Year in review: Revisiting the SF 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; wildfires in Northern California…among many other headlines.

Following tradition, the Asian Journal editorial team dedicates the first issue of the year reflecting on the SF Magazine stories from 2020. 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 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:

Filipino Americans joined a Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago in June 2020. | Photo courtesy of @hazelsunday/Instagram

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.

Utility boxes in the SOMA neighborhood seek to teach residents about the abakada alphabet | Photos courtesy of SOMCAN

Utility boxes depicting Filipino Abakada alphabet pop up in SF’s SOMA neighborhood

Those walking down Folsom and Howard streets in San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood can get a brief lesson in the Abakada alphabet, which was once taught as part of the Philippine national language.

Unveiled during Fil-Am History Month, the “We Live Here” project features 10 utility boxes — designed by Bay Area multimedia artist Mel Vera Cruz — depicting letters from the alphabet.

The project, which comes after years of advocacy from South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), aims to teach the community about the alphabet, as well as to amplify the work of FEC Galing Bata, an after school program of the Bessie Carmichael School PreK-8/the Filipino Education Center.

“The idea was to communicate a collective spirit and empower those while they’re walking around the neighborhood and they can say, ‘We are here, we are proud,’” Vera Cruz said. “It’s our time to promote our culture and continue to share our history in SOMA.”

By day, Ruby Ibarra is a scientist at a biotech company in the Bay Area. Currently, her work revolves around COVID-19 tests and the development of a vaccine. After work and on weekends, Ibarra would perform as a rapper. These days, her performances are virtual. | Photos courtesy of Ruby Ibarra and Tojo Andrianarivo

Pinay scientist and rapper Ruby Ibarra’s 2020 mission: Help develop a COVID vaccine, release a sophomore album

Under the pandemic, Filipina American rapper Ruby Ibarra’s performances have been strictly virtual. But 2020 has put an emphasis on her 9-5 job as a scientist at a biotech company in the Bay Area, where she’s been involved in the quality control of COVID-19 test kits and research around a vaccine.

“There’s still a lot of things that we don’t know about this disease, but again, it comes with time and research,” Ibarra said. “But what gives me hope and optimism is that there is a lot of work being done, not just by my own company, but multiple labs and companies across the world.”

The Sarap Shop preps to-go boxes for delivery. | Photos courtesy of The Sarap Shop

Fil-Am restaurants band together to feed SF’s front-liners, low-income families

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Filipino Americans around the country — particularly small business owners and those in the health care field — are trying to navigate how to survive on a daily basis. To address some of the local San Francisco community’s pressing issues, non-profit economic development and arts organization Kultivate Labs last April unveiled #FilipinosFeedTheFrontlines to provide meals for health care workers and scientists and Filipino seniors and low-income families in the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood. The campaign also worked to help stabilize 10 Fil-Am restaurants in the city.

“Filipinos believe in ‘Kapwa,’ the idea of interconnectedness and shared empathy. We’re always finding ways to help others,” said Desi Danganan, Kultivate Labs’ executive director. “#FilipinosFeedTheFrontlines is our way of connecting the dots in our community, from the heroic efforts of our healthcare workers to the most vulnerable of society like our seniors to our Filipino businesses that are on the brink of collapse.”

The effort raised $149,232, and has since expanded to provide meals in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown.

A still from Disney’s Christmas advertisement for “From Our Family to Yours” campaign.

Parol-making with Lola: Disney launches Filipino-themed Christmas video

Fall/winter 2020 was a moment for lola (grandmother) representation with “Blue’s Clues & You!” introducing Josh’s grandma and making bibingka. In November, Disney launched its first-ever Christmas advertisement, a three-minute animated short featuring the Filipino tradition of parol-making as part of its 2020 festive campaign “From Our Family To Yours.” The heartwarming and tear-jerking animated short is inspired by the themes of traditions, family togetherness, and nostalgia. It introduces two new characters: Lola (grandmother) and her granddaughter, alongside Mickey Mouse, a beloved toy that was gifted to Lola as a young child by her father in 1940.

