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Everyday People: Interview with Kiwi

Mornin’ folks, here I have the 2nd installment of Everyday People, my mini-interview series featuring folks in the community. Today I’m interviewing the homie Kiwi, a Filipino MC/educator from Los Angeles but currently based in the Bay Area. Along with Bambu and DJ Phatrick, Kiwi was apart of the highly-influential rap group Native Guns.

1. Who are you, where are you from, and why are you here?

My name is Kiwi Illafonte, I’m a rapper, producer, DJ, writer, graphic designer, educator, and community organizer. I’m from Oakland, CA by way of Los Angeles. I’m here because of my mother.

2. What is one defining experience from your life that helped make you who you are?

There are many. When my homie Russell got killed in the 10th grade. When I first heard BDP’s “Stop the Violence.” The first time I had a gun pointed at me. When my mom had to go with me to the police station cause I got busted tagging. But the one that probably sticks out the most was when I did my first exposure trip to the Philippines in 1998. It was the first time I was experiencing firsthand all the theories and analysis I had been learning about in books and workshops. I learned about how inherent organizing was among the Filipino people, and how powerful people power can be. I returned from that trip committed to that struggle, the movement for National Democracy in the Philippines.

3. Who are some of your biggest influences?

My mother first and foremost. She modeled courage, strength, sacrifice, and resilience to me. Bill Sorro was another huge influence. He was the first real father figure in my life, and in addition to being a fierce champion for housing and tenant rights in San Francisco, he showed me how be a loving revolutionary. I’m also influenced by all the amazing community that I keep close. They are usually the ones with the ideas and thoughts that become my songs or my writings. They are the ones who check me when I say/do dumb shit, who challenge my ideas with their own experiences, and who encourage me to keep working.

4. What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing, and what are you doing to overcome them?

Well, my mother passed away a few months ago, and I’m learning each day that grieving and healing is a protracted process. I’m learning to be easy on myself, to ask for help, to cry my ass off, and to be okay with solitude.

Another challenge that I’m right in the middle of is transitioning out of the non-profit world, which I’ve been stuck in for over a decade. Sometimes when we do things for awhile, we become comfortable in them, and we don’t realize there are other options. Recently I resigned from my current job, am going to travel across the world this summer, and will start taking classes full-time at Laney College. It’s pretty scary, but I’m learning that we figure out ways to survive, and in the end I’ll be just fine.

5. What gives you the inspiration/motivation to push on everyday?

Honestly I feel like the world is jacked up, and I would like to contribute to un-doing the damage that humans have done. I want to live to see true justice and equality. I want to leave behind a better world for our children.

6. (bonus) How does it feel knowing that your music has influenced so many people and to be credited as one of the Filipino pioneers in hip-hop? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I honestly don’t really put too much stock in my legacy in hip hop. If anything, I feel like I can honor hip hop best by being true to myself and my community, by organizing and fighting for justice and social change, whether that’s through rapping or otherwise. I do recognize that I have a certain position cause of what I’ve done, and I try my best to use that position to raise awareness and uplift my community.

Currently I’m recording and performing with my band Bandung 55 (that name’s going to change eventually). I’m also working on a solo EP and a book.

Check Kiwi out at http://www.illafonte.com/. Photo above by Leo Docuyanan.

Tonight in San Francisco!

Tonight in San Francisco!

3 years after the “The Wake Up Report: Gentrification”

About 3 years ago I wrote, filmed, and edited a video about gentrification in SF. I wanted to raise awareness in my own community, nationwide and even internationally about what was going on. I never thought that the problem would have gotten this much worse by 2013. Sometimes I think about this and it almost bring me to tears. I live in Oakland now and I hate coming to SF, it’s expensive just to visit. I get crammed into a sardine can BART train, or pay $6 toll and sit in awful traffic on the Bay Bridge, and I look around and at all these faces and almost never see anyone familiar. 

San Francisco is now Babylon. The city culture used to be based on community, on diversity, on peace and happiness like the hippies preached when they came in the 1969 Summer of Love. Of course there was always the gap between the really rich and the really poor neighborhoods, but so many people were able to come together within that gap. They are the ones who helped make this city so wonderful that people from all over the world wanted to live here. But now SF culture is based on greed, selfishness, and hedonism. Whereas before you had hippies, artists and community-minded folks flocking to the Bay Area, now you have people who don’t have seem to have much interests besides following trends, making money, drinking, and running through SF like it’s their own personal playground. This is really symptomatic of the kind of sick American personalities based in ignorance, privilege and entitlement that seem to be predominant in most of the 50 states these days. I don’t want any part of it. 

