Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Artist Lexi DeLeon

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!

Photo provided by Lexi DeLeon.

Photo provided by Lexi DeLeon.

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.

On Boston…

Photo provided by Lexi DeLeon.

Photo provided by Lexi DeLeon.

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.

Art by Lexi DeLeon

Art by Lexi DeLeon

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)

Lexi: I’m most active on my art Instagram, which is @lecksydee, and a lot of my work can be seen on my website at lexideleon.com.


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Account Executive Sunanda Nair

By Trish Fontanilla

I’m super excited to introduce you to, Sunanda Nair! Sunanda and I were trying to remember how we first met, but settled on some networking event many moons ago. The funny part is I’ve known her wife Melissa way longer since we were both among the early users of Yelp when it first launched in Boston almost 15 years ago! Sunanda and I recently reconnected on LinkedIn when I gave our previous Filipinos in Boston women a shout out on International Women’s Day because I wasn’t seeing many Asian / Filipino women being highlighted on speaker’s lists in Boston and beyond.

Thanks again to Sunanda for being a part of Filipinos in Boston, and I hope you all enjoy reading her interview!

Photo provided by Sunanda / Sunanda (far right) with her parents.

Photo provided by Sunanda / Sunanda (far right) with her parents.

Where are you and your family from?
Sunanda:
My mother is from the island of Bohol in the Philippines, and immigrated to the US after nursing school. My father is from Kerala, a state in Southern India. The majority of my mom’s family is still in Bohol and Cebu. When we go back, we always stay in Bohol but we stop in Cebu to see extended family on the way.

Both my mother and father are close with their families, so as a child I visited their homelands every other year on a rotation. I was born in India but truly feel close to both my Filipino and Indian sides. I grew up around a lot of Filipinos and Indians in the Detroit area, and most of our meals were either South Indian or Filipino cuisine. It was a treat when we got “American” foods in the house for dinner. Although I still prefer the food I grew up with. I could eat rice with literally every meal.

Where do you work and what do you do?
Sunanda:
Currently I work at Privy, a tech company in downtown Boston. I am a Senior Account Executive on the team.

You’ve got an interesting resume that’s taken you from non-profits to for-profits, startups and public companies. Can you tell us more about your career journey and what led you to Privy?
Sunanda
: So my career trajectory is a winding one. I went to school for cognitive science and landed my first job abroad in India doing  HIV / AIDS research at the largest government hospital in the country. After that I came back to the US and split my time between playing poker online and working for non-profits and NGOs. I landed in Boston accidentally because my close friend was moving here, and I came along for the ride on the moving truck. I hung out here for awhile before deciding to take a summer certificate program at Boston University in public health. After finishing the program, I found myself working for an organization called Massachusetts & Asian Pacific Islands for Health (MAP for Health) doing program management, and research with the Massachusetts Department of Health and the CDC. The focus was on HIV / AIDS awareness and prevention in the Asian community. After MAP I worked for MataHari, a local Boston organization that works with diverse communities with a mission to end gender based violence and exploitation. While I was there I started to really enjoy marketing and took on a part-time internship as a social media marketer, which then turned into a part-time job. Because of that I started taking on consulting projects doing marketing and lead generation for various small businesses. While that was great, I realized I wanted some benefits like healthcare so I decided to apply for full-time marketing roles. I was able to secure an interview at a small startup that had no VP of  Marketing, so the VP of Sales interviewed me. Two days after my interview he offered me a sales job and I thought he was legitimately crazy. However, he challenged me to take a risk and I took it. I’m lucky that he was a great coach and mentor. I quickly learned I loved sales, even though it was really hard. That first sales job was all cold calling and even door-to-door sales. From there I went to a few more startups, and landed at one that was acquired by IBM. I spent 2 years at IBM and then wanted to go back to small company life and back to sales. I worked with Wistia for 2 years, which was amazing, but an opportunity to join Privy presented itself and it felt like a challenge so I took it. I love where I am right now, but can’t wait to see what the next 5 years have in store for me!

Photo provided by Sunanda / Sunanda with her 2 y/o son Rishi.

Photo provided by Sunanda / Sunanda with her 2 y/o son Rishi.

On Boston…

How long have you been in Boston?
Sunanda:
I moved to Boston in 2009, spent half a year in NYC and then ended back up in Boston. So almost 10 years! Wow, that’s crazy for me to type out.

What are your favorite Boston spots (food, parks, spaces, etc!)
Sunanda:
I love the Boston Common and Public Garden in the summer. It seems a little cliche but it’s a great place to have a picnic, walk around when the weather is nice, and just enjoy the urban park. Now that I have a son the Frog Pond is the best thing to go to on hot days.

Also, I love love  Winsor Dim Sum Cafe in Chinatown. It’s been one of my favorites for years.

