California’s New State-Designated Cultural District: SOMA Pilipinas in San Francisco

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by Yeo-Ri Kim
SOMA Pilipinas’ cohort at the Pistahan Parade 2016 [Image: SOMA Pilipinas Facebook account]

In July, the California Arts Council announced that the SOMA (South of Market) Pilipinas—Filipino Cultural Heritage District in San Francisco—will serve as a state-designated Cultural District. California’s newly launched Cultural District program will support 14 cultural districts to promote the Golden State’s cultural diversity. The California Arts Council will provide statewide marketing strategies, technical assistance and branding resources to selected cultural districts for the next five years, partnering with Visit California and the California Department of Transportation.

Located in San Francisco’s Bay-Area, SOMA Pilipinas has long been a home for Filipino immigrants in the city. Many Filipinos began immigrating to San Francisco in the early 20th century, and the population has continued to grow: in 2015, Filipinos were the second largest Asian group in the area. As the Filipino population has spread throughout the Bay-Area, it has enriched the local economy and culture.

In April of 2016, the city’s Board of Supervisors decided to create the Filipino Cultural Heritage District in the South of Market Neighborhood to preserve a historical landmark of the city and the Filipino community. This June, Mayor Ed Lee announced that the city will support SOMA Pilipinas’ new cultural programs and Filipino-owned businesses with an investment of $150,000. The SOMA Pilipinas began a monthly Creative Night Market  last week to promote public awareness of Filipino culture and economic activities in the neighborhood.

Tagalog—the national language of Philippines, also called Filipino—is the second most commonly spoken foreign language after Spanish in California. Currently, the University of San Francisco’s Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program offers students opportunities to engage in local and international social justice advocacy of Filipinos as well as advanced language courses. In mid-August, Filipino Arts and Events hosted the 24th Pistahan Parade Festival—the largest Filipino festival in the United States—providing a great opportunity for the people of San Francisco to build a stronger relationship with the Filipino community and celebrate the city’s cultural diversity.  

Yeo-Ri Kim is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a Master's candidate in Global Policy Studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas.