Welcome to our Filipino Community

by Rodel Rodis on September 13, 2004

This month, Consul General Rowena Sanchez, began her tenure here in San Francisco. I invite you to join us as I introduced her to our Filipino Community.

Last month, after you, Consul General Sanchez, and your Consular staff participated in the annual Pistahan parade through the streets of San Francisco, you stood on the open stage of the Yerba Buena Gardens to speak to more than 5,000 Filipinos who had gathered for the opening festivities.

You may have noticed the stately brick church on your right. It’s
the St. Patrick Church of Monsignor Fred Bitanga who recently celebrated his 40th year as a priest. A prince of the church among Filipinos, the Monsignor presides over a parish that is 70% Filipino and has been since the 1950s when this area south of Market, then known as “Central City”, was the center of
the Filipino community in San Francisco.

On your left is the majestic Moscone Center, the site of the First
Global Filipino Community Networking Convention, which drew 4,000 Filipino delegates from all over the US on the Labor Day weekend of 2002.

Behind the Moscone Center between Folsom and Harrison, between Third and Fourth Streets, is the San Lorenzo Ruiz Senior Citizens Housing Center, formerly known as the Dimasalang House, home to mostly Filipino senior citizens. The four small streets surrounding the Center are Tandang Sora, Mabini, Rizal and Bonifacio, the only streets in San Francisco named after Filipinos. On the side of the Center is an awesome 8-story tall mural fusing Philippine and Filipino American histories.

A block up from the mural is the Filipino Education Center set up more than 25 years ago by the San Francisco Unified School District to provide a bi-lingual/bi-cultural bridge to incoming Filipino immigrant students entering the American school system.

A few blocks up is the Bessie Carmichael Elementary School, which has a predominant Filipino student population. It should be renamed the Julita Tamondong McLeod Elementary School after the first Filipino American principal in San Francisco.

While there have been eight San Francisco public schools renamed after African Americans and six after Chinese Americans, there is still no school renamed after a Filipino American. An attempt was made a few years ago to rename Balboa High School or Longfellow Elementary School after the late community activist Violeta Marasigan but it failed.

Twenty years ago, there were 15 top-level Filipino American
administrators in the San Francisco Unified School District. Now, there are only two remaining: Dr. Maria Manuel and Juliet Montevirgen. It is estimated that as many as 9% of the San Francisco public school population is Filipino but no Filipino sits on the 7-member School Board which sets policy for the City’s schools.

On your right, past the Marriot Hotel, is the Downtown Campus of City College of San Francisco, one of 10 City College campuses throughout the City serving 110,000 students. In our main campus on Ocean Avenue, we have close to 4,000 Filipinos out of a campus student population of 37,000. Our
Philippine Studies program, headed by Leo Paz, offers 21 courses. We have more than 40 FilAm instructors and 17% of our classified staff are Filipinos.

Three of the last six presidents of the Associated Students have been Filipinos (Christinne Gaddi, Rick Cantora and Marilyn Dugyawi) as have two of the last three Student Trustees (Cantora and Gloriamarie Caluen). And, of course, I have served three terms on the College Board (running for my 4th this year), having been elected twice as Board president.

Right beside our Downtown Campus is the site of a huge
Bloomingdale’s mall that will house a 10,000 square foot Filipino Cultural Center donated by the Forest City owners of the mall. Our San Francisco Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, just obtained a $400,000 grant from the federal government to fund the
center that is a project of the United Pilipino Organizing Network(UPON) led by Don Marcos (Director of the Mission Hiring Hall) and Bernadette Borja-Sy.

A block up from this future center is the Bayanihan Center, a public housing project that is home to many Filipino WW II vets. It is also the site of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC), a city-funded center that services the needs of mostly Filipino veterans, and a future Filipino community center.

About 12 blocks away, a third center is being built in what was once the International Hotel on Kearny Street. The Manilatown Heritage Center, headed by Emil de Guzman and Bill Sorro, will be housed on the ground floor of the I-Hotel housing project and it will proudly showcase the history of what was once an 8-block long Manilatown that was home to the Filipino manongs.
They were farmworkers who immigrated in the 30s, who lived in the City, in between jobs working in the farm valleys of California and the canneries of Alaska.

Across the street from the two Mission Street Filipino centers are
Filipino restaurants (eg. New Filipinas) and Filipino stores (eg. Manila Meat Market). If you drive down Mission Street all the way to Daly City, you can count at least 20 Filipino restaurants (eg. Goldilock’s, Kadok’s, Kababayan). In the Excelsior Outer Mission District alone, you will note a concentration of about five Pampagueno restaurants clustered near each other (eg.
Mekeni, Kabalen, Irma’s).

In that Excelsior District are two large Catholic parish churches that are predominantly Filipino (Corpus Christi and Epiphany). Balboa High School in the District even housed a Filipino Parents Center headed by Remy Anselmo, president of the Organization of Filipino Educators (OFE).

A Filipino American, Myrna Viray Lim, is running for supervisor in this heavily Filipino District 11, vying to become San Francisco’s first FilAm Supervisor. Another Filipino running for supervisor in District 7 is Art Belenson, known affectionately as the “Mayor of West Portal”. When I first ran for the College Board in 1992, Art introduced me to all the shop owners of West Portal and everyone of them agreed to post my signs on their windows.

While we don’t have an elected supervisor yet, two of the City’s
commissions are headed by Filipinos. Jacqui Lingad-Ricci, the Hermana Mayor of the Pistahan this year, is the president of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Commission. Dennis Normandy, the Hermano Mayor last year, is thepresident of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Helen Marte sits on the Library Commission, Susan Po Rufino is in the Treasure Island commission and Veny Zamora and Puchi Carreron are on the Commission on Aging. But they are all appointees of former Mayor Willie Brown.

While San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom hasn’t appointed a Filipino to a city commission yet, he has a FilAm aide, Justin Rojas, the son of architect Greg Roja, the founder of FACE (Filipino Architects, Contractors and Engineers), who is his liaison to the Filipino community and to District 6.

This is just a bird’s eye-view of our dynamic and diverse community.

Welcome aboard and good luck!

Send comments to _Rodel50@aol.com_ (mailto:Rodel50@aol.com) or call
(415) 334-7800 or write to Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue,
San Francisco, CA 94127.

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