I hesitate to share this secret but in my opinion Charlestown is one of Boston’s best kept secrets. I lived there for almost 3 years, and it’s like a mini town right next to the city. It feels like a community.  I knew my neighbors, some who have lived there for 50+ years. There are tons of parks, a brewery, a growing restaurant selection, and you can walk to the North End in about 15-30 minutes depending on where you are in the neighborhood.

Photo provided by Sunanda

Photo provided by Sunanda

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Sunanda:
Oh, man. It’s hard to pick. I will say my mom’s pancit recipe (noodle dish I would have to write it out), and kare kare (coconut milk or peanut sauce version). I couldn’t pick between the two. I feel like lechon is a given. Does it even need to be said?

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Sunanda:
Ok, so full confession I am not really the cook in my house but my goal is to perfect my mom’s version of pancit.

On staying in touch…

Do you have any upcoming events / programs / even work things that you’d like to mention?
Sunanda:
I love a good side hustle and started investing in real estate in 2016. I am always down to talk to people who are interested in it, currently doing it, or both. I consider myself a novice still so the more I talk to people about it the more I learn.

Also, I am working on a product with my first sales boss which you can view at suvliner.com. Yes, we definitely know the website needs work. I would love to connect with people who have a background in consumer goods since we both are learning as we go. The website just got launched, but we aren’t in full selling mode yet, but we do have inventory.  Right now we are testing a new prototype for a smaller version of the product so we can offer 2 sizes. We are still very early in our journey and we aren’t looking to be millionaires just trying to have fun and keep learning new things. Although, if we hit it big neither of us will complain. :)

How can people stay in touch?
Sunanda:
sunanda.nair@gmail.com / https://www.linkedin.com/in/sunandanair/ (if we haven’t met just leave a note introducing yourself and I am happy to connect) / and Twitter: @snaps4life

I am open to grabbing coffee with people all the time so don’t hesitate to reach out!


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos in Boston: An Interview with Volunteer Manager Jennifer “J.J.” Javier

By Trish Fontanilla

If you saw last month’s Filipinos in Boston interview, Christine Leider gave you a small hint of who we’d be covering this month. Thanks for the segway, Christine!

I was trying to remember how I first heard about Jennifer “J.J.” Javier so that I could do a proper introduction, but honestly, I think we’ve just been on a mutual friend’s personal Filipino meetup list, and never actually crossed paths (besides me looking her up after the last event). So last week JJ and I finally jumped on the phone to chat, and well here’s about a half of what we talked about. Don’t be surprised if her name comes up again in future blog posts!

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier


Where are you and your family from?
J.J.:
 I’m originally from Long Beach, California but my family moved around southern CA when I was growing up. So we lived in Long Beach for awhile, Riverside, and Irvine. However my parents are originally from the Philippines. My mom is from Manila, and my stepfather is from Cavite.

Where do you work and what do you do?
J.J.:
I work at 826 Boston, which is a youth writing and publishing center that serves underserved students by empowering them to find their voices and tell their stories. This way we can really uplift marginalized stories and voices, and also support students in gaining key communication skills. I manage the volunteer program here, which is about 700 volunteers across our different programs. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization, and do everything from tutoring to editing books to working on our physical space and more.

As I was researching you for this interview, I landed on your LinkedIn page and saw you had a degree in Criminology, Law, and Society. Can you walk me through a little of your journey, from getting a degree like that to moving into a program like City Year and then paving a path for yourself in nonprofits?
J.J.:
I decided to study criminology, law, and society because I was very interested in social justice. I really wanted to provide a level playing field for those that don’t have access to the privileges that other people have. I really wanted to work in that realm very early on. My parents, however, had a very strict route for me. They wanted me to have a more traditional role like a nurse or a doctor, and if I wasn’t going into medicine I better be going into something equally prestigious. So for a really long time I thought, maybe I’ll be a lawyer or a forensics psychologist. Neither of those things really interested me, but those were professions that pleased my parents at the time. Criminology was the core of all that. I loved the major though, and I don’t regret taking those classes at all. But I realized in year 4 (of 5) that I didn’t want to become a lawyer, even though I was on track to becoming one. I had taken the LSATs. I started to get references for different law schools. And then I freaked out and realized I couldn’t spend 3 more years living out a dream that wasn’t my own. So I decided to apply for a gap year program. I had heard about different programs through school like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corp, and City Year. I applied to City Year and chose Boston because I had never been to Boston before, and it was the farthest away I could get from California without leaving the country. I had to distance myself from my parents and their dreams for me. When I got into the City Year program, I joined with very little support from my family. I thought I would get some congratulations, but my mom was livid when I got accepted. She asked me how I was going to pay for everything, but I managed. So I did a year of City Year with the little I had in savings, and I found that I really love working with youth and civic engagement. City Year is dedicated to civic engagement, and shaping youth to become civic leaders. I really latched onto that because I think there’s something really beautiful about community service. You don’t have to have a degree, or look a certain way. All of that doesn’t matter when you are volunteering, you know, when you’re deciding to reserve some of your time to help others. And serving others looks different to different people. It can be a formal thing like beautifying a park, or it could be bringing dinner for a friend that’s in the hospital. The idea of taking care of one another needs to be fostered more in youth, despite who you are, or whether or not you have a degree, despite whether or not you speak English, or you’re this race or that. I wanted to get to the heart of that. And that’s why I’ve been on this path working towards social justice.

