The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan Tuesday to designate a Filipino cultural heritage district in a South of Market neighborhood, which community leaders hope will not only recognize the Filipino presence there but also preserve it.
SoMa Pilipinas will include the Gran Oriente, the old International Hotel (it was on Kearny north of Market but is historically important), the Rizal Apartments, the Iloilo Circle Building, the Bayanihan Community Cultural Center and other "cultural assets" identified by the Filipino-American Development Foundation, which spearheaded the effort. SoMa is home to 5,106 Filipinos, according to 2010 census data.
Ligaya Avenida is president of the FADF Board. She urged supervisors to recognize the Filipino community's contributions to the fabric of life in San Francisco.
"We will validate the presence of the Filipinos who have lived and worked in the corridors of SoMa for decades," said Avenida at a press conference outside City Hall before the meeting. "They have helped make the South of Market what it is today."
SoMa residents like Juvy Barbonio say SoMa Pilipinas will hopefully go beyond signs and murals and do something to help Filipinos worried about redevelopment and gentrification there.
"I know many people don't experience SoMa the way I see it," said Barbonio, who works at the South of Market Committee Action Network. "To them it's not a neighborhood. It's the streets you need to get through to get to and from the highway. It's an opportunity to build high-rises close to downtown. ... But it's my neighborhood, like any other Filipino neighborhood, that has beared the brunt of the development pressures in San Francisco."
Supervisor Jane Kim, who authored the ordinance and whose district includes SoMa, said establishing SoMa Pilipinas is a step in the right direction for addressing these redevelopment concerns.
"It is not just about preserving our history and our culture. It is also talking about how we can use land use controls and economic development tools to make sure our community continues to stay in the South of Market for decades to come," said Kim. "We want to ensure our community leaders, our diversity, get to stay in San Francisco. "
SoMa Pilipinas will be bound by Second Street to the east, 11th Street to the west, Market Street to the north and Brannan Street to the south.
The Planning Department will work with the SoMa Pilipinas Working Group, consisting of members from various sectors of the community, to develop a set of policies to promote "sustainability, cultural visibility, vibrancy and economic opportunity for Filipinos in the city," according to the ordinance.
The district encompasses the Bessie Carmichael School/Filipino Education Center, the first and only public school with curriculum in Filipino, and Bindlestiff Studio, the only Filipino performance art space in the country.
Jason Bayani from Kearny Street Workshop, the oldest Asian-Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization in the country, said organizations like Bindlestiff in SoMa are important spaces for Filipinos.
"It's important to have spaces like these for artists of color outside of white-dominated mainstream art spaces," said Bayani. "It allows us the ability to tell our stories, have the agency to interrogate our stories through our own lens and make ourselves visible on our terms."