A look back at Filipino newsmakers, successes and heritage
The year 2017 was an interesting and exciting year for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans alike. Apart from the negativity we read and hear in the media, there are stories that celebrate Filipino heritage and culture. Here are some of the top stories that made it to the cover of SF Magazine in the past year:
1st Cinematografo International Film Festival
The first Cinematografo International Film Festival (CIFF) opened from Nov. 9 to 12 in San Francisco, a project of ABS-CBN International. The festival is named after “Cinematografo,” which was the first movie theater in the Philippines that opened in 1897.
Cinematografo International Film Festival, whose Executive Director is John-D Lazatin and Festival Director is Miguel Sevilla, will feature full-length films, shorts and documentaries, aside from industry panels that Lazatin and Sevilla hope will bring exciting interaction among artists, filmmakers and the audiences.
In creating the CIFF, Lazatin said that his main objective was to give Filipino filmmakers and artists the opportunity to have their works showcased in the international stage. While claiming to not be the first to do this, Lazatin said that, “it feels good to be among the few” who are able to give this chance to Filipino and Filipino American filmmakers.
According to Lazatin, who is ABS-CBN Global Head of Film Distribution Theatricals and North America Production, “the CIFF is your first date with the Filipino storyteller. And where best to have this first date but in the city that breathes diversity – right here in San Francisco where the sights, sounds, smell, textures and tastes form an energizing cultural, multidimensional kaleidoscope. To reflect that living diversity, the film selection and content creators were combined to yield a flavorful, tasty cinematic mix with enough harm, intrigue and mystery so moviegoers end up with a unique experience.”
‘The Girl Who Sees’: Fil-Ams design new video game on Filipino culture & mythology
A group of Fil-Ams are seeking to change the lack of Filipino representation in the international gaming industry with the creation of “The Girl Who Sees,” a fantasy video game that is based on Filipino culture and mythology.
Set during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, “The Girl Who Sees” is a 2D point-and-click adventure role-playing game (RPG) that follows Quina Laban (the Tagalog word for fight), a young Filipina girl living in a fishing village. She encounters mythological creatures, like a duwende (dwarf) or kapre (tree giant), and embarks on quests, such as translating a mysterious ancient scroll.
With the scroll, Quina hopes to uncover “this secret [to] explain why she suddenly gains the power to see Tagalog words everywhere she turns,” according to the game’s creator and project lead, Pattie Umali.
Umali shared that “The Girl Who Sees” looks to make strides as the first game of its kind catering to the Filipino diaspora — including the first internationally-released, kid-friendly adventure game about ancient Philippine mythology and the first game in the United States to focus on Filipino culture.
The idea of the game first came about sometime in 2016 when Umali was pursuing a master’s degree in international and intercultural communication at American University in Washington, DC and had taken some courses at the Game Lab.
Later that year, she participated in the Global Game Jam, where she met Cherisse Datu and Nathan Hahn, who are both now part of the design and development team of “The Girl Who Sees.”
Though the target audience is 10 to 30 years old, the team says it can transcend generations and age groups — kids can play it with their parents and other older relatives and start conversations their own stories— and cater to those who don’t have much experience playing video games.
Fil-Am footwear pioneer Rich ‘One’ Cofinco: Keeping the vision
Pursuing the arts is risky business, but Filipino-American artist, designer, and all-around creative, Rich “One” Cofinco made it his business and has been holding it down for over ten years.
From his beginnings as a respected street artist, to building a name in the footwear industry, Cofinco has proven to be an unstoppable, freewheeling creative.
Already famous for his street art and being the founder of graffiti crew No Art Remains After (NASA) — which to this day remains legendary among street art followers — Cofinco found himself landing commercial jobs in the action sports industry due to his dynamic art style. It was during his early days working at skate and street style company Vision Street Wear that Cofinco was challenged to transfer his talents onto products like t-shirts and skateboards, and eventually onto snowboard boots and skate shoes.
Cofinco decided again to disrupt the footwear industry. In 2002, he and longtime friend Robert Nand, founded Creative Recreation, a company with plans of merging the gap between casual and formal footwear.
The company’s shoes quickly gained attention from celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin, Robert Downey Jr., and Ryan Seacrest, among many others, and were featured in magazines like GQ, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and Men’s Vogue.
In 2014, Cofinco and business partner Nate “Res” Harvey created their current company, As Seen in the Future, or ASIF.
“Your blueprint is your sole — no pun intended — of your shoe,” said Cofinco to a laughing audience.
