StoryCorps: Exploring Filipino Arts in SoMa through Bindlestiff Studios

Bindlestiff was a second home to many Filipinos and had become a multi-generational cultural hub, a beloved and important space within the community.

SoMa Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District, concentrated in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, is home to performance spaces that document and nurture the growth of Filipino arts and artists. One of these spaces is Bindlestiff Studio, the first and only community-based Filipino performance venue. In celebration of Filipino American History Month, CAAM and StoryCorps SF collaborated to capture some oral histories from Filipino Americans in SoMa. 

Bindlestiff Studio is currently presenting Stories High XVI, their annual and long-running page-to-stage workshop series, which opened October 13 and runs through October 29.

Bindlestiff Studio holds a special place in Filipino arts today because it is the only community-based Filipino performance art space in the United States. Bindlestiff cultivates a space of reflection and celebration of Filipino values, traditions, and histories through artistic expression and community engagement.

Much like the manongs of the I-Hotel, Bindlestiff Studios received an eviction notice from the city. In 2003, it had lost its theater to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Bindlestiff was a second home to many Filipinos and had become a multi-generational cultural hub, a beloved and important space within the community. Bindlestiff connected with tenant organizations, community leaders, and student activists to form a massive and powerful coalition to get their space back, according to Lorna Velasco, the Artistic Director of Bindlestiff until June 2016. The Filipino diaspora has an extensive history of activism for visible community spaces within SoMa. Even under the threat of eviction, Bindlestiff continued to maintain their theater productions in order to pay rent.

Allan Manalo and Oliver Saria, the previous and current Managing Director respectively, discuss the history behind the space.

The connection between the arts and activism that’s happening [and] that has always been happening in the neighborhood. It continues to this day. It really shapes who we are as artists. —Oliver Saria

People saw the relevance of Bindlestiff and the reason why it needed to be preserved. [It] is because we weren’t just doing a knock-off of a European play, we were doing stuff that people really felt was really relevant to them and culturally it opened and created a window, a voice for people to see what Filipino Americans are all about. —Allan Manalo

The amount of organizing for the space emphasizes how presence of a Bindlestiff Studio as a dedicated theater space allows for the reassurance and validity of Filipino American history, traditions, and art.  

Bindlestiff Studio provides a space for Pilipino and Filipino American stories to be shown by Pilipino and Filipino Americans. SoMa Pilipinas helps facilitate a space for this collaboration of Filipino arts, culture, and traditions. The visibility of the Filipino community in SoMa is important and urgent. 

–Patricia Cruz

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Patricia Cruz is a Memories to Light Intern at CAAM and is a student at UC Berkeley. She is interested in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies and also makes short films in her spare time. Her work has been selected in student film festivals and she hopes to show Asian American narratives in her films.

Audio editing by Davin Agatep. Davin Agatep is the Media Fund Manager and the Project Manager for Memories to Light: Asian American Home MoviesHe currently holds an M.F.A. in Music Production and Sound Design for Visual Media from the Academy of Art University, as well as a B.A. in U.S. History from San Francisco State University.

In partnership with StoryCorps.