And so after City Year I worked at Cradles to Crayons, and then Tenacity for a few years managing their AmeriCorps program. I found my way to 826 Boston because of their focus on literacy, and their mission around lifting up marginalized youth. I used to read dozens of books growing up, and my mom used books as a way to learn English, so literacy hits close to home. Books really shaped me as a person.

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier / JJ's sister, mother, JJ, and her stepfather

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier / JJ's sister, mother, JJ, and her stepfather

On Boston...

What are your favorite spots in Greater Boston:
J.J.:
 I love Shabu Zen, which is a hot pot place in Chinatown. And I really like Pho Pasteur, which is also in Chinatown. Boston does really well with pho options because of the awesome Vietnamese population. Bukhara in Jamaica Plain is a really great Indian place. If you love steak, I love Boston Chops for special occasions. I also love Merengue in Dorchester, which is a Dominican restaurant. It’s fantastic and they do a lot for the community.

What are some cool Boston-based nonprofits in the city that you think people should know about?
J.J.:
 Ah, there are so many really great nonprofits in the city. There’s an amazing nonprofit called Urban Improv which is in Jamaica Plain, but they also serve Boston Public School students. They use life skills in theater, so they do improv with students and talk about real life things like teen pregnancy, drugs, sexuality and things that people / parents are afraid to talk about. Through the program students learn to navigate those issues in a healthy way.

Another non-profit / organization is Haley House. They do a few different things. There’s a residency program, they have a cafe, job placement for people that have barriers to entry, as well as tutoring. I love them because they’re local, they help people with job skills, and they make awesome food and host events like poetry slams.

Another organization I want to plug is ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence). During my early years in Boston, I made some really amazing friends through ASPIRE. They’re working on some really great programs.

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
J.J.:
It’s impossible to name just one, but growing up I would always request mechado (tomato base beef stew). I have an aunt that makes it really well. When I was sick, I would ask my mom to make tinola (chicken soup). But I really love it all!  

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
J.J.:
I make afritada (chicken and vegetable dish with a tomato base) for friends that have never had Filipino food before. The first time I made afritada I looked at a recipe, but was like eh, so I called my mom. I used the recipe for measurements but got advice from my mom for ingredients.

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier / JJ's sister (left) and JJ (right)

Photo provided by Jennifer Javier / JJ's sister (left) and JJ (right)

On staying in touch…

Do you have any upcoming events / programs that you want to highlight? Are there ways for our readers to get involved with 826?
J.J.:
Like I mentioned, volunteers are the lifeblood of 826, so we’re always looking for people to get involved. We hold information sessions twice a month (they have 2 info sessions coming up - August 8th and August 21st), both in person and remote. If anyone wants to help our students with writing, creative writing, storytelling, they can attend those info sessions.

Something really exciting that’s happening this year is that we’re opening up satellite writing center in the Boston International Newcomers Academy, which is a high school for immigrant students. All the students immigrated to Boston within the last 5 years, some within the last few months. The school’s amazing, and we’re excited to have a writing center there so we can work with them and publish some of their stories as well. If people want to get more involved with that project, they can also learn more at our info sessions.

How can people stay in touch?
J.J.:
If people want to get involved with 826 Boston, they can email me at jennifer@826boston.org, and they can follow 826 on Instagram, Facebook,and Twitter.


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos in Boston: An Interview with Professor and Researcher Christine Leider

By Trish Fontanilla

This month’s interview with Christine Leider is brought to you by the good ol' Twitterverse. I’ve never met Christine, but when I was scrolling through the BOSFilipinos Twitter feed a couple months ago, her account caught my eye: Filipina American and ate (Tagalog for older sister). I clicked through to her professor profile, and thought her work was super fascinating. I’m so thankful to Christine for taking time to do an interview with me, and I hope you all enjoy getting to know another awesome Filipino in Boston!

Dancing at Ketchikan Filipino Community Center.jpg

Where are you and your family from?
Christine: My family is Bisayan. Both of my parents are from Cebu; my mom is from Cebu City and my father is from Sogod. My siblings and I are second generation immigrants, born and raised in Ketchikan, which is an island in southeast Alaska. There is actually a relatively large Filipino population in my hometown; and my family has always been active with the Filipino Community Club. There’s a brief article that the This Filipino American Life podcast did about southeast Alaska, and when they reference Ketchikan they refer to Diaz Café – Ninang Clara is my godmother!

