A beloved steward of truth, justice, and art died yesterday. Al Robles, the Filipino activist and poet, will be missed by all. The announcement came to a scattering of audience members last night by text message while they watched the Los Angeles premiere of Curtis Choy's new film about Robles entitled Manilatown is in the Heart. (View trailer here) In a tragic and kind of awkwardly-timed manner, the moderators and the filmmaker had to announce the sad news to the audience before the question and answer, right after they screened Choy's homage to the poet; a tear-laden moment of silence was dedicated to him.
I chatted with Mr. Robles about three years ago in front of the I-Hotel in San Francisco. I wasn't too familiar with him at the time, only that he wrote his colorful book of poetry entitled "Rappin' with Ten Thousand Carabaos in the Dark" and he was a brilliant community and arts organizer most notably during the Asian American movement, which came to force during the early 1970s. As the buses went by in front of us, he came up to me and started talking--about the rough yet vibrant life of Filipino farmworkers who resided on Kearney Street, where the I-Hotel is located. He is a child of jazz music, but Al also speaks like jazz is played--free, rule-breaking, and spirited. Al is a genuine representative of Filipino creativity and passion.
I am not one to speak about Mr. Robles because I did not know him and am still learning more about him and the people/community around him.
Please read more about him here:
From Hyphen Magazine:
"I just got the news via email. Manong Al died today. I didn't even know he was sick..." CONTINUE READING (see comments)
From Poor Magazine (written by his nephew, the author Tony Robles):
"But there was love and beauty in the struggle. His poems talk about the taxi hall dances, where Filipinos paid their meager earnings to dance with a blondie, a dance that would end as quickly as it began..." CONTINUE READING (great stuff)
From Prometheus Brown:
"News that Manong Al had passed away reached me last night as we sat in anticipation for the Pacquiao/Hatton fight to begin. Suddenly, I had realized that, in all my trips to San Francisco, even performing once at Kearny Street Workshop where he was a resident poet, I never got a chance to meet Manong Al, which made the subsequent celebration bittersweet. But as I looked around a room full of cheering Filipinos, I thought of his poetry in his book Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabao in the Dark, where he described nights of kickin it, drinkin, celebrating with the Manongs..." CONTINUE READING
From Bambu Rants:
"on the morning of may 2nd, i spent my first waking hours doing the usual morning routine -- brushing my teeth, preparing my clothes for the day and reciting the lyrics... "...al robles to the i-hotel, i don't budge..." that line was on repeat for no reason that entire morning..." CONTINUE READING
"...Last year I took one of my classes to the MHF and there was Al, big as life, chatting with the art gallery staff. I immediately recognized his bushy ponytail and beard, but it was his distinctive voice that confirmed to me his identity. My students and I were a bit starstruck..." CONTINUE READING