As a big part of Cofinco’s artistic “sole/soul” revolves around utility, it is of course evident in his new brand. The difference lies in when the products would be useful.
With ASIF, Cofinco still wanted to create utilitarian products, but ones that would still serve its wearers well way into the future.
Margot Bautista Henry, CEO and Founder of Matina
While working in the banking industry for years, Matina CEO and Founder Margot Bautista Henry found herself looking to replenish her wardrobe. She sought to support Filipino-made, or designed clothes she could wear to work, but somehow her search in the United States fell short.
“My searches would always come up with Filipiniana clothing, terno, or any variety of the Filipino national garb or costume — which, of course, I could not (would not!) wear to my corporate job,” Margot shared. “I recognize[d] that I must not be the only one that has search for this, being that I am not the first, nor the only, first-gen Filipino immigrant that has probably had the same yearning.”
The desire to express her Filipino pride and own personal style and journey was the start of Matina, an online store that sells clothing and accessories designed by Filipino designers.
Matina is one of the fastest-growing U.S. based online stored featuring world-class apparel by Filipino designers, curated for life in the U.S. and beyond. Opened in August 2016, the online store has doubled its sales each month — with the exception last March wherein they have outdone their best month five times over.
“Matina features designers that are Filipino. Their work may or may not be Filipino-inspired. I think this is an important distinction because we are not positioning ourselves as a store selling Filipino-themed items, rather we are a Filipino brand, seeking to fulfill the need of the Filipino-American to be able to wear world-class and high quality apparel that has a little piece of home with them that they can show off and be proud of,” Margot explained.
Fil-Am tattoo artist Niño Lapid on his craft and meeting GSW’s Steph Curry
Right after the Golden State Warriors’ (GSW) win at the NBA Championship, artist Niño Lapid name immediately came out in the news. This was because his art made it to the GSW’s star player Steph Curry’s arm.
Right after GSW’s win, Steph and his whole family celebrated by holding a tattoo party at his home, all done by Niño.
A tattoo artist for Zebra Tattoo and Body Piercing in Walnut Creek, in the Bay Area for seven years now, Niño explained that he enjoys working with his bosses Moe and Siobhan Delfani. He also shared that being able to ink Curry and his family was “destiny.”
“We had that call in the afternoon and the next thing you know it, we were there,” he said in an interview with the Asian Journal.
“[My] initial reaction was I was shocked…jaw dropped, open mouth…eyes wide open. I had butterflies in my stomach on the way to their house,” Niño shared. “It was mixed emotions — excited and nervous at the same time. But it was an amazing experience.”
It was indeed a surreal experience for Niño, sharing that the Curry family were enjoying their win, dancing and just having a great time while he was doing their tattoos.
“The attention I got was from all over the world which is very insane,” he said. “People are hitting me up on Facebook and Instagram.”
Not that he hasn’t known a lot about being with celebrities as he has tattooed some NFL players like the Oakland Raiders in the past, as well as other local Bay Area personalities. He admits, however, that by far, “Curry is up there.”
However, Niño doesn’t put all that attention in his head. What is important to him is to continue honing his craft.
“It was like 15 minutes of fame,” he said. “Learning the craft, it’s a never-ending process. You always try to better yourself…stay hungry.”
Happy to have made the Filipinos proud, Niño also believes that we should all stay connected.
“We all gathered to celebrate the Warriors victory despite our differences. Filipinos are like the Warriors team,” he shared. “We have a sense of community that drives us to stay connected. We are Filipinos — let’s love one another.”
Chef Charleen Caabay on winning ‘Chopped’ and bringing Filipino food mainstream
When Charleen Caabay learned she earned a coveted spot on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” she knew she had a great opportunity to showcase her talents.
The vivacious owner of Kainbigan, one of the Bay Area’s most-loved Filipino restaurants, has sprung as an up-and-coming leader in Filipino-American cuisine, and her appearance on the “New Year’s Bash” episode of the cooking competition show — which aired in late December — is likely to bring in a whole new wave of fans.
“My goals were to inspire anyone who was going to watch the show,” Caabay, 37, told the Asian Journal. “It’s not often that women that are in business have the opportunity to really shine. I just wanted to show them who I was.”
Caabay knew she was going against formally-trained, renowned chefs, some of which worked in Michelin-star restaurants. But she didn’t let that break her spirit. Utilizing only techniques she learned growing up, Caabay has never had any formal training in culinary arts, and she doesn’t see the need.
