For Lily Ann Villaraza, it’s a little ironic that, in the middle of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month, staff at the City College of San Francisco’s Philippine Studies department may get the axe. Along with nearly 200 other City College full-time faculty, Villaraza, the department’s only full-time faculty member (and its chair) was handed a pink slip.
Last night, in the name of Philippine and other Asian studies, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Black students marched and condemned the layoffs, saying they viewed the cuts as a “direct attack” on their communities. The youth-led rally, also themed as Asian and Black solidarity, accompanied by a police brigade and blustering winds, began on Thursday night at Mission High School and fed into a march down to Castro Street near Market Street to elected City College Board of Trustee member Tom Temprano’s home to chant: “Hey, Tom, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!”
The City College San Francisco Board of Trustees is expected to finalize layoffs of up to 163 full-time faculty and 34 administrators next week to address the institution’s dire and persistent financial issues, affecting programs like Philippine Studies, English as a Second Language, nursing, and aircraft maintenance. The college has stated that cutting staff was “painful” but “necessary,” as 93 percent of its budget goes to salary and benefits and the college faces a $33 million budget shortfall.
“It’s important now, more than ever, that we fight to save our department from these cuts,” said Joemar Olit, a Philippine Studies student and member of Anakbayan SF, a student organization for democracy in the Philippines. Dressed in a barong — a traditional Filipino long-sleeved, embroidered shirt — on the steps of Mission High School, Olit said the classes he took allowed him to reconnect with his roots and learn about the unique history of his family’s country.
Though the department may lose its only full-time faculty member, the program will continue with part-timers filling the vacancy, said Rosalinda Zepeda, a City College spokesperson. She said that it’s misleading and harmful to call these cuts an attack against “Black and brown” communities. While some class sections will be reduced, ultimately, “we’re ‘right-sizing’ the schedule where it should be, so students of color and working-class students can still have accessibility to courses like [English as a Second Language].”
But Villaraza can’t shake the concern that the lack of full-timers spells trouble for the department’s growth. “Who will be watching enrollment? Who will take care of scheduling? Who will do the marketing?” she asked.
“It won’t die immediately,” Villaraza continued, noting that wholly eliminating a program required a separate process. But, “there is the high possibility that the department and the programs will diminish to the point where it’s no longer sustainable. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”
This was a sticking point for many of the rally’s speakers, all of whom were Asian or Black, who argued that courses wouldn’t be cut if America really “cared about Asians,” and that the college needs to “recognize and serve its community.”
According to San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, about 62 percent of the city’s immigrants identify as Asian or Pacific Islander. In addition, the largest populations of Filipinos live primarily in Los Angeles and the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro areas, and Tagalog ranks third out of non-English languages spoken most in the state.
City College’s 2019 enrollment data showed that Asians and Latinos and those over 40 were the most prevalent for non-credit class enrollment, such as English as a Second Language.
Other changes shocked students. Conversational Cantonese classes are not slated to be offered in Fall, 2021.
“When I heard, my heart dropped,” Julia Quon, said at the Mission High rally, which she joined with the group “Save Cantonese CCSF.” Quon said that in her professional life as a doula, learning Cantonese allowed her to connect with and serve immigrant families. Even more so, it allowed her to be an ally amid rising anti-Asian violence in the city. “As there has been a rise of AAPI hate, many people choose not to seek help because of the language barriers. Who are our Cantonese immigrants going to turn to when no one around them speaks their language?”
In response, Zepeda said the Mandarin degree and certificate programs will be spared. (Mandarin is a different dialect of Chinese and, in San Francisco, Cantonese is much more widely spoken. According to San Francisco Unified School District data, 75 percent of the Chinese speakers in the district use Cantonese as their home language.) City College offered only one conversational Cantonese class section each semester in 2020. “The statement of 100 percent [loss] is misleading when we barely offer it, and it’s not actually part of the program,” Zepeda said.
As the protest at Mission High wound down, attendees picked up signs depicting Board of Trustee members and pink slips, and others begging for ESL classes, which will also affect scores of Asian and Latino immigrant students who attempt to rejoin the workforce. A blue and white truck followed behind, with a guy on the bullhorn occasionally yelling, “Save CCSF!” About half an hour later, tens of officers appeared at the scene.
Tom Temprano was not home because he was working late at City Hall, he told Mission Local. Temprano said he did not call the police to stop the protest, but after receiving questions from his neighbors called the Mission Station to ask that the officers “stand down,” allowing protesters to continue peacefully. “My own start was through marching in the streets,” Temprano said. “I would never call the police on a protest.”
The layoffs are in negotiation, and may be fewer than proposed.
Meanwhile, Villaraza feels frustrated. She believes that her unique department — the only one in the country — can benefit students of all backgrounds, as we learn how to be “a culturally competent society” and understand the relationship between the Philippines and the United States.
Education is especially important now, she said, referring to the heightened attention toward violence against Asians, the disproportionate Covid-19 deaths among Filipino nurses, police brutality against Black people, and complicated sentiments between these groups.
“How are we really addressing anti-Asian sentiment and anti-Black sentiment and racism?” Villaraza said. “If we are able to cultivate and nurture conversations [through education], then maybe we’d see less of the violence that we’re seeing.”
This story was updated on May 11, 2021 to include comments from Tom Temprano.