Episode 194 – “Our Vibranium is our Culture”: SF’s SoMa Pilipinas w/ Desi Danganan

The South of Market, or SoMa neighborhood in San Francisco is a historical place for Filipino Americans for a century.  Throughout its history, many Filipinos have called SoMa home with its affordable apartments, neighborhood amenities, and proximity to jobs in downtown San Francisco.  Community advocates have been established cultural institutions and social services for its largely working class residents for decades, making SoMa Pilipinas, as its affectionately called, a true epicenter of Filipino Americans in the Bay Area.  In 2016, the community successfully lobbied the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to officially designate SoMa Pilipinas as a cultural heritage district.

Yet, SoMa Pilipinas faces many challenges in its quest to become a cultural heritage district. San Francisco’s Filipino American population has decreased by 20% in the last 20 years due to housing prices and displacement.  Additionally, Filipinos are not necessarily tied to an ethnic economy like other Asian Americans thus opting for home ownership in suburban areas like Daly City, Union City, and Vallejo over the last 40 years, ineffectually creating geographic dispersal.  Plus, the majority of the property owners and developers in the neighborhood are not Filipino at all.

The good folks in SoMa Pilipinas have nonetheless been fighting to create a cultural hub for Filipinos in the Bay. In this TFAL episode, we talk to Desi Danganan of Balay Kreative, a local Filipino arts and cultural accelerator, and founder of the wildly popular Undiscovered SF. Listen as we discuss the strategies and challenges of building SoMa Pilipinas, how the Filipino American “creative class” (to borrow Richard Florida’s famous urban planning term) is the key to their efforts, and the political growing pains of creating community. We also get a short story of young Desi as a “Krazy Klown.” =)

Efforts like SoMa Pilipinas parallel many similar initiatives throughout North America – Stockton’s Little Manila, New York’ s Little Manila in Woodside Queens, Toronto’s blah, Seattle Filipinotown/International District, and TFAL ‘s home LA’s Historic Filipinotown. For anyone interested or wondering about the economics and politics of creating a Filipino district or how ethnic “towns” are key to identity and community, this episode is definitely for you.

Listen or download the episode through the embedded player on this page, or subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts here. And for folks on Spotify, you can take a listen to us here.

Are you involved in creating a Filipino district in your city?  Are you curious?  Let us know your thoughts! Leave us a voicemail (805) 394-TFAL or email us at thisfilipinoamericanlife@gmail.com.

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