New mural celebrates Fil-Am heroes and community leaders

A community artist paints a portrait of artist and activist Al Robles. | Contributed phtoos

‘Heroes’ project reflects aspirations of a long-standing immigrant community

SAN FRANCISCO, CA –– Over the past four months, 18-year-old Ramon Bonifacio would spend his Saturdays visualizing, sketching, stenciling, priming, and painting at the Bayanihan Community Center, at the corner of Mission and Sixth Streets. The recent high school graduate is among a group of artist-activists, educators, and community members dedicated to the creation of a mural that depicts and pays homage to eight Filipinx-American community leaders and SOMA heroes, each with special significance and/or outstanding contributions to SOMA’s Filipino community: Major Demetrio M. Cariño, World War II veteran; Al Robles, poet and activist; Dr. Dawn Bohulano-Mabalon, historian and professor; Dr. Mario Borja, physician and founder of FADF; Bullet X Marasigan, social worker and social justice advocate; Carlos Villa, artist and educator; Victoria Manalo Draves, U.S. Olympian diver and multiple gold medalist; and Bill Sorro, community activist.

On Saturday, July 13, the Filipino-American Development Foundation (FADF), South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), along with members of the community, volunteers and the family of these eight outstanding community members celebrated the completion of the “Heroes in Our Windows” mural at the Bayanihan Community Center 1010 Mission Street. From 6-8 p.m. participants unveiled the mural, discussed the s/heroes, enjoyed food, and commended the hard work of the volunteers responsible for its creation.

The Bayanihan Community Center is a Filipino community center located in the South of Market (SOMA), a neighborhood which has been home to generations of Filipino immigrants since the early 1900s. In 2016, the South of Market gained recognition as a Filipino Cultural Heritage District, to be known as SOMA Pilipinas. The Bayanihan Community Center, located in the heart of SOMA, might have been easy to walk by without notice in the past, but now this mural is an important reminder and inspiration to the community of SOMA.

Community members, family members of featured heroes, and guests at the unveiling of the mural in front of the Bayanihan Community Center. | Photo by Anthony Bongco

The mural artists, Mel Vera Cruz and England Hidalgo, have promoted the collective goal of achieving this project completely through volunteer community efforts. The heroes and sheroes were chosen collectively by the SOMA and Filipino community-at-large.

Family members of featured heroes, artists, and representatives at the mural unveiling program at the Bayanihan Community Center. | Photo by Anthony Bongco

Each hero holds a dear place in the South of Market, and has all in his/her own ways fought for and shaped the Filipino community into SOMA Pilipinas with a lasting 100-year impact in San Francisco. The mural is to give overdue recognition and visibility for achievements including advancing veterans equity, immigrant rights, tenant & housing rights, social justice, and the lasting influence of artists and activists from the I-Hotel struggle. The mural hopes to create a beacon of inspiration, hope, empowerment, a sense of belonging and reminder of collective power in a neighborhood that has undergone rapid changes since the turn of the century.

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