Where do you work and what do you do?
Christine
: I am a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. I’m a former ESL teacher and my work as a teacher educator involves working with pre-service teachers who are preparing to teach bilingual and immigrant students in PK12 (pre-K to 12th grade) public schools. I also do research on bilingual and immigrant student language and literacy development. A lot of what I do centers on anti-racist perspectives and pedagogy and equity in education.  I feel really fortunate to love what I do. Working with teachers and students is my favorite.

What motivated you to center your work on bilingual education?
Christine: I think it’s a bit personal, growing up in an immigrant family. I wish I could speak Bisaya. We’d speak it when I was younger and I understand when I hear people speaking Bisaya and Tagalog, but I can’t really talk back as much as I would like. My parents really wanted me (and my siblings) to focus on English. English was viewed as the pathway to success. That’s actually quite common among many immigrant families in the US, and not unique to my own experience. Research and census data document an intergenerational language shift among many immigrant groups such that by the third generation, children are monolingual English speakers. Language is definitely a part of heritage and identity, and it’s so unfortunate that society pushes so much emphasis on English. I’m not saying English isn’t important, but students shouldn’t have to give up their home language for it. There’s a lot of misconception around language development and bilingualism – and of course the power associated with English dates back to colonialism. I could go on about this forever. Anyway, I love working in bilingual education because it’s about breaking down these misconceptions about language and bilingualism, empowering bilingual and immigrant students and families, and working with teachers and communities to better support culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
Christine: I moved to Boston in 2008 to attend graduate school at Boston College. I think I “became” a Bostonian when I bought my first Red Sox hat in 2009. Or maybe in 2010 when I first met my now husband – he’s from the Boston area. To be honest, when I first moved here I had no intention of staying in Boston, or Massachusetts for that matter, but here we are 10 years later. I love it, I just wish I was closer to family and that lumpia was easier to find.

What are your favorite Boston spots:
Christine
:  l love eating in Chinatown, especially hot pot – I’m partial to Q Restaurant because the a la carte menu includes both tripe and tendon. My dad would always make this dish, that was kinda like a menudo, with tripe, tendon, and beef tongue. I also like dim sum on the weekends at Hei La Moon, the spareribs taste really similar to something my mom would make. I grew up on an island, so I love sitting near water, and I also grew up in a small town so I have a thing for food courts, because we just didn’t have those where I grew up. So this is pretty touristy-cheesy, but I really like to get something to eat from Faneuil Hall and then walk over to the waterfront and eat over there. When I’m not eating, I enjoy walking around the city with my husband or reading a book in the Common. I can also be found grading and writing at various coffee shops in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Are there any Boston-based programs that people should know about to work in / volunteer for / learn more about the kind of work you do?  
Christine: Have you heard of 826Boston? They do awesome literacy work with Boston Public Schools – and their Volunteer Manager is a fellow Filipina! More specific to my own line of work, this is more at the State level, but I sit on the MATSOL (Massachusetts Educators of English Language Learners) Board of Directors, which is a non-profit dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in the education of bilingual students in Massachusetts. There’s lots of opportunities to get involved in different ways through MATSOL and other organizations like MABE (Multistate Association of Bilingual Education, formerly the MA Association of Bilingual Education) and MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition), especially if you are a teacher and / or advocate for bilingual and immigrant students.

What's your community superpower?
Christine
: Connecting like-minded people with each other.

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Christine: Lechon baboy. Hands down. Also lumpia shanghai. I was pescatarian for a good amount of time, which was cool and all, but didn’t jive well with the Filipino diet.  I think my family was pretty relieved when I started eating meat again, especially pork.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Christine:
“Filipino breakfast” aka a fried egg, white rice, and some sort of pork or corned beef. I could eat that for every meal. When I was in college I would often make bacon and then eat it with a fried egg and rice. To me, it was just “breakfast,” but my roommates would always call it “Filipino breakfast.” That’s more of a meal though. As far as preparing a dish, I think I enjoy making pancit the most. Primarily because I’d make it with my mom. I think it might have been one of the first things I learned to cook. Speaking of pancit, did you know there’s this children’s book, Cora Cooks Pancit, that is all about a Filipina-American making pancit with her mom? I wish I had that book when I was younger.

On staying in touch…

Do you have any upcoming events / lectures / program that you want to highlight?
Christine: It is currently summer, so I’m trying to keep a low profile right now! When the school year starts up though, I am the Faculty Advisor for the Bilingual Education student club in the Wheelock College of Education at BU and the club often hosts several social and informational events on education, advocacy, and bilingualism. Feel free to join us, I post event information to my Twitter and Instagram feed.

How can people stay in touch?
Christine: Follow me on Twitter and Instagram! Thanks so much for the interview!


