Revisiting the Asian Journal’s Something Filipino Magazine stories of 2019 

WITH the new year, the Asian Journal editorial team looks back at the Something Filipino (SF) Magazine stories from 2019.  Each week, the SF Magazine features long-form stories of Filipino Americans who continue to break barriers in their respective career fields, as well as highlighting the Fil-Am experience living in America and the social issues the community faces. 

The 52 features published have covered books by Fil-Am authors, single moms who run their own businesses, married couples who work together, a Netflix docuseries about Cebu’s infamous jail that has dancing prisoners, and Fil-Am chefs nominated for James Beard Awards and opening new restaurants. 

While it’s difficult to narrow down the best features — as each one is compelling —  we remember several stories that have been widely shared and talked about. To read these selected features & other stories in their entirety, visit: 

H.E.R. grew up in the Bay Area of California with a “good balance” of the Filipino and Black American cultures.
| Photo courtesy of Facebook/OfficialHERMusic

Getting to know H.E.R., the Fil-Am R&B singer nominated for 5 Grammys

2019 was quite the year for R&B sensation H.E.R., who was nominated for five Grammys and won two: Best R&B Album for her EP “H.E.R” and Best R&B Performance for “Best Part” with Daniel Caesar. On top of that, she was featured on Spotify billboards for Best New Artist, performed at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, created her own music festival (the Lights On Festival) in September, and released a compilation mixtape called “I Used to Know Her.”

Born in 1997, H.E.R. — whose real name is Gabriella “Gabi” Wilson — said she was raised with a “good balance” of the Filipino and Black American cultures in her home. Those influences taught her how to be a hard worker as well as a love for music and expression. 

For most performances, she wears dark sunglasses. In her album cover art, her eyes are blacked out and you rarely get a look at her face. And unlike so many stars, she’s never one to overshare and maintains a low-key profile. “I wanted the music to be No. 1, I wanted it to get the attention, the forefront, the No. 1 focus, and I wanted people to just listen and love the music because sometimes we get caught up in the gimmicks, the looks, and the glitz: these things that don’t really matter to me,” H.E.R. shared. 

“Float” made history as the first Pixar animation featuring Filipino characters when it aired on Disney+ on November 12. | Photo courtesy of Pixar

‘Float,’ Pixar’s first animated short with Filipino characters, lands on Disney+

Social media was abuzz when Pixar revealed that it would release its first-ever animated short featuring CGI Filipino characters. “Float” — written and directed by Fil-Am storyboard artist Bobby Alcid Rubio — finally became available on streaming service Disney+ this past November. In the roughly seven-minute short, a father tries to keep his infant son’s special ability to float a secret. But once it gets out, the father must decide whether to run and hide or to accept his son as he is.

Based on his own relationship with his son Alex, Rubio developed the story and made the characters Filipino after being encouraged by colleagues, and eventually submitted it to Pixar’s SparkShorts program. “I wasn’t even thinking of them being Filipino…This is just my unconscious bias. I’m not used to seeing Filipinos as lead characters and it felt very empowering to have my coworkers push this diverse person of color to be a lead,” Rubio said.

As “Float” has globally been recognized as a win for Filipino representation, Rubio wanted the story to be universal and relatable regardless of culture and background. “At the end of the day, it is about the bond between father and son. It’s about unconditional love…” he said. 

Juslyn Manalo, Councilmember of Daly City

Pinay visionaries: A spotlight on Filipina American elected and appointed officials

The late Thelma Buchholdt paved the way for Fil-Ams to serve in public office, when she was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1974, becoming the first Fil-Am woman legislator in America and serving four terms until 1980. Since then, Filipina Americans have occupied statewide or local positions, whether through elections or appointments, in states like California, New York and Nevada, to name a few. 

The 2019 Filipino American History Month theme of “Pinay Visionaries: Celebrating Filipina American Women” recognized the vital but underreported role of Fil-Ams in U.S. history, especially their

Sonia Delen, member of State Bar of California board of trustees

work in public office. The Asian Journal spoke to several current Filipina Americans who have been elected or appointed to public offices about their contributions and what needs to be done for more Pinays in these types of leadership roles.

Filipina means to me is a great honor to be part of a culture that dates back to leadership with the Baybaylans and we were in a matriarchal society. With this year’s Fil-Am History Month theme celebrating Pinay Visionaries, we must honor those who have contributed to our community and to U.S. society because we have been able to influence, create, lead and empower in so many facets and sectors. It is time to celebrate and give tribute to these women,” said Juslyn Manalo, councilmember of Daly City, California. 

Photo from Instagram/@geenarocero

Fil-Am model Geena Rocero rewrites Playboy’s history as its first transgender API Playmate

Over the summer, Fil-Am model and transgender advocate Geena Rocero became the first transgender Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Playboy Playmate, appearing as the centerfold of the magazine’s Gender & Sexuality issue.

In the issue, Rocero wrote about her “strict Catholic upbringing in the Philippines” and being inspired by seeing transgender beauty pageants on national television. “We spoke English in the Philippines, but when I moved to the United States at 17 and started hanging out with other teenagers, it was a totally different culture,” she said. 