“Each round, all I could do was pray,” she said.
The decision to draw Filipino inspiration in her dishes each round was a no-brainer.
“This is my culture, this is my heritage. I’m Filipino, so you’re going to taste some Filipino,” she added with a laugh.
Her teenage years were when Caabay’s love for cooking really flourished. Inspired by her mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, it seemed like she was on the path to delving into a culinary career.
As the tech world was booming, Caabay saw herself working in information technology (IT), attending DeVry University right after high school.
After being laid off from job after job and realizing the 9-5 work day wasn’t for her, she sought a different direction and went back to her real passion: cooking.
She shifted her career into a culinary nomad, creating makeshift kitchens, selling her food on the street and catering in clubs and for private clients. As she began holding steady clients and garnered a following, she opened up a pop-up restaurant in 2012, creating her signature Filipino comfort dishes.
Caabay encourages all aspiring Filipino chefs and restaurateurs to never give up and to be proud of Filipino culture and cuisine.
“Keep pushing, be confident in our cuisine, present it well and present from inside and where you’re from,” she said. “Don’t let anybody else tell you how this adobo should be made, just trust in what you’re making. It’s part of you. Continue to go strong because our cuisine is dope and hella good!”
Mia Alvar’s debut collection ‘In The Country’ focuses on the Filipino diaspora
Mia Alvar’s debut collection ‘In The Country’ focuses on the Filipino diaspora
Mia Alvar’s debut collection “In The Country” was ten years in the making but the wait was pretty much worth it.
New York Times has called her stories remarkable while New York Magazine said her debut collection is so well-drawn and plot-rich. Publishers Weekly gave a glowing review and said that the book is stunning and NPR called her book inspired, and yes, remarkable.
The book won the 2016 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction which honors an exceptionally talented fiction writer whose work—a first novel or collection of short stories—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise of a second work of literary fiction. And with the award was a $25,000 cash prize for the winner to pursue a subsequent work of fiction.
“I found out that I won during the actual awarding ceremonies, they wanted to keep it exciting. We didn’t know who was going to win. I prepared a little speech, just in case, because I am terrible at speaking off the cuff,” Mia told the Asian Journal in an interview. “It was a great night for Pinoy writers in general, there were several of us who won that night.”
“In the Country” is an engaging and engrossing collection of nine stories, each of them sharing bits and pieces of Filipino culture and history. Her stories are character-driven and are all well-crafted and polished.
These are stories from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Boston and New York in the United States, three of the many countries where Filipinos in the global diaspora call second home. The protagonists are compelling and complex.
“Diaspora is a central part of my family’s experience as it is in many Filipino families’ experience,” Mia shared.
Overseas Filipino Workers or OFWs have become the new breed of Filipino heroes since they are the ones who work and toil hard abroad, away from their families for extended periods of time. They remit their hard-earned income to their families back home not just for investments for the future but more for their day to day subsistence.
“I think there are a lot of stories in the Philippines about the heroic sacrifices of the OFWs, and these of course are great, significant sacrifices,” Mia said. “In my book, I was more interested in exploring OFWs and immigrant communities as human beings and their flaws and weaknesses as well as their heroic moments.”
It is in the book’s characters, their fears, struggles and successes that remind readers that their stories are universal. And that is also one thing that Mia would like for more people to understand.
It has been said that there is a dearth of Filipino authors in America writing about the immigrant experience here.
“We’ve been working, some people for generations, what there is a lack of is the right level of visibility and access for these books and the authors. A lot of people just don’t know the names of Filipino authors. Even Filipino-Americans sometimes are not that exposed to books about characters and families like theirs,” she explained.
Top Chef’s Sheldon Simeon on finding his voice and cooking with his heart
A consistent favorite during the first season of “Top Chef,” Fil-Am chef Sheldon Simeon shared that when he went back to be part of the show’s 10th season, there was only one thing he wanted: to be called ’Top Chef.’
The Hawaii-born Pinoy chef said, “I showed my feelings during the whole season and in the end, I am a winner because I got to be myself and I was able to share a lot of my culture. It would have been nice to be called top chef…”
Sheldon was still the fan favorite and won $10,000 for it. In a similar three-way battle for the finale, he was unfortunately eliminated. The same spot where he was four years earlier.
For him, it was about finding his voice and staying true to his culture, one among many life lessons he learned from joining “Top Chef” earlier.