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Costume Designer / Entrepreneur Virginia Johnson

By Trish Fontanilla

Hat tip to BOSFilipinos contributor Christine Del Castillo for suggesting we interview Virginia Johnson this month. When I used to live in Somerville, I would bike by gather here almost daily. I should’ve known that a Filipina was involved in creating a space that is so warm, welcoming, and vibrant. I hope you all enjoy learning more about Virginia as much as I did!


Where are you and your family from?
Virginia: I was born in Subic Bay, the old U.S. Naval base. My mom and her 12 siblings all grew up in the province of Bulacan. My grandfather and now my Uncle Jose owned and operated a bottling plant in San Miguel. We moved to Southern California after my younger brother was born. My dad, on the other hand, was born and raised in Eastern Iowa. He enlisted so he could go to college, and it happened to be during the Vietnam War. And he ended up being stationed in the Philippines during the war.

Where do you work and what do you do?
Virginia
: I am a costume designer for film and television, mostly major motion pictures like Patriots Day and The New Mutants. I’m also the owner of the Cambridge stitch lounge and fabric/fiber boutique, gather here. I wrapped up a film in Bogota, Colombia in late February, so I have been focusing my energy on community activities and workshops at gather here.

What motivated you to go from costume designer to entrepreneur?
Virginia
: I didn’t give up costume designing completely. I just couldn’t. I love working collaboratively, and watching a group of people come together and create something as awesome as a film. And I love telling stories through what people wear. However I also wanted to put down roots, and opening gather here was a way to do that. I’m investing in the community not only by having a brick and mortar store, but by providing employment opportunities, sharing creative knowledge, and passing on the tradition of handcraft to future generations. Working as a freelance designer felt impermanent, while owning and working at gather here, despite the challenges of retail, felt like my forever home. When we opened in February of 2011 I was terrified that I had sunk all of my savings into a hairbrained idea, but we have flourished and even moved to a bigger location in 2016.

20170322-gather-here-0046.jpg

Well we know you have a great love for makers considering you built a space just for them, but tell me more about your work with your neighborhood and the greater Boston community through the shop’s “We Care Wednesday” initiative. What are some of the non-profits that you’ll be focusing on this summer?
Virginia
: After the 2016 Election I wanted to just hole up and hide, but my responsibilities to gather here were too important. So I found comfort just going in, helping people with their projects, and sewing in the studio. In the quiet of sewing it became clear that the collective “we” would have to step up and support the programs that are essential to our communities. Since there’s already a Giving Tuesday we chose We Care Wednesday (we find that people are out of town on Fridays and Mondays so didn’t want to hurt the fundraising efforts in the summer). We created this initiative not just because we, gather here, care but because we, the community of makers, care. Every Wednesday 5% of our profits are collected for a nonprofit that we announce on our blog at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month we tally up the totals and make a donation as We Care Wednesday at gather here. We are currently fundraising for the Pride Youth Theater Alliance since it is Pride Month and I was a theater kid. July’s recipient will be Fenway Health - a former advisee from my years teaching at Tufts worked there prior to starting medical school and with the constant threat of healthcare repeal it is so important. We don’t have a nonprofit selected for August at the moment because we leave one month available every quarter should a specific need arise. In May we raised money for MusicWorks because one of our employees, Sue, is a volunteer for that organization. The elder she was paired with passed away in April and she asked if we would consider fundraising for an organization that had brought her so much joy and friendship. In September the recipient is Y2Y in Harvard Square. It’s the kick-off of another academic year and this student-run shelter is so inspiring!

One of my favorite NP’s from 2017 was Girls Rock Campaign Boston. They are doing so much to build up the confidence of girls! They sent us an awesome postcard that we framed.

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On Boston…

How long have you been in Boston?
Virginia:
I moved to Boston in 2000. I lived in Waltham, right on Moody Street when I first got here. I’ve been here nearly 18 years! That’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere!

What are your favorite Boston spots:
Virginia
: I love the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. If I knew that the end of the world was at 5 PM tonight I would head to the museum and sit in the atrium. I also really love Fenway Park. I’m a Cubs fan having spent my formative years in the Midwest, but Fenway’s history is so rich. I love all the public spaces in Greater Boston. Walking along the Charles River, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the Public Garden, and all the small parks and memorials throughout the city.

Do you have a favorite Boston-based art project? Either something that was made in your space, or by a maker you know?
Virginia
: Well, I love Bren Bataclan. And not just because he’s Filipino. I have one of his paintings that my friend commissioned after seeing his work at Christopher’s in Porter Square. She knew I would love it, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Bren’s Smile Project is international and it comes from the best place - from the heart.

What's your community superpower?
Virginia: Space. I created gather here with the intention of reserving space for people and gathering. It was never designed to be filled with product. Currently we are hosting Badass HERstory meetings for people who want to tell their story through fiber for a worldwide craftivism project. When Red Fire Farm lost their CSA pick-up location I immediately volunteered our store. And when the Cambridge Modern Quilt Guild was looking for a meeting space we invited them to take over the back of the shop on the last Sunday of every month.

