On August 4 at 6 p.m., Manilatown Heritage Foundation is unveiling master Kalinga weaver Jenny Bawer Young‘s Chewang chi Biyeg Tapestry, developed in collaboration with the Kalingafornia Laga weaving circle and creative efforts of the Mabilong Weavers of Lubuagan, Philippines. Year-long development of the ambitious tapestry incorporated free community backstrap weaving workshops at the International Hotel Manilatown Center. The weaving’s unveiling is part of a larger 40th Anniversary Commemoration of the I-Hotel Eviction.
Chewang chi Biyeg in the Kalinga language means “River of Life,” and the tapestry illustrates the Kalinga people’s victorious struggle against planned dam projects on the Chico River in the Cordillera Region of the Philippines during the 1960s-1980s. The Chico River is considered the lifeblood of the Cordillera people, traversing villages, ancient rice terraces, and sacred burial grounds — many of which would have been destroyed by the dams. The artist writes, “Our tapestry connects this struggle for ancestral domain to the i-Hotel Eviction Struggle, which was first and foremost a struggle to keep one’s home.”
The Commemoration program also features a screening of Curtis Choy’s The Fall of the I-Hotel, a special appearance by the film’s director, and guest panels featuring original defenders of the hotel’s tenants along with contemporary housing rights activists. It will close with a candlelight vigil.
The International Hotel, a low-income residential hotel in a once-thriving Filipino neighborhood, was the site of a dramatic housing-rights battle. As a center for Filipino and Asian American activism in the 1970s, the building housed nearly 150 Filipino and Chinese seniors, three community groups, an art workshop, a radical bookstore, and three Asian newspapers.
From 1968 to 1977, the hotel landlords tried to evict the residents and build a parking lot. The tenants organized a massive alliance and successfully resisted eviction until August 4, 1977. The building was demolished in 1979 and the lot remained a vacant hole for many years. In 2005, due to a concerted effort by local neighborhood groups, the I-Hotel was rebuilt to provide 104 units of low-income senior housing and the International Hotel Manilatown Center that celebrates the legacy of San Francisco’s Manilatown.