Poetry and the legacy of the I-Hotel
"In 1977, San Francisco’s Manilatown community suffered a huge blow with the final eviction of the mostly Filipino American residents from the International Hotel (or I-Hotel). This followed almost a decade’s worth of protest and community struggle in the hopes that the building, which had housed many Filipino immigrants throughout the years, would not become yet another victim of the city’s gentrification projects. For years after the final residents were removed, the building — and later, the site — stood empty, the hole a yawning reminder of what had been lost. One of the major voices speaking out against the fall of Hotel belonged to the poet, musician, and activist Al Robles. The I-Hotel was a recurring theme that wove throughout his work and took on breath, shape, and life through his poetry. Robles’ nephew wrote the following on the recent anniversary of his death:
In the I-Hotel he [Robles] traveled up the stairs and the doors opened to those small rooms; the smell of rice and adobo and fish was there; the face of the manong was there—he knew the face—it was the face of his father and mother and ninong and ninang. He sat across from the manongs and in their faces he saw the motherland, in their hearts and minds he journeyed and tasted what he described the “thick adobo tales of their lives”. Those elderly men were alive and in Uncle Al’s poetry they became young again. (- Tony Robles, “Still Hanging onto the Carabao’s Tail”)"