Rest In Power, Uncle Al Robles


I am a roller coaster of emotions right now. When I first got news of Uncle Al‘s passing, I was in line with a group of friends to get into the theater where the Pacquiao fight was being shown. We were all in utter shock because although we knew he was sick, he was recovering. We all looked at each other and were all thinking the same thing…Should we even be watching the fight right now? But knowing Uncle Al, he would have wanted us to. He was the type of person who was happy if everyone else is happy.

I attended a community memorial in his honor the next day at the Manilatown Center to pay my respects. It was because of him, Manilatown is here today. He was a champion of the poor and disenfranchised. He was a community activist working for housing rights and seniors’ rights. He, along with the late Uncle Bill Sorro, were among the tenants of the original International Hotel who fought for their right to fair housing until they were ultimately violently evicted. The eviction and eventual demolition of the I-Hotel did not stop them from fighting for the basic human right to fair housing, which then led to the rise of the new I-Hotel and Manilatown Center, which is located on the very same spot of the original I-Hotel.

Above all, he was an artist, whose writings and poetry served purpose. His work told the stories of our Man@ngs who came from the Philippines to find greener pastures, mostly in the farmlands of California. He was and still is an inspiration to me as an activist and an artist. What I remember most about him was his humanity. He loved the community and regarded each and every member as his own family. I remember seeing him at the most random moments in the South of Market Area (SOMA) of San Francisco, where I work at the Filipino Education Center (FEC) with Filipin@ elementary and middle school students. He was always out and about in the ‘hood, hardly ever staying indoors, because he liked being with the people.

My fondest memory with Uncle Al was when I was taking my students to Mendelson Community Garden in the SOMA, where there is a huge Filipin@ American Mural. As I was describing the mural, Uncle Al shows up out of nowhere and says hello to me and the kids. He then helps me a little bit by talking about the history of the mural and the community who made it happen. He must’ve had 4 bags full of groceries, but he put them all down just to be with us. That alone speaks volumes of how much he loved the community. Aside from being the students’ mentor, I also teach them Hiphop dance, and every year my students perform a Hiphop piece I teach them at the anniversary of the I-Hotel. Uncle Al and Uncle Bill have always expressed to me that they always look forward to seeing the FEC kids perform at the anniversary every year. That meant a lot to me coming from one artist to another, and from a community member who absolutely loved the youth.

At the community memorial for Uncle Al, people were sharing their memories of him, both funny and profound memories. He loved to laugh, he loved to write, and he loved music. Kuya Phil, another community artist, was really close to him, and being an ukulele musician, Uncle Al always asked him to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” every chance he got to. Kuya Phil got tired of Uncle Al’s constant song request after a while, but it meant the world to him to play it one last time for Uncle Al at the memorial. I could not hold my tears back any longer and cried my eyes out as Kuya Phil played and sang that song. That song truly embodies what Uncle Al was all about.

I then went to babae‘s and LFS‘s 7th annual Diwang Pinay after the memorial. I had been tasked out to do staging and sound, which was hard at first. But after paying tribute and a moment of silence to Uncle Al’s memory at the start of the program, I knew he would have wanted us to carry on with the show, because of its importance to the community and to Pinay women worldwide. I know he was enjoying the show just as much as we were.

Uncle Al, I love you, and you mean so much to me and other activists and artists in the community. You’re not just a dear friend, but a true kasama. Your kind words and love for the masses are inspirational to all. I know your spirit is now watching over us as we continue the struggle for basic human rights and dignity. Your poems and songs will live on forever in our hearts. And though you’re no longer in the pain you’ve been recently suffering, I want to be selfish enough to say I wish you were still here. Rest In Power, Kasama. Makibaka, Huwag Matakot!


2 Responses to “Rest In Power, Uncle Al Robles”

  1. […] as what happened with my fellow bloggers and BAYAN-USA organizers Geo and Kultural Guerilla I found out about the passing of Manong Al Robles through a text message, right before the […]

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