Creating a space that champions community and wants to help people share their stories, I think, is the most valuable gift I can give.

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Virginia
: Pancit. Like I would stop a car for that. Especially for my sister’s pancit. She’s the best cook, and has kept our family’s recipes alive.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Virginia: Lumpia. It’s easy and everybody loves it. Seriously, do you know anyone who doesn’t like lumpia? I mean, my mom would say that my technique isn’t perfect but most people don’t know.

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On staying in touch…

Do you have any upcoming events at the store that you wanted to highlight?
Virginia: Yes! We're hosting a special event this Saturday with a guest artist, Melody Hoffman from Latvia. And we're doing a tea tasting from Tea Hive! For more events, our Classes calendar is updated regularly. 

How can people stay in touch?
Virginia
: I’m a social media junkie. To follow our crafty community on instagram: @gather_here. For my costume design/personal struggle: @vee.bee.jay. I tweet about craft, community, and the state of our nation as @gather_here.

 

Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Chef Ashley Lujares

By Trish Fontanilla

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares / Taken at Myers+Chang by  Kristin Teig

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares / Taken at Myers+Chang by Kristin Teig

Before we started BOSFilipinos and I was still in the consideration phase of my Filipino food project, the universe kept asking me, “Have you talked to Ashley Lujares yet?” And by universe I mean, Ashley’s previous colleagues at Myers+Chang, Chefs Joanne Chang (owner / chef), and Karen Akunowicz (partner / executive chef), and Veo Robert (chef de cuisine). Seriously, three separate conversations, three suggestions that I should chat with Ashley. After meeting her at an industry night, and then having a coffee chat that lasted for hours talking about our upbringings as Filipino Americans, I thought she’d be perfect for the blog!

Ashley is one of the amazing chefs in Boston that is bringing Filipino food to the masses by highlighting special dishes wherever she goes. We’re stoked that she was able to do this interview with us. And don’t worry, we’ll be highlighting more of the amazing Filipino chefs here in Boston throughout the year.


Where are you and your family from?
Ashley
: I was born and raised in Massachusetts, but my parents are both from the Bicol region in the Philippines. Half of my mother's siblings reside here as well as the west coast. And my maternal grandfather was in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was stationed here in Boston and in San Diego, CA.

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares

What do you do?
Ashley: I am the savory chef at Flour Bakery + Cafe in Fort Point.

What inspired you to become a chef?
Ashley: Many situations in my life have inspired me to become a chef. The first inspiration came from a day I was watching cartoons and my dad said, “Why don’t you watch something that you can learn from. You are rotting your brain.” He put on PBS, and Julia Child’s show was on. I was instantly hooked!

Soon after that I moved to the Philippines for 3 years, and one of my earliest memories is going to the market with my grandmother. My cousin Joy and I would take turns going there with her, and I would throw tantrums when it wasn't my turn. I loved how full of life the market was; I loved the smell of the street food and seeing fresh produce.

My grandmother owned a pancitan (noodle factory). She also had a green thumb and planted all of the fruits and vegetables in our backyard. Any exotic fruit you can find at your local market in the US, my grandmother had in her backyard. My grandfather owned a balutan (balut factory), and my aunt raised pigs and sold meat at the town market. She also helped my mother prep for parties. Through those parties my mom taught me the importance of eating with your eyes first.

Well we know that Flour is one the best places to work in Boston (like really, not just because of the sticky buns), but how did you end up working there? 

Ashley: I was the sous chef at Myers+Chang for a few years and I needed a change. I love Joanne Chang’s management style, and I felt like I would learn a lot about how to be a better manager from her as well as the business aspect of the food industry.

On Boston...

Provided by Ashley Lujares

Provided by Ashley Lujares

How long have you been in Boston?
Ashley: I have been in Boston for the majority of my life. I briefly lived in different places like New York City, the Philippines, and San Diego, CA.

What are your favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Ashley: My favorite restaurants are Sarma, Coppa, Toro, and my best friend’s family restaurant in Chinatown called Wai Wai’s. I frequent the back of the ICA overlooking East Boston, and I love going to museums like the MFA, ICA + Isabella Stewart Gardner. Mostly I'm in the South Shore where the Lujares family compound is located.

 

 

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Ashley: I really love my mom’s palabok (variation of Filipino noodle dish, pancit). It’s so rich yet so bright! I also love my mom’s lumpia shanghai (spring roll). Through the years she developed these recipes and made them her own, and both are her signature dishes.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Ashley: I love making Filipino barbeque and my grandmother’s atchara (pickle made from grated, unripe papaya). These components complement each other well, and they remind me of summer. I often make these at Flour!

On staying in touch...

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares

Photo provided by Ashley Lujares

How can people stay in touch?
Ashley: My Instagram account is serajul. It’s my last name backwards if you are wondering where I got it from.

