Part I: Looking back at the Asian Journal’s MDWK Magazine stories of 2020

HAPPY New Year! With a fresh start in front of us, it’s customary to reflect on what the past 365 days were like. But, how would one even begin to describe 2020, especially the events that unfolded and defined the year?

Let’s see: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on vulnerable communities like the Filipino American community; the introduction of two vaccines against the virus; the United States’ continued fight for racial equity; the November general election; the decennial census and the court rulings that followed; deaths of numerous high-profile individuals; championships for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lakers…among many other headlines.

Following tradition, the Asian Journal editorial team dedicates the first issue of the year reflecting on the MDWK Magazine stories from 2020. Each week, the MDWK 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 covered ways families have celebrated major holidays while staying safely at home, how business owners in Los Angeles County have coped with the ever-changing restrictions related to the pandemic and the summer of protests for racial justice, new books by Fil-Am authors, and more.

It’s always difficult to narrow down the best features — as each one is compelling —  we remember several stories that have been widely shared and discussed. To read these selected features & other stories in their entirety, visit: https://www.asianjournal.com/category/magazines/mdwk-magazine.

Filipino labor leaders Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, key individuals during the Delano Grape Strike that started in 1965, are memorialized in “Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana,” a mural by Eliseo Silva in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown. | File photo courtesy of Eliseo Silva

Social justice, activism and allyship: Filipino American History Month kicks off with calls to engage politically, culturally and socially

For Fil-Am History Month 2020, the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) dedicated October around the community’s history and fight toward social justice.

Though commemorating Fil-Ams’ participation over the years, the theme resonated in particular as younger generations over the summer marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as spoke up against the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.

“We choose this theme to highlight the myriad ways Filipino Americans have participated in social justice movements, including but not limited to, the United Farmworkers Movement, the fight for Ethnic Studies, Hawaii Sugar Plantation strikes, Washington Yakima strikes, and Anti-Martial Law Movements across multiple decades,” the organization said.

Board of Public Works Commissioner Jessica Caloza, Department of Building and Safety Commissioner Jocelyn Gaega-Rosenthal, Board of Water and Power Commissioner Susana Reyes, and Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation Miguel Sangalang pose before lighting City Hall up in Philippine flag colors in October 2019. | Photo by Jon Duede / Streets LA

Two Pinays reappointed to key Los Angeles boards serving the city’s 4 million residents

Filipina American commissioners — Jessica Caloza on the Board of Public Works and Susana Reyes on the Board of Water and Power Commission — were reappointed to five-year terms on LA boards that handle critical infrastructure programs and utility services for the city’s 4 million residents.

Caloza, who became the first Pinay to sit on the board in March 2019, is one of five full-time executive members who oversee projects and programs, such as construction and sanitation. She specifically handles the Bureau of Engineering, which deals with infrastructure plans, and has introduced key community projects like the Historic Filipinotown Eastern Gateway Project with Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and artist Eliseo Silva.

Meanwhile, Reyes, a 32-year veteran in the city, became the first Pinay and retiree to serve the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP)’s board of commissioners. The five-member commission oversees the country’s largest municipal utility by setting policy for the department and voting on utility rates and renewable energy projects.

Filipina American Vanessa Lee, a medical aesthetic provider and the founder and CEO of The Things We Do, a Los Angeles-based beauty concept bar. | Photo by Jessie Casprowitz

How entrepreneur Vanessa Lee brings her Filipina heritage, nursing background to the beauty business

Channeling her childhood curiosity of reading about trends and do-it-yourself tutorials and her lola’s background as a beautician back in Abulug, Philippines, Vanessa Lee has made a name for herself in the local beauty industry, and helps clients receive facial treatments and injectables with natural beauty and mental health at the forefront. Today, Lee is a sought-after medical aesthetic provider, and the founder and CEO of The Things We Do, a beauty concept bar with locations in Downtown LA and Chino Hills that has a lineup of trusted by celebrity clients like Jessica Alba.

“What we say ‘yes’ to is mental health, inclusivity and doing the right thing for patients naturally. How can we balance your natural features and how can we preserve how you look at your youngest, happiest self with what you’re comfortable with instead of just giving someone huge lips? We really work on facial balancing and profile harmony,” Lee said.

