LONG LIVE THE INTERNATIONAL HOTEL
Waking up at 4:00 a.m. to ride in a car for six hours was not exactly the way I wanted to spend my Saturday morning. Nevertheless, I found my heart racing with anticipation. Sure I would be up early, but since it meant visiting the International Hotel in San Francisco, I could not contain my excitement.
I, along with the rest of Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night (SPCN)’s Script, the musical theatre portion of SPCN, would be making a pilgrimage of sorts to the famous International Hotel, colloquially referred to as the I-Hotel. It was the setting of this year’s show and our writer and director, Jorine “Jojo” Raymundo, wanted the cast to fully understand the importance of telling the story. Admittedly, I did not know very much about I-Hotel other than the limited knowledge I picked up from the Script and a short discussion we had about it during my time in SPACE’s Spring Internship. However, I was really excited to learn more!
Upon our arrival to the I-Hotel, a nice I-Hotel museum worker, Jibril, had ushered us inside, despite a sign on the door stating the museum’s closure due to a private event. As it turns out, our visit was the private event. They recognized the importance of telling our story and wanted us to have the best experience possible. Jibril invited us to view the art installations; they were all products of the movements surrounding the I-Hotel evictions. They even had a display of an original setup of a room, only 10’ x 6’. My eyes watered, feeling overwhelmed by the history and power of it all.
After we perused the art pieces, Jibril arranged seats in the middle of the room for us to watch a documentary, “Fall of the I-Hotel.” It was this documentary, Jojo informed us, that had inspired her to write the script. Jibril provided a bit of background, then played the film.
The International Hotel was an affordable residential housing for manongs as they performed strenuous labor for extremely low wages, in the hopes that they would send money to their families back home or create a name for themselves in America. However, the land on which the I-Hotel laid was seen as valuable, so developers bought it and issued eviction notices to those who lived there. However, due to urban redevelopment already taking down similar affordable living areas and laws against Filipinos owning property, the manongs had no other place to go. Despite nearly ten years of protesting against this unfair plans of removal, on the night of the eviction, police broke past the protestors’ human shield and dragged manongs out until they were all left in the street without their belongings. They also had no one to turn to, as the US had enacted legislation prohibiting Filipino marriages. In essence, they had no home to go to, no family to support them, and none of their previously owned items.
We watched as the injustices unfolded right before our eyes and audibly cried during the eviction scene. These manongs, older men, looked like my relatives! How could something of this scale be allowed to happen? I felt a fire ignite inside me. It angered me, thinking about how unjustly our manongs were treated. Even more so, I was shocked that this event was not common knowledge.
This show was no longer just a musical performance. As Jojo explained, the story we would be telling was, “ an homage to the manongs and their strength to live, to dream, and to fight for the present that we live in,” and, as a cast, we felt the full weight of responsibility of making the show as authentic to the harsh realities the manongs were faced with. Before visiting the I-Hotel, I struggled with finding a way to connect my love for [performing] arts with empowerment. However, I now understand that the two have never existed separately, always together. Our script was no different. The Pilipinx people have always been storytellers and activists, and as a cast, it was our responsibility to continue that legacy. It was our job to educate others about our history and bring these forgotten and erased topics to the forefront of our conversations.
Though history may ignore us and we may not have had the opportunity to tell our story as originally planned, I will never stop sparking conversations about the injustices our people faced.
Long live the International Hotel.