along with a growing number of local activists. Estella was one of the young activists on the front lines. These are pins from 1968 to 1984. That’s `Ipaglaban` means `fight for` the International Hotel. After months of protests… the owner and tenants agreed to a new three-year lease in 1969. But it was a temporary fix. By the 1970s, redevelopment efforts moved further and further into Manilatown. It nearly swallowed the entire community and threatened
the I-hotel once again. All the other hotels where many of the other elderly lived were already being demolished. They were already being evicted. So it was like dominos in some ways. In 1973 the owner of I-hotel sold the building to a Thai developer — and that reignited the eviction battle. For the next four years, inside the courtroom and on the streets, protesters fought three more eviction notices. Asian American groups, religious groups, labor rights groups, and dozens of others all came together — in a show of solidarity — for low income housing. But for Filipino residents — it was also a fight to claim what little space they had, in a city that was trying to erase them. In the summer of 1977, the tenants of the I-Hotel were served another eviction notice. On August 3rd, a news reporter leaked information to tenants and supporters — that the police might actually be coming that night. The police and the sheriff’s department were gathering. It was still a threat, but yet we thought, maybe this is it. Because if they’re gathering somewhere and it’s in the middle of the night, it’s probably going to be a surprise. I was the president of the International Hotel Tenants Association. I felt that a lot of us felt fear. But I had to calm people. I had to tell them that this is what standing up means, we meant we meant what we said, we’re not going to move. You’re going to have to carry us out. “The sheriffs are simply going to have to
drive us out of this building. That’s the way we see it.” On the night of August 4th, tenant leaders set off a “red alert”, and over two thousand protesters gathered on Kearny Street. Many formed a human barricade, locking arms outside the I-Hotel. While others were stationed inside with the remaining I-Hotel tenants. When the police arrived — on foot and on horses — they launched into the crowds with batons. I was upstairs inside the building. And so was Emil. And we also locked arms inside here. When I started hearing the clack clack clack of the horses, that’s when I knew that there was something was afoot. It was really scary. We had mattresses on the windows and on the doors. People were saying, “we won’t move, we won’t move.” Eventually, using a fire truck ladder — the
police entered the building through the roof. And we hear shouting and screaming from upstairs. But because everything is closed off, it’s kind of like muffled. Once inside, the police were confronted by more protesters — including Emil. But ultimately I just got beaten up. Dragged down the stairs, dragged down the street, Kearny Street and dropped off like I was a limp doll. The fact that they’re hurting people, that they just hurt Emil De Guzman, chairperson of the IHTA, they’re going to be removing the senior citizens who are now in their rooms with medics. It’s the last stop of the low income housing struggle here at the International Hotel. After making it through the crowd of protesters, the police used axes to open up the doors to rooms. In the end, to put a stop to this rampage, the tenants decided to stand down. They walked out one by one, each elder accompanied by an activist. By the next morning, the streets were cleared out. Emil’s face was plastered all over national newspapers. This is the actual photo of the eviction. I mean the next day you see it in The New York Times,The Boston Globe. I mean, you see this all over the world. “People carried from the building were young demonstrators who had occupied some of the vacant rooms.” “Tenants were rushed out of the building. Many of them so quickly they left everything behind.” But the national attention…was too late. It couldn’t change what happened that night — or its repercussions. The fight to save the last remnant of Manilatown, was shut down. And the I-Hotel tenants, were homeless. The city claimed to have set up replacement housing for the tenants, but there were no such accommodations. That was just a lie. There wasn’t any place for them to go. They were kicked out into the street. We had to find makeshift places where they could sleep. Some of them collapsed. And I think what I really saw more than anything is how broken hearted they were because their family, you know their community was destroyed. The I-Hotel remained vacant for nearly two years, before it was demolished. The tenants were scattered throughout the city. And Manilatown, was destroyed. We don’t we don’t have the presence in this city. We’ve been here over many over a hundred years. But we’re overshadowed, we kind of still remain very invisible. In 2005, nearly 30 years after the original battle for the I-Hotel Manilatown and Chinatown activists accomplished a decades-long effort to build a new I-Hotel. Today, it contains 104 units of dedicated affordable housing for senior citizens. This building carries the legacy of its community, and its struggle… One that still resonates in a city with a deepening affordable housing crisis. The failure of the city always was that they failed to build affordable housing, decent housing. It’s the failure of a system that prioritizes property rights over human rights. I feel hopeful because I know that there’s a new generation who’s thinking about these things. But it’s only possible if you have that idea that housing is a human right.