She plans to use this new platform to be more visible and continue fighting for trans rights. Since her viral TED talk in 2014, she co-founded Gender Proud, a media production company that tells stories about the global transgender community. “I have to speak about Caroline Tula Cossey because that was so critical for me. What a full circle moment, I was this young trans girl living in Manila and dreaming of one day becoming a model like Caroline and to now, be the one hopefully giving that inspiration to young trans girls, not just in the Philippines but all over the world,” she said. “Their identities matter, they should pursue who they are. There’s nothing wrong with them, just keep being themselves.”

“Yellow Rose” stars Tony Award-nominee Eva Noblezada as Rose, an undocumented teenager and
aspiring country singer.

Fil-Am musical drama ‘Yellow Rose’ picked up by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, has successful festival run 

“Yellow Rose,” directed by Filipina American Diane Paragas, is a timely story about a Filipina teen named Rose from a small Texas town who fights to pursue her dreams as a country music performer while facing the threat of deportation. The film stars two-time Tony Award nominee Eva Noblezada, Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, Princess Punzalan and Dale Watson. In October, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions that it has acquired all worldwide rights, excluding the Philippines, to the film. 

“’Yellow Rose’ has been a labor of passion for over 15 years and I’m thrilled that we can now share this very relevant story with the world,” said Paragas. “We have the added honor of representing the real experiences of Filipino Americans, Asian Americans, and all immigrants seeking a better life in America.”

Since premiering at the 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF), “Yellow Rose” has won the Special Jury Prize at the 2019 Asian American International Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2019 Bentonville Film Festival, 2019 CAAMFest and the LAAPFF, with Eva Noblezada taking Best Breakout Actor. 

All-time favorite lechon is one of the food offerings
from vendors at UNDISCOVERED SF. | Photo by Mogli Maureal/IG: @themogli

Discovering UNDISCOVERED SF: Food, fashion and Filipino culture

One of the premier events that the Fil-Am community in San Francisco looks forward to is UNDISCOVERED SF, a celebration of everything Filipino every third Saturday of the month from August to October. UNDISCOVERED SF is a seasonal night market that highlights the diverse spectrum of Filipino culture, featuring live music, food pop-ups, artists, makers, performers, local businesses, and community organizations. A project of Kultivate Labs, a non-profit business accelerator that advances socially conscious commerce, and Make it Mariko, a Bay Area event production company, UNDISCOVERED SF is a part of a multi-prong strategy to build a thriving, sustainable community of economic and cultural activity in the SOMA district. Launched in 2017, the seasonal night market has demonstrated its value by generating an increasing economic activity, receiving corporate donations for economic development and drawing people to the cultural district.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Anne Aaron came to California in 2000 to pursue a master’s
degree and doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University. Photo courtesy of Netflix

This Filipina-American engineer makes it easy for you to binge-watch Netflix

The next time you’re on the video streaming service, think of (and thank) Filipina American engineer Anne Aaron, the director of video algorithms at Netflix, whose job it is to ensure that your video is delivered at the best quality using the least amount of bandwidth possible. Aaron took the No. 32 spot on Business Insider’s “43 Most Powerful Female Engineers of 2017” and was named in Forbes’ inaugural “The World’s Top 50 Women in Tech” list in 2018. 

At the company’s Los Gatos headquarters, Aaron is at the helm of a 16-person team comprised of software engineers and researchers who focus on video encoding and experiment and tailor algorithms based on the type of content so that it’s presented at optimal speed and visuals. In addition to lauding women’s accomplishments in STEM, Aaron’s background adds another layer as a Filipina and immigrant to which she says she feels “a bit of responsibility” given her visibility in the community.

“I feel fortunate, but also at the same time, I do think about that, like what about my background has brought me here because…compared to the other Filipinas I know back in the Philippines, they’re as hardworking but I think there’s just a lack of opportunity,” Aaron said. “How can I help in bringing more opportunity to other Filipinas who are as smart and as hardworking or as passionate in technology as me?”

Josephine Santiago-Bond

Woman on a mission: How this Fil-Am engineer rose through the ranks at NASA

Josephine Santiago-Bond started off as an intern at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida 15 years ago. Today, she’s the head of the Advanced Engineering Development Branch at the center, a division she helped create that extends engineering support to the agency’s various missions in space, on Earth and other planets. 

In her nearly two decades at the space agency, Santiago-Bond shares a list of several projects she’s worked on: the tail-end of the historic Space Shuttle program, which ended in 2011; and the formulation and launch of the Ares I-X in 2009, a 327-foot tall unmanned rocket that was part of the research on the future of space exploration post-space shuttle. She also contributed to another lunar exploration mission called Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction (RESOLVE), which had aimed to put a rover on the surface of the moon in 2017 for nine days to map water ice and other compounds. She and her team currently have a portfolio of 70 projects that have to do with Earth, Mars, the moon, and space in general.

“I always feel that I am valued, not only for my engineering and leadership skills, but also as an Asian American and as a Filipina American, who brings a unique set of experiences and ideas to the table every day,” she said. “I’m not the only female Filipina American, nor am I the first, who is in a leadership position at NASA, which in itself makes me proud.”