 


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos In Boston: An Interview with Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Melissa Obleada

By Trish Fontanilla

If you’re an avid BOSFilipinos reader, you’ll notice that all of our pieces this month are about really awesome women. While some may see this as a ploy for Women’s History Month, to be honest, it wasn’t planned. How did we find these rad ladies? By using our networks, but also committing to go past them to elevate community voices through content like our blog and programming like our eatup (and upcoming meetup). And while the BF founders do this for fun, I was so excited for this interview with Melissa Obleada, who gets to work on diversity initiatives for a living! Melissa and I connected when she started following BOSFilipinos on Twitter, and I fell down a rabbit hole looking up all the great stuff she does in the community.

Thank you Melissa for taking time to chat with us this month!

Provided by Melissa, HubSpot headshot taken by by  Liz Mollica Photography

Provided by Melissa, HubSpot headshot taken by by Liz Mollica Photography

Where is your family from? 
Melissa: I was born in New York City, and then we moved to the suburbs in New Jersey. My mom is from Santa Maria, just outside of Manila, and my dad is from Lucban, Quezon. I haven’t been to Lucban yet, but Santa Maria has a Dunkin Donuts so it feels like home.

What do you do?
Melissa: I’m the Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager at HubSpot, a marketing and sales software company located in East Cambridge. I plan events and initiatives for two of our four resource groups – People of Color at HubSpot (POCaH) and the LGBTQ+ Alliance – as well as work to see how we can make our company more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

I see you started out in marketing at Emerson (woohoo Emerson alumni!). What inspired you to get involved in diversity and inclusion?
Melissa: Yes, go Lions! Good question. The gist of it is, as a queer, cancer-surviving daughter of immigrants, I found myself caring more about the state of D&I at our company than I did about my job at that time, which was mainly focused on employer branding.

I was a founding member of our LGBTQ and POC employee resource groups, and was in a unique position. Unlike my colleagues, my role was already focused on employee engagement, and I reported directly to a C-level executive, Katie Burke, who’s a huge advocate for D&I. My access to top leadership and wiggle room in my original role allowed me to spend most of my time focusing on these ERGs (employee resource groups). After about a year of this, I became Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager.

In a predominantly caucasian and male industry, I think I’m able to bring a unique perspective and voice to the conversation. I want to put in the work now to make sure that other folks who are underrepresented or othered can come to this company and not question whether or not they belong.  It’s cool to have my personal identity inspire my professional work.

Provided by Melissa, pictured here at The Obama Foundation Boston Training - Fall 2017

Provided by Melissa, pictured here at The Obama Foundation Boston Training - Fall 2017

HubSpot seems to be one of the leaders in Boston when it comes to transparency in culture and D&I. What are some things that make HS different, but that other companies can emulate?
Melissa: When it comes to our culture, we think differently than most companies and that’s what sets us apart. A lot of people think a company’s culture (or vibe, feel, secret sauce, etc) is something that just is. But one thing that HubSpot did early on was write down our company values and all the things that make us us. (Shameless plug for culturecode.com.) Having that general framework keeps us from losing sight of what’s important to us as a business.

We have a cute acronym called HEART that we use to describe the things we look for in all of our employees: humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, transparent. We apply HEART to everything we are and do. So in the context of creating an inclusive company, humbleness allows us the space to ask questions and learn from one another, empathy helps us understand one another, adaptability has us making sure we’re making the necessary changes to improve, transparency has led to us publicly posting our diversity data, and remarkability pushes us to not just tackle low-hanging fruit, but make the big changes.

Open and transparent communication in any organization when it comes to new challenges or obstacles ensures that everyone is on the same page, while closed door conversations and secrecy breed paranoia and distrust. Companies should be as honest with employees as they can be about diversity & inclusion efforts, goals, and initiatives.

Provided by Melissa, taken at Boston Pride 2017 with the HubSpot marching group

Provided by Melissa, taken at Boston Pride 2017 with the HubSpot marching group

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
Melissa
: I’d been coming to Boston on and off since I was 10, since my oncologist is here and my radiation treatments were also here back in the day. I’ve been in Boston full time since 2010 when I came for school.

What are your favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Melissa:

I heard you run another meetup outside of all the events you organize for work…
Melissa
: I organize Queers with Beers at Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville. It’s a very chill space for folks of all identities and orientations to come and hang out. It’s the first-ish Monday of each month. Like us on Facebook!

What's your community superpower?
Melissa: Empathy. I’m good at being able to understand things from other people's’ perspectives. My awareness of my own feelings as well as the spoken and unspoken messages coming from other people is very helpful in the work I do.