The advert was created by Disney EMEA’s in-house creative team, led by Angela Affinita, director of brand marketing and creative, in partnership with Flux Animation Studios.

“The ad for me is such a great reflection of the bonds between families. We all have unique traditions, especially at Christmas, so being able to draw on my own experience with my Filipina grandmother and the making of star lanterns to bring a level of authentic creativity is pretty special,” Affinita said in an interview with  The Drum.

Sandoval stars as Olivia, a Filipina trans woman, in “Lingua Franca,” which premiered on Netflix on August 26, 2020.

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 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,” she said. “There will always be several expectations about you and the community you belong to…”

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.

Jennifer Navarro-Marroquin, co-founder and events coordinator & program director of Community Well

Pinay co-founded wellness center offers free virtual classes for communities of color in San Francisco and beyond

Coronavirus lockdowns, ongoing protests and navigating working from home and online school, on top of everyday responsibilities, can all take a toll on one’s mental health and well-being.

To offer some relief, Community Well, a San Francisco-based health and wellness center founded by a group of Filipina and Latina women in 2015, has been offering free virtual classes for the Filipino American community and other communities of color in the city and even elsewhere.

Community Well is a health and wellness center in the Excelsior District of San Francisco that offers services and workshops from movement classes to maternal health. Since the city’s shelter-in-place, the center has moved its classes online.

“Our philosophy around it is that health is a whole human experience,” co-founder Jennifer Navarro-Marroquin, a licensed financial professional and holistic practitioner said. “Access to high-quality information is very important and it’s also important for us to understand the barriers emotionally that keep us from making these healthy choices.”

Santos as Mateo, a gay, undocumented Filipino store associate who is sassy and overly competitive. | Photo by Evans Vestal Ward/NBC

‘Superstore’ actor Nico Santos on queer Filipino roles: ‘I don’t feel like I’m being pigeonholed at all’

Since 2015, 41-year-old actor Nico Santos has portrayed Mateo Liwanag, a gay, undocumented Filipino sales associate on NBC’s “Superstore.” Though it’s a comedy, “Superstore,” now entering its sixth and final season, tackles the serious issues of the moment, whether it’s Mateo’s immigration status, the rights of workers at the big-box store, equal pay or the environmental impact of shopping. Whatever future projects come Santos’ way, he is not afraid of being typecast as a queer Asian man and getting those parts.

“It’s so hard to work in this industry period and it’s so hard to reach this level of work. For me, I don’t feel like I’m being pigeonholed at all. I’m actually only interested in playing parts that look like me, that speak like me, and that speak to my experience. I don’t feel like I’m being stifled as an actor by not exploring ‘other types of characters,’” he said.

Droplet team: Talia Jafarkhani, general manager; Michelle Nuccio, founding member; Celeste Perez, co-founder and CEO; Adrienne Borlongan, co-founder and lead food scientist; and Connie Kuo, advisor. | Photo by Alec Perez
Droplet’s three flavors: Pretty Bright, Pretty Happy and Pretty Balanced. | Photo courtesy of Droplet

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.”

Len Cabili of Filip+Inna shows off the beadwork done by the Tagakaolo tribe in a traditional blouse. | AJPress photo by Joseph L. Peralta

Filip+Inna and Zacarias 1925: How Filipina designers defy fast fashion demands and keep traditional craftsmanship alive

FOR many Filipinos globally, one way to proudly show their heritage is by wearing it on their sleeves, literally.

This is the mission of Pinay designers like Lenora “Len” Luisa Cabili, who has been promoting Philippine culture through her international women’s clothing brand Filip+Inna.  Cabili held a trunk show in San Francisco showcasing pieces based on her childhood growing up near and learning about the indigenous groups and dancing for the Bayanihan Dance Company.

