Friday, August 31, 2007

Rest in Power: Manong Bill Sorro

I don't have Bill's birth and death years to post, but I'm sure in the days and weeks to follow, many facts and feelings about Bill will pour forth from the pens of his many admirers, comrades, friends and spiritual / political "children". I feel blessed to have known him, even a little, working with him politically a bit through Filipino civil rights work, and more socially through friends who were lucky enough to have more day-to-day interactions with Bill through their work at Mission Housing, SOMCAN, and other key San Francisco organizations..

I've always enjoyed running into Bill at community events, rallies, readings, meetings. He always had a smile and a hug ready. I felt a real love radiating out from him towards the people around him, a quality that's very rare in these cynical days, even within progressive circles. Bill always encouraged members of the younger generation of activists like myself, who often came to those events with a lot of energy and were sometimes greeted less-than-enthusiastically by other movement veterans who, I felt, didn't quite know what to do with us. Bill was a tireless advocate for the poor, the oppressed, for Filipinos and especially for the manongs (elders) who were displaced from the International Hotel in San Francisco. Bill was one of a handful of thoroughly committed activists (many of whom started the Manilatown Heritage Foundation) who saw the fight to save the I-Hotel through from beginning to end--a thirty-plus-year community battle that was eventually won. I'm sure that Bill was and is proud of the fact that an exhibit commemorating his contributions to that fight is now housed at the new I-Hotel on Kearny and Jackson Streets in San Francisco's Chinatown/North Beach district.

Actually, the first time I saw Bill was on film, before I ever met him, and before I knew who he was, when I watched--and was transformed by--the Fall of the I-Hotel, a documentary about this struggle for dignity and housing. Bill was just a young buck back then, living in the Hotel and fighting alongside the elderly tenants for the right to live in what was left of a once-thriving Manilatown in San Francisco. If you haven't seen this movie, you have to. It's not only an amazing documentary but it's a beautiful testimony to the spirit of that struggle and of people like Bill who helped make it one of the most visible and significant movements for housing rights in this country.

Inherently tied to Bill's dedication to radical activism and empowering the oppressed was his sweet, generous, loving and funny spirit. Aside from seeing the warmth and fire he brought to political events, I especially loved to see him with his equally warm, generous and amazing wife, Giuliana (aka "Huli") Milanese. While Bill and Huli seemed to snip and snap at each other the way lots of long-time married folks do, there was always a sweet layer of flirtation woven throughout these mock 'arguments', a sweetness that I hoped I'd be able to find with another person someday the way Bill and Huli had found with each other.

I won't say much more about Bill because others will be much more eloquent than me in their eulogizing of him. Eric Mar, the folks at POOR Magazine and Portside have started doing so on their blogs. Suffice it to say that the movement has lost one of our great champions, who had a heart that was wide-open and full of love, and an unmatched passion for justice that burned in his veins. Those two things don't always go hand in hand, but in Bill, they were one and the same.

Rest in peace and power, Manong Bill. We miss you and love you and will never, ever forget you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's Almost Over

Summer, that is. And along with the end of summer comes an old, familiar nostalgia for longer days, heat and that special sunshine brightness of those three middle months of the year. And now that I'm not in school anymore and don't have the fun, slightly festive ritual of goinig back to school to help me make the transition to fall, I feel like I have to create new rituals--consciously or not--to help ease the way. For example, I bought myself a new backpack because I was tired of lugging multiple bags around carrying my random possessions around all the time, and I liked the ease of just carrying one thing on my back. I realized today that I bought it around the same time that back to school shopping season started. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I just got out of bed after laying there for a while listening to H.'s breathing. First time in a while that I haven't had to set an alarm to wake me up for work or some other commitment (like leaving early to go watch Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective at Stern Grove a couple weekends ago). It always feels nice to just be able to wake up on your own, without a loud ringing in your ear, and get up when you feel like it.

I walked into the kitchen to make my daily cup of Chinese herbal tea, and looked at the clock: 10:01am. Damn. I haven't slept in this late in--I can't even remember when. Most days I get up by 7:30am, even in the Philippines when I was on vacation, because it was too damn hot to sleep past 7am. I recall the 'old days' when I was living the carefree college life in Berkeley, how some days when I wasn't holding down a weekend job (really just the last year that i was doing organizing on campus and no longer attending classes), I would sleep 'til noon, 2pm, 3pm, after having gone out the night before or stayed up late talking to my roommates (who had their own crazy hours and lives).Now, at 35 years of age, I'm shocked when I don't get up 'til 10am.

I'm not sure whether that's sad or interesting or cool. It just is nice right now to have a little time to myself, and to not have a million things to do today that I wake up knowing I won't be able to finish. I've also been traveling a lot this year, for work and family and personal stuff. On my flight to Portland last weekend for a conference at which I helped train with GIFT, I tallied up the number of trips requiring plane travel that I'd taken thusfar in 2007. It came to about once a month, or seven trips. Ugh. Travel is wearying, especially when it's required for work or when your flights are longer than 3 hours a leg or entail having long-ass layovers (which many of my flights this year did).

So suffice it to say that it feels good to not plan on traveling anywhere requiring a plane flight for the rest of the year--unless we decide to take a funder trip to New York at some point in the fall, that is--and to know that for the next few weekends I have a little more time to settle in at home, clean my house, organize my home office, finish filing my taxes (almost done! Just have to send them some money), and work on my writing. And spend some time with friends and family, which I've been doing a little more of lately, trying to take advantage of the nice weather.

Today, I have a whole day uninterrupted to do all these things. I may have plans later this evening, but it's all good. Although waking up later does leave you with less daylight hours to accomplish all the things on your to-do list. But the extra sleep was obviously needed.