“Season 10 was not only a lesson of ‘Top Chef’ in general but in life, don’t be someone that you’re not. For me, Hawaii is so unique. Being Filipino in America is so unique. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s be proud about our culture. That was what I wanted to do in the show, just be myself,” he shared proudly.
Thus he cooked with his heart out and served Filipino dishes and Filipino ingredients whenever the opportunity presented itself.
When he won the right to cook at the Beard House, the judges heaped praises on the dish he served – home-made chow fun noodle made with Carolina gold rice topped with pork belly, pea shoot salad and annatto seed jus – and the components and techniques he used to come up with the dish.
“Being humble is great but at some point, you will take your place amongst some of America’s greatest chefs,” Tom Colicchio declared, anointing Sheldon as the next great American chef.
“I am still processing it,” Sheldon told us about the unexpected accolade.
“He messaged me a few nights ago, directly following my elimination. To be able to call chef Tom a mentor, and now a friend, is amazing. I have utmost respect for him. It is a win for our culture. My grandparents worked so hard and took the sacrifice coming over from the Philippines with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” he added.
Sheldon is undoubtedly inspired by the perseverance and hard work of his grandparents who came from Ilocos Norte to Hawaii to become plantation workers, and the way they made something for themselves given this opportunity.
“I am cut from that same cloth and to celebrate that on national television is amazing and to have that recognized by chef Tom is great and beautiful,” he said.
2017 SF Ethnic Dance Festival: Celebrating diversity through music and dance
The 39th San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival (SFEDF) is the largest and most comprehensive world dance and music event of its kind in the United States. Last year, there were 24 Bay Area-based world dance and music groups, with six groups making their festival debut. The season also featured five world premieres.
Philippine representative LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble, performed dances from the T’boli and Mandayan tribes.
Continuing with its goal to promote global dance, music and the arts; the SFEDF has effectively celebrated the country’s diverse inclusiveness. It also has created an epicenter for dance from over 100 unique world cultures, resulting in the most vibrant dance community in the world. Over the years, the festival performances have featured over 26,000 artists.
“The annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is a beacon both nationally and internationally for inspiring cross-cultural experiences by local artists sustaining the world’s artist legacy,” explains the Festival’s Executive Director Julie Mushet. “The San Francisco Bay Area is a vibrant and innovative crossroads for intangible world cultural traditions in one of the country’s most diverse locales, and we are thrilled to broaden the perspective of great dance and music on the Opera House stage, home of some of the world’s most prominent and enduring forms of performing arts.”
Keeping the history and legacy of World War II in the Philippines alive
In its goal to continue educating people — both young and old, Filipinos and Americans — about World War II in the Philippines, Bataan Legacy Historical Society (BLHS), Memorare Manila 1945 and the Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program of the University of San Francisco presented the Third Conference on WWII in the Philippines in September 9, 2017 from at the University of San Francisco’s McLaren Conference Center.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war against Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, the ravages of war did not reach the continental United States. Instead, the war was fought in the Philippines, its colony from 1898 to 1946, where thousands of Filipino and American soldiers died and approximately one million civilians perished.
In many ways, it is just as important if not even more significant than Pearl Harbor. But because of the stigma of defeat, this event is not commemorated in the United States nor is it taught in schools. The Fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942 is only remembered today as the largest single surrender in U.S. military history. What is not remembered is its greater significance. The U.S. Army Forces of the Far East (consisted of 12,000 Philippine Scouts, 19,000 Americans and 118,000 Philippine Commonwealth troops) were able to disrupt the timetable of the Imperial Japanese Army and prevented them from reaching Australia. Without Bataan, the war would have lasted much longer or worse, our political landscape today could even be different.
And yet today, the Filipino soldiers’ role during WWII and the suffering of the entire Filipino nation are not mentioned in U.S. history books. Furthermore, five months after the war ended, President Truman signed the First Surplus Rescission Act in February 1946, which deemed the service of the Filipino soldiers as not full-time, thereby disqualifying them from receiving their rightful benefits. Many have died without receiving their benefits. A handful are still waiting. There are only a few of them left and with each passing goes a piece of this history. Once they are all gone, this seminal point in history will be forever lost.
But on July 14, 2016, this mostly forgotten part of U.S. history was brought back to life when the California State Board of Education approved the inclusion of World War II in the Philippines in the revised history curriculum framework for the state. In 2014, BLHS started working with the Instructional Quality Commission of the California Department of Education to implement AB199. With the support of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, BLHS was able to expand the scope of the proposed curriculum framework to include World War II in the Philippines.