Artist honors influential Filipinos on downtown San Francisco billboard

SAN FRANCISCO — This art piece is called “Abeyance,” and it is installed on the facade of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts or YBCA theater in downtown San Francisco.

It features three phrases by three Filipinos of the Bay Area, who were, and still are, very influential.

The phrases lay over an altered photographic image of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach.

YBCA commissioned bay area-born Fil-Am artist Jerome Reyes to create this project.

“Filipino-American history is absolutely American history! It’s absolutely a part of the way this country has changed, I believe, for the better. So I give people different ways to enter that billboard with different quotes, with the image behind it of the beach in San Francisco. There’s a lot about it informally that works that allows people to get into the largest story of the U.S., which was my bigger goal.”

The first quote is from a 2011 New York Times article by undocumented Filipino filmmaker and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, where he remembers the parting words of his mother, uttered in Tagalog, as he left the Philippines in search of what his mother hoped would be a better life.

The second quote is from celebrated activist and poet Al Robles — who fought to save the city’s international hotel which was the epicenter of resistance to redevelopment and the displacement of its elderly immigrant tenants in the 1970s.

The last quote is from Victoria Manalo Draves — a product of San Francisco — who was the first-ever Asian-American, Filipina-American Olympic champion.

She won two gold medals in the 1948 Summer Olympics, for diving.

In the future, Reyes believes this art piece will commemorate the time before Vargas experienced his victory, like Robles and Draves.

“At the bottom, Victoria Manalo Draves petrified, wins two gold medals. Al Robles co-leads the fight to win a new international hotel. And I told Jose, “I’m putting you at the top because I believe you’re going to win.” I don’t know what it’s going to look like… whether it’s citizenship, he goes back to see him mom. But to know that history is active. You play a part in it.”

For his next project, Reyes has a series of architectural drawings of all the student movements he discovered in his research.

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