The pride of the Filipino community: Success stories in entertainment, business, academia, food & more 

The pride of the Filipino community: Success stories in entertainment, business, academia, food & more 

As we close out 2015, we take a look at the top MDWK Magazine covers from the past 12 months. Our editorial team has interviewed and written about various Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in entertainment, business, academia and other industries who are breaking barriers and continuously giving us all a reason to be proud.

*To read these selected features & other stories in their entirety, please visit 

How Eggslut’s Alvin Cailan got Los Angeles to eat eggs all day

If you’re in tune with the Los Angeles food scene, then you’ve heard of Eggslut — a stand at Grand Central Market in downtown that serves egg-centric dishes. With wait times averaging 45 minutes to an hour every day, foodies line up to taste items, like the signature “Slut” (a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato purée, poached in a glass jar and served with a demi baguette)and the “Fairfax” sandwich (scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and sriracha mayo in a warm brioche bun).

Behind this movement to make eggs not just for breakfast is Filipino-American Alvin Cailan, who studied at the Oregon Culinary Institute and noticed the lack of breakfast options when he returned to Los Angeles. From a food truck to now one of the most popular dining destinations in the city, Cailan is eyeing more locations of Eggslut in Southern California and Las Vegas in 2016.

“I figured, being Filipino and in the second largest market in the country, how do you make waves? Having a name like Eggslut threw people off. Immediately people were intrigued by the name, [but] they would walk in, taste the food, stay and then come back. I took a word that no one was using commercially, got the trademark and went forward with it,” Cailan said.

Vincent Rodriguez III: On facing challenges as an Asian American actor and scoring a lead role in CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ 

Fil-Am Vincent Rodriguez III found his love for musical theater in high school and went on to build a full-time career around it, appearing in numerous acting, singing and dancing roles such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Anything Goes,” and “Here Lies Love.”

While in “Here Lies Love,” Rodriguez was motivated to audition for the role of Josh Chan on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — CW’s musical-comedy that follows Rebecca Bunch, a successful, miserable young woman who impulsively leaves her job as a real estate lawyer in New York in search of love and happiness in West Covina, California, the suburban hometown of her Filipino ex-boyfriend.

“You know how there’s always ‘the Black guy,’ or ‘the Mexican guy?’ I always wanted to be the ASIAN guy, the mirror of society,” Rodriguez said of Filipino culture being represented in mainstream. “As a Filipino actor, I always wanted to be a part of the growth of Asian-American representation on TV and onstage. Now I feel like I’m a part of that journey to exposing modern, cultural America.”

Mel Recana and son Julian share valuable experience on trials in court and in life 

The Asian Journal interviewed Mel and Julian Recana, the first Filipino father-son duo in the state of California. Mel, the elder Recana, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1981, which made him the first Fil-Am judge in the United States. In July of this year, Mel’s son, Julian followed suit after he was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the largest unified trial court in the United States.

Prior to his appointment, Julian has served as a deputy district attorney for the LA County District Attorney’s Office since 1999, seeking justice for victims of crime and murder. He became involved with various bar associations, including the Philippine American Bar Association (PABA), as a founding officer and assistant secretary. He also served in the Long Beach Courthouse for 11 years, prosecuting murders in the Long Beach and greater Los Angeles area. To date, Julian has tried 92 jury trials to completion: 83 as felonies, and 13 murders. Most recently, he was assigned to the Hardcore Gang Division, prosecuting violent, gang-related offenses.

The secret to the Recanas’ success? Family. “As a lawyer, especially in the criminal courts, the profession can be very stressful and consuming. Unless you have a family to lean on and spend time with to decompress…I don’t know how you could do this sort of work,” Julian said. “I need my family to ground me.”

Through telemedicine, and Dr. Thomas Lee are keeping premature Filipino babies from going blind

In the spring, the Asian Journal got an exclusive look at the work of the Black Eyed Peas is doing with the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) to provide treatment to Filipinos babies who are born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). The rare eye condition causes abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina from excessive oxygenation and could lead to blindness if not treated within 48 hours of birth.

Under the Foundation, Dr. Thomas Lee of CHLA using telemedicine to help train doctors in the Philippines to treat the visual impairment. About 30 percent of premature babies in the Philippines develop ROP, but by training at least six to ten medical practitioners in each of the four hospitals, 4,380 premature babies can be saved from the impairment.

To date, the foundation has built 15 schools throughout the country, and a computer laboratory and recording and music studio in his hometown of Angeles City. This past year, it has been raising the funds to buy and send RetCams (retinal imaging systems to screen for ROP) to four pilot facilities: a central training hospital in Manila, and hospitals in Pampanga, Iloilo and Davao.

Kuh Ledesma and Isabella Gonzalez: On their love for singing, visual arts and God

For our Mother’s Day issue, we interviewed Philippine ‘Pop Diva’ Kuh Ledesma and her daughter, Isabella Gonzalez, who are both bound by their faith and love of visual and performing arts.