Asia Jackson | Photo courtesy of Asia Jackson

#MagandangMorenx: How Asia Jackson is igniting a mission to end colorism and challenge Filipino beauty standards

Hearing similar experiences of Filipinos being told not to play outside too long or being scrubbed with papaya soap, half-black and half-Filipina millennial Asia Jackson is trying to challenge colorism— the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Through the global digital movement #MagandangMorenx, to open up a conversation and highlight the skin diversity within the Fil-Am community.

“In a general sense, I want to leave the world in a better state than when I came in. Colorism is such a huge issue for me and it’s something I will continue to be passionate about. In my lifetime, I would like to see skin whitening companies disappear. I want to work as hard as I can to make sure that no one feels bad about their skin color. That’s the legacy I want to leave in this world,” she said. 

The multilayered Filipina American experience, as told by rapper Ruby Ibarra

Scientist by day, Ruby Ibarra transforms into a musical force by night, unapologetically rapping in English, Tagalog and Waray about the Fil-Am experience through her lens. In Ibarra’s debut album “Circa91,” which was fittingly titled after the year her family migrated to the United States, she gets raw about the layers of her personal identity and history. She also sees her art form as a way to share stories not heard in the mainstream, whether it’s the single Fil-Am mother or how colonization has affected Filipinos centuries later. 

Photo courtesy of Ruby Ibarra

A standout track includes “Us,” featuring Rocky Rivera, Klassy and Faith Santilla, which has taken a life of its own and has become an empowering Filipina American anthem. This song was a way to “dismantle the patriarchy and that notion that the Filipina has to always be on the sidelines and be the backbone to the men and always in the background,” Ibarra said. “To have a track like that, where we’re celebrating sisterhood and feminism, we’re showing, not just in rap, but in our community that we’re out here.”

Books by Filipino and Fil-Am authors 

This year alone, The Asian Journal team has read (and featured!) a plethora of books by Filipino and Filipino American authors across genres, including: “Loves You” (poetry) by Sarah Gambito; “The Body Papers” (memoir) by Grace Talusan; “I Was Their American Dream” (graphic memoir) by Malaka Gharib; “Patron Saints of Nothing” (young adult fiction) by Randy Ribay; “Why Karen Carpenter Matters” (biography/memoir) by Karen Tongson; “Somewhere in the Middle” (memoir) by Deborah Francisco Douglas; “No Forks Given” (cookbook/stories) by Yana Gilbuena; “Baking at République” (cookbook) by Margarita “Marge” Manzke; and “Rice. Noodles. Yum.: Everyone’s Favorite Southeast Asian Dishes” (cookbook) by Abigail Sotto Raines. More recent releases have included “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion” by Jia Tolentino, “Lalani of the Distant Sea” by Erin Entrada Kelly and “From Rufio to Zuko” by Dante Basco. 

“There are not many representations of Filipino Americans in literature and in our culture and I was very aware of that. It took me a long time to come to peace with what I was going through because I knew it would be read as representative in some ways for Filipino Americans, which it should not be because this is just one unique, specific story,” said Talusan. “It is not representative, but I knew that it could be taken that way. Sometimes there’s pressure because there’s so few of us in publishing that we should tell only certain kinds of stories or those that are happy and make us proud of who we are. I would argue that this story does make me proud of who I am because we all go through difficult things and hardships.”

Bailey “Bailrok” Munoz won “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 16.
| Photo from Instagram/@danceonfox

Fil-Am Bailey Munoz wins ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Season 16

In September 2019, Fil-Am Bailey “Bailrok” Munoz was hailed the champion of the 16th season of “So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD).” The 19-year-old succeeded Filipina American Hannahlei Cabanilla who won the previous season in 2018. Aside from being named “America’s Favorite Dancer,” Las Vegas-native Bailrok also took home a $250,000 grand prize and a cover article in Dance Spirit. Bailrok revealed that finding a whole new strength in himself was his favorite part of his SYTYCD journey. “I really wanted to show that I could do it, that I could [overcome] obstacles I was faced and to give it my 100% every time I was on that stage,” he said.

Yana Gilbuena delivering her new book ‘No Forks Given’ to Arkipelago Books co-owner, Lili Prijoles before the book launched in April 2019.
PapaLoDown Agency photo

Filipino literature stays alive at San Francisco’s Arkipelago Books

There are only two bookstores dedicated to Filipino literature in the United States, both in California: Philippine Expressions Bookshop in San Pedro and Arkipelago Books in San Francisco. Named after the Philippines’ group of islands, Arkipelago Books sits inside the Bayanihan Community Center in the heart of the South of Market (SOMA) Pilipinas, the 10-block Filipino Cultural Heritage District in San Francisco. The bookstore, a pillar of the San Francisco Fil-Am community for over 20 years, continues to live on through its current second-generation owners, Lily Prijoles and Golda Sargento after original owner Marie Romero retired in 2017. “The bookstore being what it is, is a place where Filipino and Filipino American and Philippine international books go. It’s a really interesting position that we’re in. The diaspora is so massive, yet connected through online,” Sargento said.

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