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As we usher in 2019, the Asian Journal editorial team dedicates the first MDWK Magazine cover of the year as a reflection on the stories that we covered in 2018.

Each week, the MDWK Magazine publishes 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 we face.

In the 52 covers we’ve published last year, we covered a breadth of topics, such as the importance of Filipino nurses to the U.S. medical industry, the need for Filipino families to support children in the foster system, long-distance relationships during Valentine’s Day and Christmas, and why we need to talk about mental health as a Fil-Am community. Along the way, we observed annual celebrations, from Philippine Independence Day to Fil-Am History Month.

Our fellow editors and writers sat down with Fil-Am Pulitzer Prize winners, elected officials, Broadway stars, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and more.

It’s always a difficult process to narrow down a whole year’s worth of stories into a succinct list, but we hope that you take a look back at these stories and continue to share them.

*To read these selected features & other stories in their entirety, visit MDWK Magazine archives

Manny Mogato & Mariel Padilla: Getting to know the Filipino 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners (By Momar G. Visaya)

Manny Mogato & Mariel Padilla, the Filipino 2018 Pulitzer Prize winners (AJPress photos by Momar G. Visaya)

The Pulitzer Prize is the highest and most prestigious award in journalism, literature and music composition.

Earlier this year, Manny Mogato, 55, won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, alongside his Reuters colleagues, Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall, for their relentless reporting that exposed the brutal killing campaign behind Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. With this feat, Mogato became the first Philippine-based journalist to do so after 75 years when Carlos P. Romulo won it way back in 1942.

Mariel Padilla, a 23-year-old graduate student of journalism at Columbia University, also won as she was part of the team at the Cincinnati Enquirer that covered the deadly opioid crisis in Cincinnati.

Decades after starring role as “Annie,” Lea Salonga returns to Hollywood Bowl staging of musical (By Christina M. Oriel)

Lea Salonga joined the Hollywood Bowl’s staging of “Annie” in summer 2018. (AJPress photo by Andy Tecson)

Lea Salonga — whose list of accolades include Tony and Olivier Awards and being a Disney Legend — is undoubtedly a household name. This past summer, she portrayed Grace Farrell (the assistant to billionaire Oliver Warbucks) in the Hollywood Bowl staging of “Annie,” directed by Michael Arden, whom she worked with on the Tony Award-winning revival of “Once on This Island.”

It was a “full-circle moment” to be part of this musical, she said, recounting that she played the title orphan role in the 1980s back in the Philippines.

“When there’s visibility by a Filipino performer, that kind of rallies the troops so to speak. If I’m credited for that, then you know what? If there’s more of us that get visible then that’s fantastic,” she said.

“Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”: The raw, unapologetic candor of Jose Antonio Vargas (By Klarize Medenilla)
Pulitzer Prize winner and immigration advocate Jose Antonio Vargas published his memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen,” to much praise in September 2018.

Pulitzer Prize winner and immigration advocate Jose Antonio Vargas released his memoir, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen” (AJPress photo by Klarize Medenilla)

“Dear America” delivers a perspective that has endured institutionalized and socialized racism and internal struggles and identity crises as an undocumented gay immigrant of color.

In a chapter called “Filipinos,” he writes, “Filipinos fit everywhere and nowhere at all,” and despite the rich presence of Filipinos in American history, the struggle of Filipinos in America to feel at home and to feel a sense of belonging is ubiquitous.

In many ways, “Dear America” is an introductory call to Filipinos in America — undocumented and otherwise — to stake a claim to the Filipino-American identity and understanding how we got here.

Gina Ortiz Jones and her endeavor to become the first Filipina in Congress (By Momar G. Visaya)

Filipina-American and Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones ran for Congress in 2018 (Contributed photo)

The 2018 midterm election was historic in many ways, including the number of women and Filipinos who vied for positions across the country. We saw Fil-Am TJ Cox be elected to California’s 21st congressional district, as Jennifer Zimmerman (Florida – District 1) and Cristina Osmeña (Calif.-14) also ran in competitive races, but unfortunately did not push through.

In Texas, Gina Ortiz Jones went up against incumbent, two-term Representative Will Hurd, in one of the most tightly-contested and closely-watched battles in the country. She endeavored to make history as the first Filipina-American in Congress and the first openly gay, first Iraq War veteran and first woman House representative from the 23rd District of Texas. While she didn’t win, the momentum and name she built for herself as a political leader may be a signal that we’ll be seeing more of her soon.