One time another SF native and I were walking near the Embarcadero on a crowded Sunday morning. We looked around and realized that the only other black people in the area besides us were homeless. That’s probably quite proportionate to the general city population- the only neighborhood that hasn’t had a drop in its black population is the Tenderloin and 6th St./SoMa area, where most housing for homeless folks is located. This is all part of the plan: the war on drugs, the epidemic of street violence, the prison industrial complex, the constant cycle of poverty- all of that shit has been working like a charm. People always tell me it’s a class issue, not a race issue, but if you’re black or brown you’re born into those types of conflicts. We inherit them. Our ancestors were exterminated and enslaved and the same tactics used on them are more or less being used on us. If you read comments on news articles or social networks, people act like all the minorities just floated away and are now living on some magical island or something. Actually, I take that back, they don’t really seem to care where we’ve gone at all. They just praise how much safer and cleaner certain neighborhoods have become. Well if the city managed to clean up those neighborhoods, why couldn’t they have done so when they were mostly populated by people of color? 

Once I was on 4th and Mission, where graffiti used to be pretty common, and I noticed there wasn’t a single sticker posted or tag on the walls. The streets and gutters were spotless. Now, head on over to BVHP and tell me where you can find the same quality of street cleaning. It’s very obvious that the city government is deliberately ignoring the needs of certain peoples and communities while bending over backwards for others. Meanwhile, they will blame and criminalize the residents of those communities for responding to the unlivable conditions that the city itself established. 

Another time, I was walking in the actual Mission District, 15th and Mission, and I noticed huge condos being built and advertised. RIght away I thought, “Oh hell nah! We gotta do something to stop this!” Just then I realized that the developmental planning on those condos had probably started years ago; that all the permits were in place; that the time do something about it had long gone. This is consistent with all the other issues and actions related to gentrification. The more research I do, the  more I realize that this has plan has been in place for decades. It goes back to redevelopment of the Fillmore and the creation of the “Western Addition;” it goes back to government shutdown of the Hunter’s Point shipyard and the transformation of that area into a toxic waste dump; it goes back to the military internment of Japanese citizens during WWII; it goes back to the massacre of Native Americans by miners and mountain men during the gold rush; and all the way back to when conquistadors touched down from Spain and forced the Ohlone people into the Mission system. 

Almost every turn of events related to city politics in the last 50 years has led us to this. The closure of public schools, gang injunctions, metered parking on Sundays, tickets & citations no one can afford, sit-lie laws, the courtship of the America’s Cup, and the endless development of high-price housing- they are all part of this tangled web. 

Maybe this sounds extreme to some but now I relate to those Native Amercians. I relate to the Palestinians. I relate to anyone that’s had their homeland taken from them by people who look at you and everyone like you as inferior. These yuppies, hipsters and tech-types don’t care about struggles of poor, working class people. If anything they are disgusted by poverty; they look at homeless people as a nuisance, young black men as a fear, and outspoken Latina women as a threat. They are conveniently sheltered from us in nice Victorian homes we used to populate, and watch us from shaded outdoor patios at expensive trendy restaurants. To be an outsider in your own home is a terrible experience that I don’t wish on anyone.

Unfortunately this experience is not limited to San Francisco. What’s most disturbing is that this cycle of gentrification is common nationwide. My patna from New York laments about how whack Brooklyn has become. My homegirl from South Central LA is shocked to have white neighbors for the first time in her life. Even my folks in Asheville, North Carolina talks about how trendy hipsters have invaded the town. So, now I pose the question: what exactly can we do?

The sad answer is that, at this point, I simply don’t know. Honestly most of me has given up on San Francisco. I love living in Oakland, and these days that’s where I prefer to spend my time- something I never thought would be the case. But I know in my heart that I can’t just sit idle and start over here. Even if it was possible for me to fully abandon SF, I know that Oakland is experiencing the same type of change as we speak. I’m afraid that just as I get settled here, the Oakland natives that I know and love will be replaced with more of these modern-day colonizers. I’ve already seen it happen in just the short year and a half I’ve lived here. I don’t want to just lie down and accept it.

I want to be face-to-face with Mayor Ed Lee, look him in the eye and force him to address these truths I want to gather the displaced and soon-to-be-displaced residents of SF and force city politicians to give us a real answer. I want to call out some of the authors and publishers in the SF Chronicle on their biased articles. I want them to see, understand, and embrace how the true heart and soul of San Francisco is really living. I want to see some of these media and tech giants that have found success in our city use their massive revenue to help families and working-class people keep living here. I want people of privilege to empathize with our struggle instead of calling us lazy or accuse us of not working hard enough to keep up. More than anything, I want the same thing I wanted 3 years ago- I want the people who can really step up and do something about this to wake up- that means YOU.