Though Isabella has followed her mother’s footsteps into the entertainment industry, she does not solely want to be known as Kuh’s daughter.

“I took that leap of faith into singing and into this place where I knew I could be criticized heavily because they might compare me — and they had been doing that since I was 10 years old anyway,” Isabella said.

Despite being known as an iconic music personality and wearing many hats, Kuh shared that being a mother is her favorite role. “I’m always proud of my daughter,” she said. “I don’t flatter her too much because I’m very hard to please but when I like something, I always tell her because I want to be honest with her…There’s always time for everything but mothering is the most important thing in my life.”

Walter & Margarita Manzke: Bridging the culinary culture between Los Angeles and Manila

Meet Walter & Margarita (Marge) Manzke, the culinary couple behind Republique, a French-inspired restaurant in Los Angeles and several locations of Wildflour Café + Bakery in Manila.

In just two years, Republique has won over critics, topping best-of lists, including Los Angeles Magazine’s ‘Best New Restaurant’ for 2014. Forbes has named it a restaurant slated to become an LA classic. Marge, who heads the pastry department, has received the title of LA Weekly’s Best Pastry Chef for 2014 and a nomination for Outstanding Pastry Chef by the James Beard Foundation earlier this year.

The couple shared their ingredients for success in the restaurant industry, how Filipino consumers help drive their business and their plans for the coming year, including bringing the famed Pink’s Hot Dogs to Manila. “…Filipinos have a close eye on the rest of the world and when they see something, they want it more than anybody and are willing to stand in line and fight over it. They literally will do anything to get it,” Walter said.

Deedee Magno Hall: On a passionate career, family & favorite roles

For Filipina actress Deedee Magno Hall, her career in the entertainment industry began at a young age on The Mickey Mouse Club. She went on to be a member of teen pop group, “The Party,” and has since appeared in roles in “Miss Saigon,” “Wicked,” “If/Then and “Tommy.”

This fall, Deedee and her husband Cliffton are part of the national tour of “If/Then,” as understudies and members of the ensemble.

To those struggling to find their voice, Deedee said, “No matter where they are from, human stories are stories. They’re your story. And now, more than ever, those narratives are being written by people from all different backgrounds. There are so many resources out there; make yourself known…You make your life what it is. You play a very big part in this world, so choose the right one.”

Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher: the first Fil-am ‘teacher of the year’ for California

Staff writer Agnes Constante won the Philippine American Press Club USA’s Plaridel award for “Best Feature Story” for this piece on Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher, a middle school teacher in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. In November 2014, she was selected as one of five California Teachers of the Year, becoming the first Fil-Am to win the award.

Prior to winning the prestigious award, Marquez-Prueher received two others last year: in June 2014, she was chosen as one of the 16 Los Angeles County Teachers of the year for the 2014-15 school year and in April she was recognized as a Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the Year.

As a California Teacher of the Year, Marquez-Prueher said she feels she will be able to show the Filipino community, “that we’re kind of a force to be reckoned with,” among other things. “So an achievement of one is an achievement of all,” she said. “I definitely would not be here without the support of my parents, my extended family and all the Filipino friends that we made here in the United States.”

Cambe & Sons: The trio shares their secrets to business success 

For the Father’s Day issue, the Asian Journal featured Dean Cambe and his sons, Phillip and Dean Jr., who operate an aviation company in Southern California.

Dean, who is originally from Burgos, Pangasinan, realized his dream of owning his own business and aircraft hangar. Along with his two sons, the Cambe Group (and sub-companies VIP Jet Services and Avilist) provides aircraft parts, sales, inspection, management and more.

“Though I knew how to work with other people, working with family is a whole different story because you see them during the day, working hours and then after hours. You’re constantly with them. When I first started, I would ask, ‘I have to be with them for the weekend?’ Now that I see it, [not a lot of people] can be with their families all the time. It made us closer being together 12 hours a day for seven days a week,” Phillip said.

Rags2Riches: The Philippine-based social enterprise transforms scraps into designer accessories

Social entrepreneur Reese Fernandez-Ruiz caught the attention of Forbes magazine earlier this year and was placed on its annual “30 Under 30” list for her work as co-founder of Rags2Riches, Inc. (R2R), an eco-ethical brand that partners with artisans around Metro Manila to produce fashion and home accessories made from ‘upcycled’ scrap cloth, organic materials and indigenous fabrics.

In the past eight years, the company has trained over 900 artisans (both men and women) from Payatas, Tondo, Caloocan and Sucat. Two hundred of them remain active and work from home, while 30 work full-time at its office. They receive ongoing skills training in order to create the high-end products that meet consumer demands, which in turn helps increase their earning potential, and are given market access through retail and corporate partnerships.