Droplet co-founder and CEO Celeste Perez shows off a box oft the beverages, which are now available at all five Erewhon locations in Southern California. | Photo courtesy of Celeste Perez

Self-care in each sip: Pinay-founded Droplet enters the wellness industry with functional beverages

After a wake-up call to slow down, Filipina American entrepreneur Celeste Perez turned to adaptogens, non-toxic substances derived from plants that help one’s body adapt and regulate the natural ability to respond to stressors. Though, the available adaptogen products on the market, she said, weren’t too palatable for long-term use. So together with fellow Entrepinay, Adrienne Borlongan — a food scientist and the co-founder of artisanal ice cream shop Wanderlust Creamery — Perez unveiled Droplet, a line of sparkling functional beverages that are enhanced with adaptogens and superfoods.

“The entire idea behind Droplet was our own roots as Filipina Americans and our experiences with herbal medicine,” Perez said. “There is no appropriation here. We are just shining a light on what it is that we’ve done and hoping that it uplifts our community also.”

Movie poster for “Lingua Franca,” the third film from Filipina American trans filmmaker Isabel Sandoval.

Fil-Am filmmaker Isabel Sandoval on ‘Lingua Franca,’ cinematic authenticity and the art of subtlety

“Lingua Franca,” the third film from Filipina American filmmaker Isabel Sandoval, is an austere portrait of the kinds of love stories that are so authentic and specific that couldn’t have come from any other filmmaker.

Though the film, which was released in August on Netflix, centers on a trans Filipina in a green card crisis, it’s not a “trans issue film” nor is it a “Filipino film” or even a film that overlays the overall current immigration crisis into its thesis.

“We have to establish what is distinct and unique about our voice and our worth because it’s so easy to get pigeonholed or to be put in a box especially for someone like me,” Sandoval said. “There will always be several expectations about you and the community you belong to…”

Cailan at Amboy Quality Meats & Delicious Burgers in Chinatown, Los Angeles | Contributed photo

From egg sandwiches to burgers: Chef Alvin Cailan returns to LA with new meat shop, releases first cookbook on upbringing as an American-born Filipino

After living in New York for a few years, Alvin Cailan — the chef behind breakfast sandwich empire Eggslut — made his homecoming to LA to open Amboy Quality Meats and Delicious Burgers in Chinatown as a “micro-steak boutique” reminiscent of the butchers and delis Cailan frequented in his adopted city. And on top of the already busy year of 2020, the Fil-Am chef released his debut cookbook, “AMBOY: Recipes from the Filipino-American Dream,” with co-author Alexandra Cuerdo. The 13 chapters tread between an autobiography and cookbook as anecdotes give a sense of how the recipes appeared in Cailan’s life, whether they were learned from his parents and lola to those creations served at his restaurants.

“It’s a culmination of what it means to be an Amboy — being Filipino and cooking modern or new American cuisine and really making a career out of it but always having the Philippines in mind and heart,” Cailan said.

Author and writer Jia Tolentino and her best-selling book, “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion.” | Photo by Elena Mudd / courtesy of Penguin Random House

Fil-Am culture critic, author Jia Tolentino on the gifts and curses of the internet in the time of a pandemic, racial reckoning

“Trick Mirror: Reflections of Self-Delusion,’’ by celebrated Filipina American writer and journalist Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker magazine, embarked on a second book tour to celebrate the release of the paperback version of her debut book. “Trick Mirror,” which was released in August 2019, comprises nine sweeping essays that intertwine relevant critique of these deeply rooted cultural issues (and the ways they con people into delusion) and Tolentino’s personal life and her upbringing as the daughter of Filipino immigrants in Houston, Texas.

“One of the things that is really important for people that were sort of raised on the internet, whose industries are being shaped by the internet and people who could use the internet para-professionally is separating the internet’s incentives from your own,” Tolentino said.

Starrr has collaborated with major brands, including most recently, with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire for its Pride Month “Drag Queen Mukbang” series. | Photo courtesy of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire

Fil-Am makeup guru Patrick Starrr on defying beauty standards and debunking misconceptions about being an ‘influencer’

When Patrick Starrr, born Patrick Simondac, wasn’t given a shift at a MAC Cosmetics store he was working at in Orlando, Florida, he turned to YouTube and uploaded his first tutorial walking viewers through his daily makeup routine. To date, Starrr has become a leading beauty guru in the online space, amassing over 4.4 million followers on the video hosting platform and 4.6 million on Instagram. On top of his collaborations with major brands, Starrr launched his own beauty line called ONE/SIZE. The brand’s moniker comes from Starrr’s mission of inclusivity and body positivity and his mantra of “makeup is a one size fits all.”

“I’m very proud to have sparked a change in the Filipino community and represent them in the beauty community as well,” he said.

To be continued in next week’s issue with Part II

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