“I would be honored to be the first but it is important that I am not going to be the last because I am only here because of the opportunity my community, my country afforded for me. This is very much about protecting those opportunities for others that are just as talented, just as hungry and need a little bit of help,” Ortiz Jones told the Asian Journal.

What’s next for Kelsey Merritt, the first Filipina model in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (By Momar G. Visaya)

Kelsey Merritt, the first Filipina to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (Contributed photo)

Kelsey Merritt — who was born and raised in the Philippines — made history on November 8 when she became the first Filipina woman to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, an annual spectacular event that highlights some of the best and well-known fashion models in the industry including stalwarts such as Adriana Lima, Gigi Hadid, and Kendall Jenner among others.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that this is literally the hardest job you can get in the world. It was so hard that there has never been a Filipino in it. I can’t explain how much hard work I put in on this,” she said in her interview with the Asian Journal.

Conrad Ricamora stars in ‘Soft Power,’ a political musical from an Asian perspective (By Christina M. Oriel)

Fil-Am actor Conrad Ricamora stars as Xue Xing, a Chinese film executive in “Soft Power.” (Photo by Craig Schwartz)

Fil-Am actor Conrad Ricamora — whom you may know as Oliver Hampton from the ABC series “How to Get Away With Murder” — spoke with the Asian Journal about his role as Xue Xing in “Soft Power,” a “play with a musical” by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”) and composer Jeanine Tesori (“Fun Home”) that premiered last summer at LA’s Ahmanson Theatre.

“It lends a lot to how [my character] moves through the world and gets what he wants and I don’t want to say aggression… but his determination to really get his country and culture seen,” Ricamora said. “It’s something that I feel all Asian people can tap into because we haven’t been able to see ourselves on screen. We talk about shows that are whitewashing Asian characters so that kind of desire to move forward our representation in media is something that was really easy for me to tap into.”

Concept artist Anthony Francisco on the Filipino influences in ‘Black Panther’ & his contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (By Christina M. Oriel)
“Black Panther” broke a handful of records, including being one of the top-grossing films in the United States, and was historic for its representation of minority actors and characters on the big screen. In addition to the influences of African heritage throughout “Black Panther,” the uniform for the Dora Milaje (Wakanda’s all-female special forces) was partially inspired by the Ifugao tribe in the Philippines — thanks to Fil-Am Anthony Francisco, senior visual development artist on Marvel Studio’s Visual Development team.

Anthony Francisco, senior visual development artist on Marvel Studio’s Visual Development team. (AJPress photo by Noel Ty)

Francisco has worked on a handful of films, such as “Spider-Man” (2002), “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Thor: Ragnarok” (Loki), “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” and “The Chronicles of Riddick,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Captain Marvel,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“As a concept artist, the most important thing in design is to research. The more things you know, the more things you could remix into your design and know what’s been done and make sure you know how to blend different influences,” he said, adding that the  final sketches for the Dora Milaje, were “75 percent African [primarily the Ndebele, Dinka and Maasai tribes], 10 percent samurai Japanese armor, 5 percent Filipino, 5 percent Native American and 5 percent Medieval armor — spin those tribal ideas and make it futuristic modern armor…but push it [to be] even more high-tech.”

From tech entrepreneur to travel journalist: Garrett Gee and his ‘bucket list’ (By Christina M. Oriel)
A lot has been written about 28-year-old tech entrepreneur Garrett Gee and his ‘Bucket List Family,’ — a wife and three young children — who travel around the world and document their experiences.

In 2017, Gee starred in a web series called “Discovering Routes,” developed by ABS-CBN Global Studios, Myx TV and Go Button Media, in which he and his older sister Miristi (a yoga and dance instructor) journeyed across the Philippines to learn more about their Filipino heritage.

Garrett Gee and his Bucket List Family Instagram/@garrettgee

As for a Philippines trip for the Bucket List Family, Gee said it’s bound to happen, but it wouldn’t be treated like any other trip.

“A lot of people ask us, we’ve been to 45 countries so far away, why haven’t we been to the Philippines? The honest truth is because the Philippines is such a special place to me. I didn’t want to make it just like one of the many countries we’ve visited. I wanted to give it special attention and special planning and special preparation. We’re just waiting for that special time when we as a family can go and spend a really long time there,” he said.

Stargazer: Filipina aura reader, clairvoyant, psychic medium on helping individuals reach their potential (By Christina M. Oriel)
“Since I was a young child, I was kind of different,” Stargazer — an aura reader, clairvoyant and psychic medium who uses readings to help individuals move forward by clearing negative blocks and achieve their potential — shared in her interview.