Speaking of taking advantage of (what I hope turns out to be) a pretty day and good weather, any of y'all in the Oakland area should come by to the "Taste of Park" block party at the little rec center across the street from the Parkway Theater on Park Boulevard and 3rd Avenue, today and tomorrow. My baby DJ Hen10 will be playing a quick set today in the park, and I'm guessing there'll be lots of families with kids and fun things to do. I'll either be out there checking out the vibe and eating some food, or holed up in a cafe across the street getting writing done or mopping my floors at home. Call me if you wanna meet up.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rest in Peace: Chauncey Bailey

I and many other Oaklanders and supporters of the Black press are still reeling from the recent murder of Chauncey Bailey, a well-respected community journalist, last week.

The themes that this tragic incident bring up for me are, again, literacy and the power of writing to shake loose entrenched power structures, to speak truth to power. My experiences over the past few months seem to be pointing me in the direction of taking my writing to the next level, and Chauncey's death and my feelings about it are just another sign that I need to pursue my writing more seriously. His death has affirmed for me that writing can be one of the most powerful acts in the world.

I didn't know Mr. Bailey, had never even heard of him before his death this past week. But as I walked to work the other day, I encountered his spirit in the palpable emotion and heaviness I felt when I walked by the police barricades near Alice and 14th Streets in downtown Oakland. I asked a police officer what was going on; he told me someone had been shot, killed. I kept walking closer to the crime scene (everything had been cleaned up by then but a small crowd had gathered) to find out more. Now, for the non-Oaklander folks reading my blog, despite what you may have heard or what you believe about Oakland, walking through downtown at 9:30am and finding a murder scene isn't a normal occurrence. I asked a woman standing near the intersection if she knew what was going on; she'd been walking with a man who was talking on his cell phone, saying something about 'machine gunned'. I figured she knew something.

"Someone was killed," she told me. I asked if she knew who it was. "Chauncey Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post." My mouth fell open. I knew the Post as a respected Black newspaper in the East Bay. I've read it off and on over the years, and am a big supporter of the ethnic press in general, as many stories that mainstream news outlets won't tell appear in Chinese, African-American, Spanish-language and other ethnic media.

"He was a friend," the woman said. I weakly mumbled "sorry", knowing that nothing I could say could comfort her at that moment. Before I could voice my fear of why Mr. Bailey had been killed, she voiced it for me.

"I guess he was writing some stuff that someone didn't like," she said. I shook my head, tears springing to my eyes. No, I didn't know him, but when writers are killed for writing controversial stories, you know democracy is truly dead. And while I don't really believe that our country (or this city for that matter, progressive as it can be at times) is a democracy, it's rare that I witness first-hand how much our society has degenerated into madness.

I left the scene after a few minutes, kept walking to work, my mind reeling. I hoped in a twisted way that this man had been shot over some personal or financial matter--borrowed money from the wrong people, that kind of thing. Because that would've been easier to handle than knowing that he'd been killed for writing something someone didn't agree with.

As I walked towards my office, I saw three people--two women and one man--walking swiftly towards the 14th and Alice intersection, urgently talking on their cell phones the way I'd seen the man do earlier. The woman stopped halfway down one block and started crying loudly. I've seen her in the newspaper photos from the scene of Mr. Bailey's killing.

Many of us in Oakland know that Mr. Bailey's death, tragic and insane as it was, is just one of the many murders in Oakland over the past several years. While I don't think any of those deaths are any more significant than any other, it's clear that because of his prominent position in the community and his role as a leading community journalist, Mr. Bailey's death has earned more media coverage and attention than those of the dozens of other Oaklanders who have been murdered. I only hope that, true to his muckraking spirit, his death provokes our city's leaders and residents to take a good, hard look at what can be done to truly end the senseless violence in Oakland, and inspire us to stop blaming each other, pointing fingers at thugs or gangsters or politicians or cops as the sole 'reasons' for the violence. We should all be intelligent enough to know by now that the social and political and economic forces that have created this situation are much more complex than that.

And in the end, I believe that in some way we all contribute to this problem of senseless violence whether it's by not being involved in what's happening in our neighborhood, or by not trying to talk to our neighbors, or by turning our backs on the youth and poor people in our community that, if not provided with the right support, information and guidance, may turn to crime in order to 'get ahead' or just plain survive in a harsh, often hostile world.

I also hope that the other middle-class, relatively new Oakland residents like myself understand and not judge the resentment that those who have been here much longer feel when the only time that crime in Oakland is paid the attention it deserves is when it happens in supposedly 'safer' areas like downtown Oakland or Piedmont Avenue or Lakeshore, or happen to white people. It's a justified resentment, and has everything to do with race and class and the changing demographics of Oakland. I still consider myself a 'new' Oakland resident and I've lived here for the better part of 15 years. But that's still very different than being born and raised in Oakland, so you folks out there that haven't even been here for a year or two better get that straight right away if you want to be part of the solution and not the problems here.

We're all in this together. And it's fitting that National Night Out is coming up this Tuesday, August 7th. There are at least three events happening within a seven-block radius of my house that night, and I'll be attending at least two of them. I think I'll need to go just to witness some of the positive things about Oakland that sometimes are easy to forget when we hear about killings and violence: people of all colors getting to know each other, getting along, trying to make Oakland a better place.

And I hope this night--and other efforts that people living and working in Oakland continue to make to build a stronger and more peaceful community--makes Mr. Chauncey Bailey smile a little, wherever he is now. Thank you, Mr. Bailey, for asking the tough questions and for doing your part in speaking truth to power. You've inspired me, and I know you've inspired many, many others.