“The legacy of R2R should be to show that it is possible to have a sustainable business that can be good for the world at the same time. When you do good for the world, it can actually be a career and you can actually reward people for doing what is right,” she said. “[As] a company and a concept… it tells people in the future that if we just talk to each other and make each other partners in business and in life, there’s so much we can achieve. [W]e have to start engaging one another, not just give our spare change to those who need it, but give our lives.”

Estelle Reyes: A Filipino-American education advocate championing youth to be the CEOs of their own lives

After a career in finance, Fil-Am Estelle Reyes dabbled into teaching and realized that education was her calling. While studying at Harvard University, one of her classes looked at a case study written about the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and business skills to low-income youth, recognizing that this mindset will help them maximize their future educational and employment opportunities.

Today, Estelle is the executive director of NFTE’s Los Angeles chapter, which has helped 10,000 students, with an additional 2,000 for the 2014-15 school year in partnership with 23 low-income middle and high schools, a majority of which are under the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“It’s really important for us to come together as a community to figure out who are the Filipino entrepreneurs and business owners so we can support them,” she said. “We can also build the next generation of entrepreneurs coming from the Filipino community.”

Carlene Bonnivier: Retracing her Filipino roots and enriching cultural identity 

Agnes Constante’s feature on 75-year-old writer Carlene Bonnivier garnered the Philippine American Press Club USA’s Plaridel award for “Best Feature Story.” Though Bonnivier does not look typically Filipino and speaks limited Tagalog, she identifies most strongly with her Filipino roots.

In Bonnivier’s most recent book, “Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles,” she acknowledges that Filipinos living away from home don’t necessarily know everything going on in the Philippines, but states this does not eliminate ties to their ethnic identity.

“We may not follow day-to-day what’s happening in the Philippines, in our villages or cities, but…We will always remember where we came from and the value of respecting our elders,” she writes.

Dr. Lori Adrian: On advocating a ‘students first’ philosophy and the call for more Filipino educational leaders 

Dr. Lori Adrian, the president of Coastline Community College in Orange County, is one of the few Filipinos leading a higher education institution in the United States — and the only Filipina.

Now five years into her leadership position, Adrian shared that despite some challenging circumstances, she has paved an atmosphere of inclusiveness, mutual respect, open and transparent communication. She is also an advocate for more Filipinos in education-related career.

“I think we need to have more role models for [Filipinos], telling that they can and should aim high…Who would have thought that I would be a college president?” she said. “[W]e need to highlight the qualities of Filipinos and Asians that blend well with academic institutions, like being accommodating — sometimes that’s seen as a negative connotation. It doesn’t mean being a pushover…[W]e need to show that we are good accommodators in terms of different points of view and perspectives and that we are able to make difficult decisions as needed.”

Teach for the Philippines: Committed to nation building through education

Three years ago, Lizzie Eder Zobel, Margarita Delgado and Clarissa Isabelle Delgado, set out with a vision: By 2050, all Filipino children will have access to an excellent and relevant education.

The women came across Teach for America (TFA), an organization that recruits recent college graduates for a two-year program to teach in under-resourced, low-income urban and rural communities throughout the United States with the intentions of diminishing educational inequity and retaining promising educators. They replicated that model for the Philippines with Teach for the Philippines, which gets college graduates to join as teacher fellows. The fellows placed in schools across the country to help improve the circumstances of the students there.

Since most of the fellows are recent college graduates, Teach for the Philippines provides real-world experience and a chance to see if the educational field is for them. Some alumni have gone on to work for the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Social Welfare and Development, or stayed teaching in the public school system. Others have moved to the private sector, yet have developed leadership and critical thinking skills that can be applied to any industry.

“The story of Teach for the Philippines is evolving every day. It’s about transformation for the children and the teachers involved,” Zobel said.

NextDayBetter x LA: Entrepreneurs, chefs & foodies show promise of Filipino food

NextDayBetter, the international creative speaker and food series, hosted an annual event in Los Angeles earlier this summer, where over 300 likeminded individuals came to listen to the ideas of Fil-Am chefs and entrepreneurs, who shared what needs to be done to make Filipino food the next best thing.

“When it came for us to decide on a theme for this [event], it really was a unanimous decision to talk about and highlight the Filipino tastemakers right here in our backyard that are making waves in the Filipino foodie scene. With so many Filipinos living in Southern California, we’re always asking ourselves, why hasn’t Filipino food gotten the attention that Thai, Japanese, and Korean [food] have?,” said Krizia Medenilla, one of the event organizers.

Around the world, NextDayBetter has united diaspora communities and spurred a call to action that is relevant and tailored for a particular city. This year, the organization held similar events in San Francisco, Orlando and Toronto, with Washington DC, New York, London and Manila on the lineup in coming months. Around the world, these events are creating platforms to discuss literally how to make the next day better.

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