Len Cabili of Filip+Inna shows off the beadwork done by the Tagakaolo tribe in a traditional blouse. Filip+Inna clothes, tapestry, purses and other items are on display in a table and clothes rack at a recent trunk show at the Workshop Residence in the Dogpatch area of San Francisco. | AJPress photo by Joseph L. Peralta

“Having that background and my love for fashion, I thought of integrating both,” Cabili said. “Also, I was well aware of the diversity of our culture and so I really wanted to make something different, something that would showcase the artisans around the Philippines.”

Also featured at the Workshop Residence was Zacarias 1925, a line of hand-woven bags and home accessories by creative director Rita Nazareno. The line, named after Nazareno’s grandfather who was an architect, also carries on the legacy of her grandmother who started S.C. Vizcarra in 1925. The pieces are also made at the same workshop. While S.C. Vizcarra’s hand-woven bags are more traditional and linear, Nazareno draws on her global travels and inspiration from art, architecture and cinema.

One of Zacarias 1925’s iconic bags is modeled after the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Another special collection called Zacarapata — made in collaboration with street artist Garapata — is a commentary of the global infestation of commercialization.

“It’s a more contemporary thrust on the very traditional craft of hand-weaving. I use a variety of materials and a combination of materials from wicker, leather, microfiber, canvas, and even nylon ropes we’ve done. I look at things that interest me,” Nazareno said. “It’s fantastic for men and women, and somewhere in between…I do enjoy androgyny.”

Josh Dela Cruz stars as “Josh” in the Nickelodeon reboot, “Blue’s Clues and You!” featuring Blue and her band of friends. | Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon

‘Blue’s Clues and You!’ host Josh Dela Cruz on figuring out clues and sharing Filipino culture with a new generation

When stage actor Josh Dela Cruz was announced as the new host for the “Blue’s Clues” reboot, a wave of nostalgia kicked in for kids who grew up watching Nickelodeon in the ‘90s. On top of that, the new generation of Fil-Am would see someone who resembles them on screen. A moment of pride came at the start of season two, in particular, when Josh got to introduce viewers to Filipino culture and another family member, a lola (a grandmother played by veteran Filipina-Canadian actress and singer Carolyn Fe).

“Growing up, I never saw anyone on screen that I connected with,” Dela Cruz said. “I never saw myself reflected in a positive way — it was either the foreigner, the villain, or the joke. I get to be myself. I’m just Josh and I also am Filipino.”

Historic Filipina-owned Bay Area restaurant reopens for business

Located along Bayshore Boulevard in Brisbane, California is a restaurant with a 162-year history that includes surviving the 1906 earthquake, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak and the Great Depression in the 30s.

Mile House re-opens for take-out and delivery service in April last year.

7 Mile House has been owned by Filipina American Vanessa Garcia since 2004, becoming a bustling popular dining and entertainment venue known for its comfort dishes, including sizzling sisig, a pulled pork adobo sandwich, and fish and chips dipped in San Miguel beer.

Following the Bay Area’s shelter in place orders, Garcia temporarily closed 7 Mile House, putting the health of employees and families first. However, inspired by the resilience of the owners before her, she re-opened the restaurant for take-out and delivery on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

“But as I scramble to find our place in this virus-plagued society, I cannot help but think of 7 Mile’s 162-year-old past,” Garcia said, adding “I know little of their struggles, but I do know one thing: that 7 Mile House is a story of resilience and that’s not about to end now.”

Roline Casper holds up a copy of her new book, “The Easy Filipino Cookbook: 100 Classics Made Simple,” which was released on March 24. | Photo courtesy of Roline’s Uniquely Filipino

New cookbook features 100 classic Filipino recipes for beginners

For those looking to finally master some Filipino dishes while staying safely at home, a cookbook with the premise of “easy” savory and sweet recipes can help with that goal. “The Easy Filipino Cookbook: 100 Classics Made Simple” — released on March 24, 2020 by Rockridge Press — comes from Roline Casper, a Pinay chef who owns Roline’s Uniquely Filipino in Vacaville, California.

“It is meant for the second generation of Filipino Americans who want to learn how to make the dishes they grew up eating [and] people who don’t really know our food but are curious,” Casper said. “What inspired me was being able to share our culture through this love of food and eating.”

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