Friday, October 19, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: The International Hotel

A low-cost residential hotel located on Kearny and Jackson, the I-Hotel was all that was left of SF Manilatown after years of “urban renewal” pushed hundreds of homes and businesses away from this area in the late 1970s. Even though this building seemed old, derelict, and dilapidated, it was home to 150 Pilipino and Chinese tenants, most of whom were senior citizens. Almost all the tenants had been living in the I-Hotel for several years and at only $50 a month, the I-Hotel was the only place that offered affordable rent and a community for them to be a part of. So when the first eviction notice was given in 1968, residents, community organizers, and community members immediately responded with protests and demonstrations—it became a movement not only to save the I-Hotel, but a battle for affordable housing and to halt the “urban renewal” occurring in the area.

The residents were incredibly active in the fight for the I-Hotel. Many stood outside the hotel picketing, some rallied outside of Portsmouth Square, and many shared their stories to the public, spreading the word about the injustice they were facing. Even though they were perceived as old, uneducated, and weak, the residents of the I-Hotel were anything but. They were politically active, self-determinant, and resilient. They were activists, advocators, and organizers—an inspiration to the surrounding community. Prominent community members like the poet Al Robles and community organizations like the Asian American Political Alliance (AAPA) from Berkeley joined the fight and soon, the residents of the I-Hotel had mobilized a gigantic group of supporters. Because of their ongoing activism and resilience, the eviction was stalled for nine years.

In 1977, the police were mandated to carry out the eviction. On that night, hundreds of supporters formed a human barricade outside the hotel, protecting the residents, protecting the community, and protecting years of community building and hystory that had gone on in the hotel. Unfortunately, the police was able to break through the barricade, enter the hotel, and evict the tenants that remained. The I-Hotel was then destroyed and although the site was intended to become a parking lot, it was untouched until 2003, when construction finally began for a new I-Hotel, a new low-cost residential project. The new I-Hotel sits in the same spot—Kearny and Jackson—and it serves the same people—senior citizens and the surrounding community. The ground floor of the new I-Hotel was turned into a community center and gallery, where visitors can view Pilipino-American artwork, commemorations of the I-Hotel, and even see brick from the original I-Hotel hanging on the wall. Even though the original I-Hotel has gone and a new one has been built on its foundation, the stories of the residents still resonate within the Asian American Movement. The fight for affordable housing and the fight to retain our community and hystory is an ongoing struggle we face and like the residents of the I-Hotel, we must be strong, united, and self-determinant.

(Note: Maria previously wrote this article for her blog, Asian American Activism.)

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