Thursday, August 3, 2017

The International Hotel: Forty Years Later

Silkscreen Poster by the Kearny Street Workshop

It will have been forty years ago tomorrow (August 4th, 1977) that City of San Francisco evicted the tenants of the International Hotel on Kearny Street on the edge of the financial district.  The single-room occupancy hotel was the last remaining section of the neighborhood that was known as 'Manilatown' and the tenants were mostly elderly Filipino agricultural workers and seamen who had deep bonds of community and self-help in that neighborhood going back to 1920's.

Of course they had to go, for, in the unguarded words of a city official at some point in the ten-year struggle to keep the tenants in their homes, 'the land was too valuable to allow poor people to continue to live there."

Hundreds of tenant supporters from the Asian-American and wider community showed up to non-violently interpose themselves between the sheriff's deputies and the tenants inside the building facing eviction.   I was there too with the other tenant supporters awaiting the arrival of the police.*  

When the sheriffs, mounted units and the riot squad came in force just after midnight I was fortunate I wasn't knocked down by a police horse  or clubbed on the head (which I witnessed happening to others once they started to break up the crowd.   To no on'es  surprise, it didn't take the police and sheriffs long to shove us aside and  just as the sun was coming up, the last, now homeless elderly tenant was escorted out onto the sidewalk and the eviction was over.

Photo by Chris Huie
  For me as a Christian, being there that night then (and now) made sense in terms of the Church's preferential option for the poor.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches at 2448:
...those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensible always and everywhere."

*I'm pretty sure that I'm in this photo by photographer Chris Huie from that night.  If you look carefully in the bottom right hand corner you will find the grainy image frozen in time of a much younger incarnation of this writer.

No comments:

Post a Comment