BAY AREA! Get involved and give back this holiday season:

I am thrilled to announce that I will be participating in several charity drives this month. I’m working with several different people and organizations to try and raise toys for children and winter coats for the needy. If you’re in the San Francisco/Oakland area your support would be greatly appreciated. Here are some events going on THIS WEEKEND:

The homie L*Roneous throws toy drives every year, and this year he’s generously decided to throw one for the formerly-homeless families I work with in the Tenderloin. The goal is to collect 50 toys for boys and girls of all ages.

The SF chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation is celebrating its 7th anniversary by holding a coat drive. Their goal is to receive 300+ donations between now and January.

Break 4 Tots is an event sponsored by the Zulu Nation/Cloud 9 Tribe/Daily City Teens program. They are holding their 7th annual  dance competition and canned food/toy drive for Daly City families.

This a complete list of when, where, and what you can donate- the cool thing is that they are all awesome events:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 7th:

Molotov’s

582 Haight Street, San Francisco CA

DJs Deeandroid, Koo-C, Tay, & Jusone will be spinning classic hip-hop and punk rock to examine the history between the two genres.

Accepting: Canned food & coats

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 8th:

Showdown

10 6th St. San Francisco CA

Dj Sake One in the mix all night long on his Frisco Jones alone! 10 pm - 2 am

Accepting: Toys

Grant & Green Saloon 

1371 Grant Ave. San Francisco CA

Venture into North Beach for some Troubleman… Dj Troubleman, that is. fresh tunes broadcast from 10 pm - 2 am

Accepting: Toys

Shine Lounge

1337 Mission St, San Francisco CA

SF All Tribes Zulu Nation 7 year anniversary party with DJs Apollo, Koo-C, Sake One, TD Camp, and Delrokz

Accepting: Coats


Chopsticks Urban Art Space

2201 14th Ave. Oakland CA

You like street art? How about stickers? This is a sticker party for all ages of “slap” enthusiasts. noon - 8 pm

Accepting: Toys

Luka’s Taproom & Lounge

2221 Broadway, Oakland CA

Dj Kevvy Kev & guests live in the mix for some funky “SMOOVE” rhythms. your favorite Dj’s favorite Dj. 10 pm - 2 am

Accepting: Toys

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9th:

Bayshore Community Center

450 Martin St, Daly City CA

7th Annual Break 4 Tots b-boy competition

Accepting: Toys and canned food

If you would like to support but cant make it out to any of the events, you can drop off toys or donations to the Solidarity Co-Op, 800 Larkin (at Eddy) - Monday thru Friday noon - 6 pm. To arrange to donate canned food or coats, please e-mail alltribessf.uzn@gmail.com

So there you have it! Three days to donate canned food, coats, and/or toys in San Francisco, Daly City, and Oakland! If you have the time to make it to at least ONE of these locations and the resources to participate, please come through!

3 minute+ freestyle at Balboa High School during their Youth Solidarity event 11/29/12.


Shoutout to the youth leader Oscar on the beatbox.


For those that missed it, here is the recorded stream of my Hip-Hop & Activism Workshop, presented to the youth of Seattle Young People’s Project last Thursday August 23rd.The workshop is about hip-hop’s relation to the social movements of the 60s and 70s, how the government destroyed those movements and how they’re using those same tactics on hip-hop.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

This Friday I’m doing a benefit concert for the young people of Seattle. Watch this video to find out more and please support! Spread the word, donate to the youth organization, and if you’re in the area COME THROUGH!

The Young Lords

I just finished reading this book, “The Young Lords: A Reader.” I’m going to assume that most of the people reading this post have never heard of the Young Lords, just like me until I heard the song “Young Lords” by Immortal Technique. And even then, it wasn’t until I saw this fan-made mashup video to the song that I realized the Young Lords wasn’t just a title for a song, but a Puerto Rican revolutionary group from the 1970’s:

The video contains video and pictures of the Young Lords Party in action, protesting and organizing in their community. When I saw this I was shocked that, even as an Ethnic Studies college student and activist, I had never heard of them. After checking some information about them on the internet, I became really curious to know more. Online information was really limited, so I went down to library and took out the book above. The reader contains articles from Palante!, the Young Lords’ informational newspaper, as well as speeches and interviews of party member. I want to share with you all some of the things I learned about the Young Lords Party.