Stargazer, aura reader, clairvoyant, psychic

With the demonization of psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, and the like, Stargazer wants to dispel those notions and warn individuals before they seek out a reading.

“How would you know if a psychic is fake? They would fish out information from you. I had so many experiences. Of course, I will try other psychics in Sedona, they would fish out certain things,” she said. “But a good psychic will also focus on the positive to help you out. Just beware of people. There are also good people that would focus on someone dying in your family or someone getting sick. Those are the negative things — they’re easier to feel than the positive. For me, I warn people of the negative because I know that they can do something about it. I want to prevent. I don’t want to scare.”

Globetrotting with Filipino-French entrepreneur’s lifestyle brand Oneculture (By Christina M. Oriel)
In September, the Asian Journal featured Anthony Alvarez, a Filipino-French entrepreneur living in Paris who started his own lifestyle menswear brand Oneculture, featuring pieces inspired by travels and global influences. So far the collections have included Manila, Fez, Morocco and Tokyo.

Anthony Alvarez, the Filipino-French founder and CEO of Oneculture, pursued his childhood dream of owning a clothing brand representing his passions for travel, sports, art, and music. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Alvarez/Oneculture)

“I really wanted to convey that message through the clothes, promoting culture and diversity and promoting travel without any cultural barriers,” Alvarez said. “This was also during a time when a lot of people were focusing on barriers, such as Brexit or Donald Trump being elected president of the United States. That’s the political side to it. So that’s how I got the name Oneculture.”

One of the statement pieces during the Manila collection was a rendition of the men’s barong (a formal shirt made from piña considered the national costume of the Philippines) in the color black and using a more comfortable, sporty fabric. He incorporated the eucalyptus tree that is found in the Philippines and put that print in the inside layer of the clothes.

“I grew up in a household that was very Filipino,” he said. “It is a very important part of my identity so I [started] the journey of Oneculture in Manila.”

Filipino cuisine strides in LA and beyond (By Momar G. Visaya and Christina M. Oriel)

Fil-Am chefs at 2018 LA Food & Wine Festival: Kristine de la Cruz of, Alvin Cailan, Barb Batiste, Ross Pangilinan, Chad Valencia, and Tonet Tibay.

Our Executive Editor Momar G. Visaya has closely followed the rise of Filipino cuisine and chefs in New York and across the country. In a piece earlier this year, he highlighted the strides made, like Tom Cunanan and Margarita Manzke getting James Beard nods, to mainstream media coverage, to Nicole Ponseca getting a cookbook deal.

The exterior of Ma’am Sir along Sunset Boulevard in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood (AJPress photo by Christina M. Oriel)

Here in LA, editor Christina M. Oriel covered the opening of Charles Olalia’s Ma’am Sir in the summer — which has since become one of the LA Times’ ‘101 restaurants we love’ and has landed on numerous ‘best new’ restaurant lists. We also saw a handful of chefs like Chef Barb Batiste of Big Boi and B Sweet and Chef Alvin Cailan of The Usual NY/Eggslut fame at the LA Food and Wine Festival.

“It’s our time. The people from Food and Wine recognize how much we represent our culture and how much we represent Los Angeles in general. Now we showcase. It’s always been my credo, which is just for us to be a part of the conversation,” Cailan told the Asian Journal. “For us, to actually do something to where people know, ‘Hey we’re Filipino, we’re on the billboards, we’re on the marketing’ not because of PR…but because we’re persistent and we work hard to promote our culture through our food.”

Feed2Succeed: How three high school students found a way to feed young students in the Philippines (By Rae Ann Varona)
In time for the holiday season, Feed2Succeed — a non-profit founded by Caroline and Carmina Raquel and their friend Tiffany Sato — was featured for its work in helping feed and educate malnourished children in the Philippines. They found that it only takes $4 to do so for an entire month.

Caroline and Carmina Raquel and Tiffany Sato (center) at one of Feed2Succeed’s yard sales in Los Angeles (Contributed photo)

From small scale high school fundraisers, Feed2Succeed has grown into a full-fledged nonprofit organization with club chapters run in different U.S. schools helping eleven sponsored elementary schools in the Philippines. They’ve also taken on the sponsorship of a number of high schoolers that were once a part of Feed2Succeed’s original elementary school feeding programs.

“I hope that people can understand that passion behind our mission and how I think we just want to help as many kids as possible, and I think kids helping kids is a very powerful effect that we can have,” said Caroline Raquel. “There are so many ways to help, and creating a community and surrounding yourself with people that also just want to help I think is something that we are trying to push forward with Feed2Succeed.”

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