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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks much for your posting on Bill, Rona.

Reading your heartfelt words and the outpouring of pictures and writings that folks have been exchanging over the net for the past few days helps me hold on to the laughter this dear brother shared so freely. Well that, and his pungent denunciations of capitalist bullshit. Professional organizer supreme—see how he’s still bringing us all together?

Wishing love to Bill's family & co-conspirators,


robynn takayama said...

Manilatown Heritage Foundation just launched "A Serving of Love" website honoring Bill, with video of Bill, his family, and his comrades.