An Open Letter to Peter Shih

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 22 August 2013

Dear Peter,

I read your blog post about my city.  I am a 4th generation San Franciscan whose family has seen many changes.  I am sure your remarks were fairly typical of newcomers such as yourself to the city.  Rather than respond to you by using words such as entitled, obnoxious, self-absorbed, insensitive, oblivious etc., let me just say that you did the right thing by removing your post.  It is like the old saying about the guy walking around with his fly open: everybody knows it except him.  Fortunately, in your case, you had sense enough to zip up.


You cited many things you deem unpleasant and inconvenient about my city: the homeless, traffic, bikes, the opposite sex and the social scene.  I'm not sure if you are aware of this but the tech boom has meant evictions for many elders and people with disabilities in the city.  People are literally being intimidated out of their homes because real estate speculators want to rent to—you guessed it—folks like you.  So, the elderly woman on a fixed income who has lived in the city for 40 years or more, gets evicted, and as a result, gets sick and ends up in substandard housing.  Talk about being inconvenienced.  Or imagine if a family is evicted, the effect it has on children.  So Peter, in regards to being inconvenienced, don't feel bad, you are not alone.


It is important that you do not fall into the gentrifier trap that many newcomers to San Francisco do.  You have to know where you are at, because you obviously don't know. San Francisco is the epicenter of the Asian American movement in this country.  Perhaps you have never heard of Manilatown and the International Hotel.  Manilatown was a neighborhood adjacent to Chinatown that was demolished to make room for financial district expansion.  Our friends from the financial district just could not bear to see elderly Filipino and Chinese folks obstructing their views so a campaign was put in motion to rid them from the neighborhood.  What an inconvenience to those elders who had worked all their lives whose only wish was to live with dignity in their community. 


When the International Hotel, the last remaining vestige of Manilatown, was slated for demolition (to make way for a parking lot), the elders and community fought back and delayed the eviction for 10 years.  Tenants were pulled from their units and dragged down staircases. Elders, most of whom were Chinese and Filipino, were left with no place to go--again, another example of inconvenience.  After decades of sitting empty, the site of the old I-Hotel was replaced with a new I-Hotel, providing elders with 104 units of affordable senior housing.  Perhaps you didn't hear about this, or didn't take an Asian American history class.  If you did, you would have seen Curtis Choy's excellent movie documenting this event called, “Fall of the I-Hotel”.


Some of the things we learned from the International Hotel struggle were honoring our elders, that the road we travel and the advantages we enjoy was a result of somebody paving the way, paying the price for us though sacrifice and eldership.  As an Asian man, you should know this.  Some things, such as humility and respect, cannot be gleaned through an app, the click of a mouse or through the tinted glass window of a google bus. It is not without irony that your blog post came in August, the 36th anniversary of the historic eviction.


You're a newcomer here and you must realize that the city doesn't revolve around you, it revolves around us all.  The city didn't just come about the day you arrived.  I urge you to be a part of the solution to the city's problems by coming with respect.  If not for the Asian American movement—which owes much to the African American movement—you wouldn't be where you're at right now.  I urge you to look into organizations such as the Manilatown Heritage Foundation, SOMCAN, United Playaz, the Chinese Progressive Association, Jobs For Justice and the Bill Sorro Housing Program—just a few among many community organizations--to get a better sense of the city you now call home.  Perhaps you can embrace the community with humility by contributing to the very real, very hard work and missions of these organizations.  It would be looked upon as an act of good will.  Being here makes you a part of the city's Asian American community, and speaking on behalf of the historic International Hotel struggle of San Francisco that involved both Chinese and Filipino seniors--a struggle that received worldwide attention--we look for accountability from you to the community you are now a part of.  Whether you like it or not, whether you want to accept it or not, you are now a part of San Francisco's Asian American Community--which includes the poor, the homeless, those with little or no resources, elders, children--many of who are being evicted from their homes.  The question is: Will you be accountable?  How will you help us?  How will you show your maturity?  How will you show humility?  We will be watching.


The branding of our city as the playground for upwardly young tech workers and real estate speculators breezing by, carefree, while the rest of us subsidize their lifestyles, has persisted long enough.  We too, are being inconvenienced. 


So Peter, take a look at yourself and the place you find yourself in.  Ask yourself, who's being inconvenienced by your presence?  When you look around, what do you see?


Ps: You won't find it in an app






Tony Robles

4th Generation San Franciscan, Board Member of Manilatown Heritage Foundation and Co-Editor of POOR Magazine


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