Filipino art takes over a San Francisco neighborhood

Published September 29, 2020, 4:00 PM

by Kerry Tinga

The urban art covers plain utility boxes, featuring the abakada Filipino alphabet and symbols of modern Filipino culture

For Filipinos who have been there, the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood in San Francisco can sometimes feel like a part of home away from home. There is a large Filipino population that is proud of their heritage so much so that a section has been officially declared the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District. 

There is perhaps nothing more Filipino than the flourishing of creativity, even in the most unlikely of places. For example, a plain, old utility box being transformed into a piece of urban art that is not only striking but also informative.

On its Facebook page, the SOMA Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District proudly posted photos of utility boxes covered with Filipino designed art. Each utility box now has two letters from our abakada Filipino alphabet, one letter on each side. 

With each letter there is an illustration of a Tagalog word that not merely begins with the letter, it is also a word that reflects Filipino culture.

A Filipino flag adorns a design for the letter “w” for watawat, reflecting the pride we have for our country. A radyo can be found on the design for the letter “r” because Filipinos are always looking for music to jam out and sing-a-long with. A loving embrace, or yakap, is on a design for the letter “y” since we are such a hospitable and welcoming people. Although we should probably hold off on any embracing until after the pandemic is over.

On the other sides of the utility boxes are designs inspired by the traditional Hinabi weaving textile designs of indigenous tribes of the Philippines. There are also symbols for the pre-colonial writing system of the country, the Baybayin.

The Art on Utility Boxes project was a collaboration between the SOMA Community Action Network (SOMCAN) and the Filipino education center Galing Bata.

‘The sentiment behind this project was to expose everyone, enrich the youth, engage families, and empower the community.’

It was Lian Ladia of SOMCAN who approached Galing Bata for the project. The education center has provided cultural programs to young children over the years through workshops, but this project would bring the beauty of the Filipino language to the streets for everyone to see. They worked with artist Mel Vera Cruz to create designs that reflected the Philippines and the Filipino community.

“Aside from it being a learning tool, we believe that these flashcards showcase the long-lasting history and continuous presence of Filipinos in San Francisco,” says Galing Bata staff Shari Sarinas and Mark Belocura. “The sentiment behind this project was to expose everyone, enrich the youth, engage families, and empower the community.”