The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

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JUL-AUG 2022 Issue
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Erina Alejo and Lian Ladia

Plants Have Feelings

Alejo on guitar and artist Marcus Noceda at yucca, 2020. Photo: Lian Ladia.
Alejo on guitar and artist Marcus Noceda at yucca, 2020. Photo: Lian Ladia.

March–June 2020

Created for If A Tree Falls by Lian Ladia, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Mapping Plant Oral Histories as Form of Anti-Displacement Resilience

Plants serve as windows to our collective wellness and anti-displacement resilience. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Franciscans began sheltering-in-place on March 16, 2020: households are in close quarters with their roommates, family members, existential thoughts, essential items, and house plants. In the Excelsior, Mission, and South of Market districts where Black, brown, and immigrant families have built histories over a century, we ask this simple question:

What plants have accompanied us in our gardens and communities which provide grounding and a homelike atmosphere for our communities?

Claudio Domingo, Anacleto Moniz, and Luisa de la Cruz tended a garden in the second-floor light well of the I-Hotel, circa 1970s. Photo: Crystal K. Huie. Courtesy the Huie Estate and Manilatown foundation.
Claudio Domingo, Anacleto Moniz, and Luisa de la Cruz tended a garden in the second-floor light well of the I-Hotel, circa 1970s. Photo: Crystal K. Huie. Courtesy the Huie Estate and Manilatown foundation.

The project roots from the role of plants in the anti-displacement history and organizing of the International Hotel Community (I-Hotel) at Kearny Street in San Francisco. The I-Hotel seniors and long-term residents were at the front and center of evictions as a community in demise due to the city’s 1970s urban renewal process. Luisa De la Cruz, also affectionately called Mrs. D., was an activist and organizer who wanted to provide a homelike atmosphere for her I-Hotel community. She brought in plants to cultivate an inner-city garden in the building’s airshaft. Mrs. D. rarely spoke in rallies, but it was within the lives of the tenants where she contributed to the activist prism in the I-Hotel struggle and the history of Filipinos in San Francisco. Plants Have Feelings equips participants the tools to listen, introspect, and explore towards self-actualization, and remembers such moments of resilience in transitory experiences.

Erina Alejo and Lian Ladia, SOMA curator/organizer, and of apartment project space yucca, embark on a research mapping and plant archival project of indigenous and culturally significant plants that keep the company of immigrant homes in San Francisco’s Excelsior, Mission, and South of Market districts. Beginning at the porch of yucca in the Excelsior (the collaborators’ neighborhood), they slowly work their way to map out urban gardens, apartment spaces, urban patches, garden airshafts, and community gardens. Organically, and through word of mouth, participants share plant narratives in the three districts, developed into online platforms and a map by Alejo and Ladia meant for anyone’s personal quiet visit, or future studies for their own urban garden shafts. Plants Have Feelings provides a glimpse of how plants cohabit with humans, unappreciated or unnoticed; they provide a calm and healing presence in our daily urban lives despite earthquakes, evictions, and pandemics. /

Plant Narratives

The following are selections from submissions from participants regarding the plants’ medicinal uses, and their personal connection to the plants. Additional entries available on:

Lacy Tree Fern (Sphaeropteris cooperi), Excelsior District.

Ferns are herbs. Particular ferns have medicinal purposes; used by Native Americans for rheumatism, gynecology, digestion, and for the lungs and blood.

Manai Alleluia Panis: "I love encountering them during my walks. The fern tree grows wild in Baguio/Ifugao areas."

Talipot palm (Corypha umbraculifera), South of Market District.

This plant’s multipurpose use ranges from making sugar from the sap, flour from its starch, thatching, making fans, mats, umbrellas, paper, and tents from its leaves, and curing stomach aches from the juice of the root.

Jerome Reyes: “Happy to share my daily thoughts and personal connections to this wonderful palm by the FEC campus. I have much kind things say about the plant which brighten up my day amidst a landscape of much heavier blocky buildings and chatter of many immigrant children. The trees stay the same in a skyline where it reminds me of one of my neighborhood homes. The air is filled with slight smog to fresh breeze depending where you walk, where the children are laughing in Tagalog. Oh when the world used to be open so long ago. Sayang.”

Bush Rue (Cneoridium dumosum), Mission District.

Native to California, the bush rue’s leaves, extracts, and other parts have been used for hundreds of years as an insect repellent, antispasmodic, sedative, and stimulant for the onset of menses. In New Mexico, rue has been used as a tisane (tea) for ailments such as stiff neck, dizziness, headache, tightness in the stomach, and inner ear problems. The oil has a strong, bitter taste and has been used for the treatment of intestinal worms.

Anna Lisa Escobedo: “I used to have a plant at home but put a few leaves in hot water for tea and it helps with menstrual cramps. I learned this from a professor at SFSU that was a Santerio. Too much rue can lead to stomach ache so watch it!”


Erina C Alejo

Erina C Alejo is an artist, researcher, and third-generation San Francisco renter whose works respond to care, community action, and cultural preservation.

Lian Ladia

Lian Ladia is a curator and organizer based in San Francisco.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2022

All Issues