The San Francisco Chronicle has angered the Filipino community over an article and its accompanying social media post that both negatively portrayed the Pistahan Festival, an important annual Filipino American tradition.
Organized each year by the Filipino American Arts Exposition, the Pistahan Festival is a highlight for many Filipinos in San Francisco as it celebrates art, dance, music, and food from their country of origin, The Philippines.
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Locals who celebrated this year’s festivities over the weekend at the Yerba Buena Gardens were shocked to find the Chronicle’s demeaning coverage of the two-day event.
The original article, which has since been edited due to the online backlash, began with a paragraph filled with insults and racial undertones:
“The scent of fresh lumpia wafted through downtown San Francisco as thousands of Filipinos and Filipinos-for-a-day banged drums, danced, twirled sticks, threw candy, decked themselves out in colorful garb and tried, unsuccessfully, to make themselves as numerous as the folks who turned out for the Pride and St. Patrick’s Day parades.”
The article further mocked the so-called “unsuccessful” parade with this line that left many attendees enraged:
“The Saturday parade down Market Street from Civic Center to Yerba Buena Gardens was not short of energy but it was, at times, short of eyeballs watching it. In many spots along the sidewalk, spectators stood zero deep.”
Some Filipino readers expressed their thoughts on the article by explaining the point of the festival in the comments.
“Hey, SF Chronicle!!!! 🚨 Why would you use such a negative statement such as ‘unsuccessful’ to describe a cultural celebration?” one commenter wrote. “To compare a fest of Philippine culture and art to an activist movement is wrong. Filipinos are small but mighty, and the energy that these crowds and the parade participants bring every year is so empowering that it draws me back every single year. Filipinos are more than food, art, dance, and culture. We are a collective community that is capable of so much love and generosity. This article was demeaning.”
“Hi! As someone who volunteered both days at this festival, I really think that whoever wrote this caption missed the entire point,” another pointed out. “This was a celebration of Filipino culture and heritage, music and food, and a way for us to connect with our own community, as well as with those in others. I saw all manner of people walking by, asking questions, and enjoying Filipino food and culture! It doesn’t matter that we might not have had as much of a crowd as Pride or St. Patrick’s Day. What matters is that we reached out and made a connection, something that the writer clearly failed to do, or was unwilling to do with us. But please, learn from this. Volunteer next year, and I know that doing so will show you what the real meaning of this festival was, beyond just drawing crowds.”
Many criticized the media outlet and the caption’s writer for their condescending tone in comparing the size of the Pistahan Festival to the massive Pride and Saint Patrick’s Day Parades.
Another Instagram user pointed out that lumpia isn’t the only dish the Philippines is known for, and the phrase “Filipinos-for-a-day” can be widely perceived as if being Filipino is a costume one can throw away. The antagonistic tone of the caption, the generalized assumptions of Filipinos and the culture, and the comparison to Pride and the St. Patrick’s Day parade to describe the Filipino festival as inferior to them have been widely received as text-book racism by The Chronicle.
Meanwhile, some are demanding an apology as this user expressed in a Facebook post:
“I know the Filipino community here in the Bay Area is not that big. And our parade is not as big as Saint Patrick Day or The Pride Parade. And we will never beat that. And we’re not trying to! This is a community event! It is organized by the community. And no one is getting paid to do so. No big tech company sponsor. It’s all community!”
“Yes, it’s not big!! But the community made this happen… And NO!! We don’t make Yerba Beuna and downtown San Francisco smells like FRESH LUMPIA you racist bastard!! (YES I SAID!!) “FILIPINOS-FOR-A-DAY”? WHAT’S THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?”
— Pistahan Parade & Festival (@sfpistahan) August 10, 2019
San Francisco Chronicle then tried, unsuccessfully, to pacify the outrage by acknowledging the inclusion of “inappropriate characterization and phrasing” but without issuing an apology.
On the edited Instagram post, which removed references about the scent of lumpia, the size of attendees, and comparisons to other parades, they added this sentence: “This post has been edited to remove some inappropriate characterizations of the event. The online story was also re-edited.”
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The annual Pistahan festival in San Francisco, a two-day celebration of Filipino culture, was held over the weekend, and it was plenty loud and joyful. Thousands of festival-goers banged drums, danced, twirled sticks, threw candy, and decked themselves out in colorful garb. There were candidates in convertibles, beauty queens in sashes, kids in costumes, cops on motorcycles and all manner of other revelers. ~ Editor’s note: This post has been edited to remove some inappropriate characterizations of the event. The online story was also re-edited. ~ 📷: @chinnski #sanfrancisco #sf #california #philippines #filipino #pilipinas #culture #parade #heritage
The unedited version with the original content that left readers livid is still viewable in online reprints as of this writing.