Remembering Al Robles, Filipino American poet and activist

Even as the global Filipino community cheers the triumph of boxing’s  Manny Pacquiao, those in the Bay Area have tempered their glee as more learn the news of Al Robles’ death on Saturday.

Manong Al was the quintessential amok, whose life was the perfect balance between wildly creative  self-expression and dedicated and continuous community service. An activist and a poet, I first met Al 28 years ago in 1981 when I returned to San Francisco as a television reporter and did a follow up story on the legendary International Hotel.  I found him running a senior center on the edge of Chinatown by day, reading and writing poetry by night. Through the years, he was one of my best sources, a grassroots barometer of the community, always zeroed in on what was going  on.

Earlier this month, I learned that Al had come down with Guillian-Barre’ Syndrome, a debilitating disease that compromises the immune system. His illness was not thought to be life threatening when activists  let Robles’ network of friends know of his illness.  But few updates on his condition arrived. Only this weekend did his close friends begin  spreading the word that Robles had indeed passed away May 2.

Manong Al was always warm and friendly, greeting me as “Mr. Amok” whenever I saw him. He was always encouraging me to keep on doing my work in the ethnic media.  How he treated me was indicative of how he treated others. His unique role was to be both inspiration and motivation to all.

In these rough times, Al’s fighting spirit will be sorely missed.