I want to show you this photo of an old man walking out of a building into the street with his hands full. He seems to lean to his right-hand side, which holds the bigger piece of luggage. In his left hand he holds a slightly more compact suitcase whose handle he hooks with his three smallest fingers so his thumb and forefinger can pinch some kind of stick—a broom maybe or baston. I love his bright panama hat with its clean flat brim and dark band. His pants are black, with a straight crease pressed down the front. Even with one foot forward, the hem doesn’t ride too high.
For this man, it is still 1977. Not a week before this picture was taken, officers of the City of San Francisco broke down the doors of Manilatown’s International Hotel in the middle of the night with a battering ram, then woke this old-timer and the 40 other residents on order of eviction, despite a decade of negotiations, resistance, marches, actions, and protests by thousands of folks from all around the Bay. The I Hotel residents were mostly Asians, most of them manongs, a term of respect for Filipino laborers who worked in America’s canneries, fields, and boats . . . They were poor, working-class folks and this was their home since the 1920s, the one place they could afford. Four days after the midnight raid and eviction, the manongs were allowed to go back and retrieve their belongings—like this gentleman in the photo—though their units had been ransacked and vandalized.
Look again at the picture, the high shine of his shoes’ leather. There’s something so familiar about this man. Too easy to say he could be uncle or cousin. One of my dad’s poker buddies in the 70s. When I look carefully at the man’s attire, I think of the wish that attire can make.