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How a protest galvanized a cultural identity for Filipino Americans

San Francisco's International Hotel

Mobilizing the Filipino American Community in the Anti-Eviction Movement

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Estella Habal

"While other studies have treated the International Hotel struggle in terms of the politics of urban renewal, this book makes clear the distinctly Filipino elements of the story, effectively describing the worlds of the elderly Filipino 'manong' tenants and the youthful student and immigrant radicals who rallied to their side. In these respects, the book breaks new ground."
—Barbara M. Posadas, Professor of History, Northern Illinois University

The struggle to save the International Hotel, in the San Francisco neighborhood known as Manilatown, culminated in 1977 with the eviction of elderly tenant activists. Many of them were Filipino bachelors who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s for menial labor. Each evicted tenant was accompanied by at least one young activist who had come to find their roots in the lives of the "manongs" (respected elders).

San Francisco's International Hotel is part history and part memoir. In telling this compelling story, Estella Habal features her own memories of the Anti-Eviction Movement, focusing on the roles of Filipino Americans and their participation in both the anti-eviction protests and the nascent Asian American movement. She rounds out the narrative with a variety of sources, including interviews with other participants, the notes of insiders, and official reports.

A new International Hotel was finally built on the site. It commemorates the residents and activists who fought for low-income housing for the elderly and their right to remain in their own community. The new hotel houses the International Hotel Manilatown Center, keeping the memory of the First Filipino immigrants alive.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"A terrific book...Habal presents the case from the perspective of an insider, yet is objective enough not to allow her deep involvement distort the complex political discussion and analysis. She weaves together nicely the specific struggle to save the building and avoid displacing its inhabitants within the complexity of city politics and the legal system. At the same time, she brings to the fore the parallel struggle of the Filipino community to assert and create an identity for itself."
Chester Hartman, co-editor of A Right to Housing (Temple).

"[San Francisco’s International Hotel] is both testament and tribute to a determined group of Filipino American men and women who took on corporate and government bigwigs and, against all odds, eventually won. What emerges is a story of universal struggle – across arbitrary ethnic, gender and class lines – the ultimate right for every human being to have fair access to decent, affordable housing, to establish a home for once and for all."
The San Francisco Chronicle

“This book is a compelling account of community resistance that has become a milestone event in the history of Filipinos in America.”
Filipinas Magazine

"Habal’s work is participant history at its best. Only someone writing from an insider’s vantage point could so vividly capture the psychological and political impact on all sides when young Filipinos encountered and then struggled together with Filipino elders…Only someone immersed in the culture of the hotel tenants and their supporters could take us inside the complex gender, race, and generational dynamics of this fight….Habal explores debates and conflicts among the tenants and within the Left with a tremendously deft balance of solidarity, frank evaluation and self-criticism. The quality of this book whets the reader’s appetite for more…. [T]here is much to be learned from this book for present and future battles."
make/shift

"Estella Habal's highly personal and moving account of this flashpoint of Asian American movement of the 1960s and 1970s is more than simply a story about the besieged Filipino and Chinese residents of a San Francisco hotel and their fight against eviction. This book is a social and political history of a community, a neighborhood, and a city in transition. Habal writes with the passion of an activist through the lens of a historian. She provides an intimate yet critical insider's view of the struggle for the "I-Hotel." Given the dearth of scholarship on the Asian American movements of the 1970s and post-1965 Filipino American history in general, Habal's book is a major contribution."
The Journal of American Ethnic History

"[Habal's] analysis of the shifting alliances among local politicians, tenant rights groups, and the I-Hotel leadership is particularly insightful as is her analysis of [the Union of Democratic Filipinos].... Habal has provided an invaluable study of an important movement struggle."
Journal of American History

"This history of the violent 1977 eviction...brings together urban and Asian American history in its narrative of a poignant struggle for social justice."
Southern California Quarterly

"San Francisco's International Hotel...documents a significant piece of Filipino American history and sets it against the backdrop of urban housing politics, coalitional activism, and the struggles of a cohort of elderly tenants, student radicals, and civic allies.... Because Habal writes as if there is no distinction between the personal and the political, she catches the widest possible audience. Readers have the benefit of a personalized eyewitness account as Habal explores a number of difficult political struggles.... [T]he most decisive struggle--the one that propels this book in the most significant ways--was fought over what to do with the weak and powerless in the face of corporate pressure."
Asian Affairs

"Habal appears to have been uniquely positioned to not only document the unfolding campaign, but to keep track of the conflicts, negotiations, and happenstances that defined the collective identities and claims of the many participants....With her personal archive of photographs, documents, and notes, supplemented by years of post-eviction involvement in the community and later interviews with key participants, Habal provides far more than a history of events. She has written a history of collective identity mobilization, virtual power, and popular politics. Her own interests and recollections add depth to the study without devolving into a plea for the cause or an ego project. Her personal voice is refreshing and honest.... San Francisco's International Hotel is a valuable source. "
Mobilization

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Contents

Acknowledgements
Acronyms
Chronology of Legal and Political Events
Introduction
"Coming Home to a Fresh Crop of Rice"

Chapter 1
Manilatown, Manongs, and the Student Radicals
Chapter 2
A Home or a Parking Lot: Human Rights vs. Property Rights, 1968-1969
Chapter 3
Peace with a Lease, 1969-1974
Chapter 4
The Tiger Leaps: Fighting the Four Seas Investment Corporation, 1974-1977
Chapter 5
"Makibaka! Dare to Struggle!" The IHTA and the KDP, 1977
Chapter 6
People's Power vs. Propertied Elites, 1977
Chapter 7
The Fall of the I-Hotel, 1977-1979
Conclusion:
The Rise of the I-Hotel, 1979-2005
End Notes
Bibliography

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About the Author(s)

Estella Habal is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies, Department of Social Science, San Jose State University, and a member of the Board of Directors, Manilatown Heritage Foundation.

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
American Studies
Urban Studies


In the series

Asian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ.

The "standard" written histories of Asian immigrants to the United States have been imbued with Western cultural biases. As a critique and corrective to earlier work, Asian American History and Culture, edited by Sucheng Chan, David Palumbo-Liu, Michael Omi, K. Scott Wong, and Linda Trinh Võ, aims to develop a history of Asian Americans that is compatible with their own experience, that treats Asian Americans as agents of historical change and as creators of a new culture. In addition, this series intends to focus on the groups that are flourishing in the contemporary U.S.—Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese—about whom little has been written as well as to add to the substantial work done on the Chinese and Japanese in this country.

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