By Trish Fontanilla
A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit of a rally cry post to invite more of the community to share their stories with us. It’s. Been. Amazing. Please, please keep the stories comin’ by nominating a Filipino you know / nominating yourself.
This month’s Filipinos in Boston post came to me thanks to Alex Poon who nominated his girlfriend Lexi DeLeon. Lexi is a super talented artist and - well, I’ll just let you read the interview below!
Where are you and your family from?
Lexi: I was born in the U.S., but my parents are both Filipino and both have family in the Metro Manila area (specifically in Marikina). I visited the the Philippines for the third time in my life last year, the first two times being when I was quite young. I don’t speak Tagalog, unfortunately, but it was really amazing and humbling for me to visit there, especially at an older age. I was also shocked at the amount of cousins I had that I never knew about. It made me realize how much of my culture I’m unfamiliar with, which was kind of sad and alienating at times. One thing that I really loved about being there was just the strong sense of community and family. Even though there were many titas / titos (aunts / uncles) that I had never met, they never hesitated to show me anything but warmth and hospitality, and always sought to make me feel included. I felt like I was never alone there, which was a really comforting feeling.
Where do you work and what do you do?
Lexi: Honestly I’m kind of shy about it, and it’s kind of surreal to write out, but I’m an artist. I do a lot of commission work and I also work a part-time job.
Can you tell us a little more about the art you create and how you got started?
Lexi: As a kid I was always drawing and doodling. My mom told me that when I was young I would take markers and scribble the brightest colors in different patterns until it filled up the whole page. I didn't take it seriously until I moved from New York to a random suburb in Connecticut during my teens. I was really shy and quiet, and I moved at a very weird point in the school year, so that was definitely a very isolating time for me. My mom had signed me up for an after school program which had a focus on the arts and I think that's when I really got into it because the teachers there were extremely supportive and encouraging. They were always willing to lend me art materials that I didn't have at the time or take the students to different art galleries in the area. And I dove head first into art as a means of trying to deal with this difficult transition in my life. Also because I’m shy and internalize a lot of my thoughts, art provides a way for me to express my emotions or how I’m feeling in a way that I can't articulate through conversation.
As for the art I create, I don't think there's a real deep meaning or grand message that is the driving force for the imagery. I think my art is really more emotion based and is inspired by whatever media I'm interested at the time. I'm really drawn to vivid colors at the moment so I'm always trying to incorporate as many colors in one illustration as I can, and there's always a lot of florals and nature. I love honing in small details or intricate line work as well, because my mind just gets lost in it. I feel like the way I make art now is definitely very similar to the way I made art as a child - just picking random colors that catch my eye and filling up a page with different intricate patterns until I feel it’s finished.
How long have you been in Boston?
Lexi: I’ve been in Boston for about 5 years now I think? I came here for college and have pretty much stayed ever since.
What are your favorite Boston spots (food, parks, spaces, etc!)
Lexi: Ooh, I love visiting different places for food and coffee especially. I’d have to say my favorite place as of now is definitely Solid Ground Cafe on Huntington. I saw an ad for it on Instagram I think, or maybe it was on the BOSFilipinos Instagram page (the only time I was ever actually been enamored by an ad on Instagram), and it was for a coconut pandan latte. I haven’t had pandan since I visited the Philippines, so once I saw the post I made it a priority to try and visit before they closed that day. I was running really late (in typical Filipino fashion) and I think I made it at 2:55PM, and they close at 3PM. I felt so bad being *that* customer, but they were extremely kind and made me a latte anyway. It was single-handedly one of the best lattes I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve honestly had a lot - I worked at a coffee shop for like 3 ½ years. They also make this amazing ube tart and bibingka (Filipino bake rice cake), which makes me really happy because finding Filipino food in Boston can be really difficult. The owners themselves are just really sweet. When I can, I love just sitting there to have those nostalgic flavors and write / reflect / sketch. Oh, and I am a hardcore stan for Coreanos in Allston.
My long winded love letter to Solid Ground Cafe aside, I also really love sitting on the benches of the Charles River Esplanade during the Spring / Summer and walking along the river and people watching. The reservoir by Cleveland Circle is also a really lovely spot to go to on a nice day. I’m not a very talkative or outgoing person, so finding these spots / areas to just sit and reflect in the midst of everything means a lot me.
On Filipino Food...
What's your all time favorite Filipino dish? (Feel free to link up some recipes, otherwise I’ll find them around the web)
Lexi: This is so hard, wow. I think it has to be kare-kare (Filipino stew with peanut sauce) maybe? Growing up, I only had it during special occasions, so I would eat 3 servings of it as a kid and even now. I have to say lechon kawali (deep fried crispy pork belly) is a really close second though. After that has to be tapsilog (beef tapa, garlic fried rice, and egg). And anything ube flavored. Honestly, I love all Filipino food so much and it’s so rare that I have it so it’s very difficult for me to pick.
What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Lexi: I’m sadly not very blessed with cooking skills but either sinigang (Filipino tamarind soup) or tinola (Filipino chicken soup). They’re just really comforting foods to make, especially in the wintertime. Oh and arroz caldo! I like to make it in a big batch so I can eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had a dream that I made an ube cheesecake. I can’t really bake but I’m determined to learn now since I clearly prophesied this concoction.
On staying in touch…
Do you have any upcoming events / programs / even work things that you’d like to mention?
Lexi: I’m part of a group show at MECA gallery in Lowell , and the reception is this Wednesday on April 24th. I post a lot on Instagram but this is really one of the few times I’ve ever showcased my work in a gallery setting so it’s pretty exciting and anxiety inducing for me. There’s definitely a lot of fear with putting your work out there. At the same time I’m really excited to meet other artists and cultivate those relationships with creatives who may face similar struggles, and to help each other grow.
How can people stay in touch? (Social, email, website, whatever you’re comfortable with)
We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.