I'm not, as it happens, a pinoyfile (pinoypile?) but I do have a special connection with Fil Am history and culture--not because I sought it, but because the Bay Area Fil Am community runs like blood through Asian American history and organizing, in a way that no other individual ethnic community does. You can't ignore it, and you can draw from it.
My first job here in the Bay Area, the job that defined me to the community and defined my mission and vocation in life to myself, was at Kearny Street Workshop. KSW was so called because it had originated in the International Hotel, an SRO on Kearny Street that housed largely elderly Filipino American men who had been seasonal laborers earlier in the century.
The International Hotel fell victim to San Francisco's insane real estate politics in the 1960's. It was the last building standing of what had once been Manilatown, bordering on Chinatown, but had since been eaten up by the Financial District. The residents of the I-Hotel were one building away from being banished to Daly City, and they didn't go without a fight. The fight, as it turns out, took up the better part of a decade, and the eviction and Fall of the I-Hotel didn't happen until 1977 ... and among a city-wide upheaval that had the local sheriff imprisoned for three days for contempt of court for refusing to evict, etc.
The Hotel was razed but, because of in-fighting, the hole it left in the ground remained empty for 23 years. Then the I-Hotel was rebuilt, yes, and as an SRO for the elderly, with a Fil Am cultural center on its ground floor, in spite of the jockeying, and the partners backing out, and the neverneverland reality of San Francisco real estate politics, in great part because of Bill Sorro.
One of the leading lights of the Save the I-Hotel fight, Bill was a founding member of the I-Hotel Tenants Union, and remained a housing rights advocate and community leader for the rest of his life.
Bill Sorro was pretty much my first contact in the San Francisco Fil Am community. He was a genuinely kind and generous man. When I met him, he didn't know me at all, or know my abilities or quality. But because I was working for the Asian American community, that was all he needed to know. He gave me respect, never talked down to me, never demanded any sort of literal or metaphorical accounting for my time or passion. He remembered my name from the first and had a smile and palaver for me every time I saw him.
Now that I'm a bit older and am watching young twentysomethings flop into the community like underfed puppies, I realize what a rare thing such generosity and respect for the rookies is. Getting people into the work was his thing, not so much getting them to respect his work. And of course, as a result, he had the most respect of all.
Many of his peers have been passing this clutch of years, many of them people I knew and liked and worked with. But, although I never really knew Bill all that well, I felt a pang at his death unlike the regret I've felt for the others. He was a truly bright and warm presence.