Third Edition of ‘Liwanag’ Anthology in Works

Published by SOMA Pilipinas, the collection celebrates the culture and creativity of the Filipinx community.

When Rachel Lastimosa flipped through the first volume of Liwanag, she noticed names of Filipinx authors she had read before — from Jessica Hagedorn to Al Robles. 

As a multimedia artist, Lastimosa remembers being empowered by the Filipinx-American arts anthology. “If I had seen this earlier, I probably would have presented my work more confidently.”

It’s understandable that Lastimosa might have felt that there wasn’t much of an audience for work documenting her culturally specific experiences.

While Lastimosa is the arts and culture administrator for SOMA Pilipinas, an organization dedicated to celebrating the Filipinx community in SOMA — and although the San Francisco neighborhood remains a hub for Filipinx culture and history — there is still a dearth of Filipinx-focused arts organizations in the United States. Bindlestiff Studio on 6th Street is the only Filipinx-American performing arts center in the country, and Arkipelago on Mission Street claims to be one of just two Filipinx-American-specific bookstores in the states.

In an effort to increase the visibility of Filipinx artists and to show art consumers what they might be missing, Lastimosa set about publishing Liwanag 3 via SOMA Pilipinas. 

“It’s also a way to really inspire people to continue creating their work, to really reclaim our narrative and our experiences and document them in a way that’s reflective and truthful to our experience,” she explains.

Liwanag published its inaugural issue back in 1975, and its second in 1993. Oscar Peñaranda, one of the original issue’s producers, remembers taking $2,800 out of his personal bank account to print the volume. The writer and former SFSU professor says it was that important — it was the first distinctly Filipinx-American publication that he was aware of. “So it was like a different voice coming out, and that voice still reverberates until today.” 

A reissue of the original Liwanag, put out last year. (Photo: Steve Belale)

Peñaranda also helped pick out the publication name. “Liwanag” is Tagalog for “light,” or “clarity.” Their theme was connection to heritage, but their goal was to embed the Filipinx-American experience within the national conversation. They didn’t just want Filipinx and Filipinx-Americans reading it, they wanted people all over America thumbing through its pages. 

Peñaranda grew up in the Philippines and moved to Vancouver with his family when he was 12. They were the only Filipinx there. It was only years later when they moved to San Francisco, in the early 1960s, that he felt he could reconnect with his culture. He was hearing Tagalog again outside of his house.

Raquel Redondiez, Director of SOMA Pilipinas, was also drawn to San Francisco because of this community. She grew up in Los Angeles, and while a student at UCLA produced a film based in SOMA — a sort of love story revolving around the immigrant Filipinx working class. That opened her eyes to the rich history of “Pilipinos really striving to make home and keep home in San Francisco.” 

Redondiez mentions the International Hotel (I-Hotel), a low-income housing building on Kearny Street established in 1907. From the 1920s onwards, tens of thousands of Filipinx immigrants had turned it into a vibrant community. In 1968, in order to build a parking garage, the hotel’s owner started evicting its predominantly poor and elderly residents. The fight to preserve I-Hotel stretched on for nine years before the building was finally destroyed. A new one’s since re-opened in its place.

Bill Sorro, a San Francisco native and one of the I-Hotel activist movement leaders, actually gave Redondiez the original volume of Liwanag — published in the midst of the I-Hotel eviction battle. “When you speak of Liwanag, you have to speak of many other things. You have to speak of the Vietnam War, the International Hotel,” Peñaranda says. 

Redondiez says that Filipinx communities have continued fighting for space in San Francisco. In the late ’90s, she enrolled her son in Bessie Carmichael School in SOMA. But it wasn’t a building. “It was just World War II bungalows.” 

She says the school district promised for years that they would build a new school but never did. Finally, community members began lobbying and putting pressure on the city. They ended up getting a new school building as well as a park in SOMA, named after Olympic Gold Medalist and Filipinx diver Victoria Manalo. Bessie Carmichael is also the country’s first and only elementary school that teaches Tagalog and Filipinx culture. 

“It’s still a struggle because right now South of Market is one of the most park-starved and open space-starved neighborhoods in the city,” Redondiez says. The late ’90s dot-com bubble also pushed out long term tenants for corporations. She explains that many of these were small businesses, particularly ones that anchored Filipinx communities and cultural districts. 

There’s also been the loss of affordable housing with the tech boom. Lastimosa says that while the Filipinx community has been in SOMA for over 120 years, their population from the last two censuses has been cut in half. 

She hopes that Liwanag 3 will continue to affirm Filipinx history, narrative, and experience. Lastimosa recognizes art as inspiration for activism, and as a time capsule. “We know that artists are, in a way, historians,” Lastimosa says. “They’re the ones that really help us remember and document and see the experience that we’re going through.”

Liwanag 3 is currently accepting submissions in both literature and art until August 23. Lastimosa says the editors will wait to go through submissions first before deciding on a theme. They’re also trying to highlight the diversity of identities in Filipinx-American culture.

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