The book starts off by going over the Party’s history, and the history of the island of Puerto Rico itself. Originally inhabited by the indigenous Taino indians, who called the island Borinquen (which is why nowadays some Puerto Ricans call themselves Boriquas), the island was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus and colonized by Spain. The Spanish brutalized the Tainos, killing many of them, raping women, and forcing the people into slavery- same as they did all over North and South America and the Carribean. They eventually began importing kidnapped Africans to serve as slaves. Early on, Africans and Inidans rebelled against the Spanish colonizers but were defeated everytime. This is the foundation for the modern Puerto Rican’s mixed heritage of African, indigenous, and Spanish roots- a heritage they are quite proud of. After centuries of Spanish domination, the United States gained control of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, as well as Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines.

The US treated Puerto Ricans no differently than the Spanish, and the military and corporations quickly moved in to secure a military stronghold in the Carribean and take advantage of the island’s natural resources and human workforce. This led to the first migration of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland US. The US forced Puerto Ricans into cheap labor in factories and farms while establishing a puppet government on the island and indoctrinating the people with propoganda and education that praised the US as heroes while downplaying the achievements and accomplishments of historical Puerto Rican leaders. This is standard in colonization- brarinwashing the people into loving the very same country that is oppressing them.

Of course the US colonization of Puerto Rico was met with extreme opposition. There were many revolutionary leaders who fought for Puerto Rico’s freedom through community organizing, labor protests, and even assassination attempts. These freedom fighters were given harsh jail sentences often without fair trials, tortured, and even executed- of course you will never hear about them in any public school history class or textbook. But these revolutionaries were the predecessors of the people who would become the Young Lords in the late 1960s.

Amidst the cultural and social backdrop of the 1960s, when oppressed people around the world began to rebel against their oppressors, the Young Lords started off as a street gang in the Chicago slums. They eventually grew tired of the gang lifestyle and began organizing to help out in their community; cleaning up their neighborhood, assisting children and the elderly, and preventing crime and violence. Eventually they became a full-fledged political party and a chapter was founded in New York City. Tired of seeing their people be confined to tenement slums, given no educational or economic opportunity, drafted in the military, becoming strung out on drugs, and being oppressed on the basis of their ethnicity, the Young Lords decided to fight back.

Some of the things they did include: organize garbage strikes protesting the terrible job municipal services were doing of picking up their trash; circulate their own informational newspaper with articles on current events and Puerto Rican history; collaborate with other revolutionary groups of blacks, Chicanos, Asians, and poor whites; provide free breakfast programs for children; hold educational workshops in their communities; and advocate for the independence of the Puerto Rican nation from the United States. They stole an X-Ray machine truck from a local hospital and conducted lead poisoning and tuberculosis tests in their neighborhoods. They denounced racism worldwide and within the Puerto Rican community, promoting solidarity within their people regardless of skin color. They also advocated for gender equality and demanded that women be a crucial part of the revolution.

I was really inspired by the Young Lords. For one, I was amazed that the Party was started by youth (early membership ranged from ages 14-22). Also how they took action in their own communities without relying on government assistance. They built bridges between other communities and identified themselves as being part of the collective worldwide struggle of people from all oppressed/colonized countries. I encourage you to learn more about them, the Young Lords Reader would be a great start.

But the real reason I wanted to write this is because I believe that EVERYONE should know about them! Why are the Young Lords not included in history lessons? I have learned about the US revolution year after year during my public school education, why not the revolutionaries of our own people? Of course the answer is very clear. And, like the Young Lords, I believe that WE must create the change we want to see. So this post has been my attempt to spread the word. Hopefully the Young Lords inspired you as well!

One love.

As part of the #BeTheChange Tour, where proceeds shows in different parts of the country go to local organizations, I will be performing in Seattle August 24th. The show is going to benefit Seattle Young People’s Project (SYPP) and is being held at WAPI (Washington Asian/Pacific Islanders) Dungeon performance space. Participants from WAPI’s hip-hop program for youth, the Katalyst Project, will also be performing. I’ll also be in the Seattle area from the 20th-25th conducting workshops with other youth organizations. If you’re interested in building, please send me an e-mail! To learn more about the show, check out the Facebook event page. 

As part of the #BeTheChange Tour, where proceeds shows in different parts of the country go to local organizations, I will be performing in Seattle August 24th. The show is going to benefit Seattle Young People’s Project (SYPP) and is being held at WAPI (Washington Asian/Pacific Islanders) Dungeon performance space. Participants from WAPI’s hip-hop program for youth, the Katalyst Project, will also be performing. I’ll also be in the Seattle area from the 20th-25th conducting workshops with other youth organizations. If you’re interested in building, please send me an e-mail! To learn more about the show, check out the Facebook event page