The South of Market district in San Francisco is home to a plethora of things — tech giants like Twitter, swanky residential hotels, studios and art spaces, the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art plus a hum drum of restaurants, clubs and bars — ideal for tourists and would-be residents to call home.
While this influx of traffic is generally seen as a boon to the district, it casts a long, dark shadow to what makes SoMa a historic and amazing place to be in: its mainstays, mostly brown and black folks.
What might be a a relatively unknown fact to most is that the SoMa is also home to a sizable Filipino population — the largest concentration in San Francisco — residents of the area since the 1900s. In April 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution establishing SoMa Pilipinas marking 2nd St. to 11th St. down from Market St. to Brannan St. the Filipino cultural heritage district in the City.
And right on Mission St., between 5th and 6th, is a very special corner I’ve always loved to call home: the Arkipelago Books, a Filipino bookstore carrying titles by and of Filipinos. I first came across Arkipelago at a yearly Filipino festival called Pistahan. I met Marie in her stall back then, as I perused and tried to contain my excitement over classics I recognized plus a lot of new titles neatly stacked.
That was about six or seven years ago, and I’ve gone back to Arkipelago frequently to procure more books. A few weeks ago, I came across a friend’s post on Facebook with a fundraising link for the bookstore as it expands its services, upgrade its equipment and other services, as well as venture out into publishing.
On a sunny Friday in the City, I ventured out to the bookstore and got a chance to meet Lily Prijoles, the new owner along with her other Pinay partners Golda Sargento, Ley Ebrada and Charity Ramilo. What followed was an exploration and conversations on pre-colonial Philippines, Melinda Bobis, bookselling and Arkipelago’s future ventures.
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I first found out about Arkipelago like Pistahan, and I met Marie a couple of times. What’s unique about Arkipelago bookstore?
A lot of Fil-Ams, are trying to get into their pre-colonial side, the pre-colonial Philippines, because they want to discover more about it. We try to accommodate them with books but a lot of the books are very dense and academic, or if we do get books there’s not enough people writing about them. They want to know about Ifugao, Igorot and other indigenous tribes. They’re finding out something about themselves and it helps that Whang-Od is doing all these interviews, doing tattoos. But also a lot of people are looking up Eskrima and Arnis and those have hints of pre-colonial roots of the Philippines.
I finally found a book — Tahanan, which is a publisher, came out with it. They came out with Halo-Halo Histories which is a children’s book about the history of the Philippines. It has pictures and easy explanations and I get a lot of parents buying it not just for their kids, but also because they want to find out for themselves. Their warehouse in the U.S. is all gone! It’s written by these four anthropologists and they did a lot of intensive research about our history. We were colonized but how were we before that?
That’s really interesting to know, because I’ve also found books to be self-revelatory tools.
Yes, and it’s mostly Filipino women who look for these books. And if you think about it, rre-colonial Philippines is empowering to a lot of women. There was more gender equality even before the Bible came.
The creation story in the Philippines is Malakas at Maganda, who were created at the same time as opposed to Adam and Eve, wherein Eve was born out of Adam’s rib. Then you start thinking about the roles of women, and a lot of pre-colonial requests are from Pinays, and finding empowering positions of women in history.
I tell them: Don’t be a coy, just tell me what you want. I’m a sister — I got you!