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Melissa: My mom’s lengua (beef tongue or ox tongue). She prepares it in a mushroom sauce, and it’s the best thing in the universe. Also her arroz caldo (Filipino-style rice congee). Perfect on cold days. Or all days, actually.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
Melissa
: Whoops, I can’t cook Filipino food... The best I can do is making my own garlic fried rice (sinangag) with an egg and tocino (Filipino-style cured pork) or Spam from the grocery store. I guess we’d call that tocsilog and spamsilog.  I really want to try to make my own pan de sal though. Please, send me your recipes.

Provided by Melissa, taken with Issa Rae at  INBOUND  2017

Provided by Melissa, taken with Issa Rae at INBOUND 2017

On staying in touch...

How can people stay in touch? (website / social / email if you want!)
Melissa: @MelissaObleada on Twitter and Instagram, probably the only Melissa Obleada on LinkedIn, and hello@melissaobleada.com.


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipino Entrepreneurs: An Interview with Rumples and Kat from Kubo Modern Living

by Bianca Garcia

As soon as I first heard about kubo, a line of handcrafted goods by Filipino artisans, I was immediately drawn to the bright colors and the beautiful designs. All kubo products are handmade in the Philippines, and feature traditional Filipino techniques, combined with a modern aesthetic. I chatted with co-founders Rumples Estacio-Miranda and Katrina Pesigan to learn more about them and their products.

Rumpes Estacio-Miranda and Kat Pesigan of kubo 

Rumpes Estacio-Miranda and Kat Pesigan of kubo 

Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?

Rumples: Kat and I are sisters. We were both born and raised in Manila. I moved to New York City in 2013 to study Fashion Merchandising in at Parsons.

Kat: I moved to New York City in 2008. Rumples and I are both married with kids and live with our families in Brooklyn now.

What do you do?

Rumples: I am the co-founder of kubo together with my sister. I am also a full-time mom to my 16-month old son.

Kat: I work as a public health consultant and am building the business of kubo with my sister.

Boho Tote

Boho Tote

What is kubo? What inspired you to start it?

Rumples: kubo is short for “bahay kubo” in Tagalog and refers to a traditional Filipino home. kubo creates consciously crafted goods for the modern lifestyle through partnerships with local artisan communities in the Philippines. We take pride in the recognition of traditional Filipino craftsmanship and opening it to a global community.

Kat: kubo is a reminder of home and the comfort it brings. We launched during the Summer of 2016 with a mission to stay connected to our roots, promote traditional methods of craftsmanship, and to sustain the communities that make them.

What's your favorite piece from your line?

Rumples: The Bayong Tote is my favorite piece in our latest collection. It’s a reinvented version of our bestselling Boho Tote. It can fit a lot of stuff and be used every day - as a work bag, a shopping tote, a beach bag, or whatever!

Kat: My favorite piece is the Inabel striped throw - it is a true all around piece. I take it with me whenever I travel. It’s great to have, especially if you have kids. I have a 7-year old and a 9-month old, so the throw is a staple in our stroller.

What's been the most memorable story you have since starting your business?

Rumples: The firsts are always memorable - our first online order, the first summer market we joined, our first pop up, first collab with another brand.

Kat: Also being able to meet fellow entrepreneurs in events, on social media, through peer connections - there is no shortage of advice and support!

What's your favorite Filipino food?

Rumples: It’s such a tough question to answer because I absolutely love Filipino food and I can’t really pick just one dish. My list of favorites include adobong pusit (adobo-style squid), my lola’s (grandmother’s) kare kare (meat and vegetable stew in peanut sauce), my mom’s binagoongan (pork sauteed with shrimp paste), and my mother-in-law’s adobo and monggo (mung beans). I also love taho (sweet silken tofu snack) and I miss it oh so much! You just won't find anything like the street vendor taho we have in the Philippines here in New York!

Kat: I love chicken inasal (grilled chicken). I say that because I was recently in Bacolod and had the most amazing chicken inasal ever!

Where can we find kubo? How can people get in touch with you?

Rumples and Kat: kubo is available online at www.kubomodernliving.com. We are also an Instagram @kubomodernliving. Stay updated by signing up for our newsletter through this link.

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Thanks so much, Rumples and Kat!

This dynamic duo created a discount code exclusively for the BOSFilipinos community! Use code BOSFILIPINOS to enjoy 10% off your purchase until 3/31/18. You can also share this discount link via email or social media. Your discount will automatically be applied at checkout.

https://www.kubomodernliving.com/discount/BOSFILIPINOS

Dragon Lady is Comin' To Town: An Interview with Sara Porkalob

By Trish Fontanilla

I know people have mixed feelings about Twitter these days, but if you’re following the right people then it ain’t so bad. Case in point: theater companies. A few weeks ago I saw The A.R.T (American Repertory Theater) tweet:

WHAT? Why hadn’t I heard of this show before? Will actual Filipinos be playing the characters? The last question was a gut response in reaction to some recent conversations I’ve had around minority actors. More specifically, the discussions were about Evita being produced without a Latinx cast here in New England, and the Daily Beast piece about the movie ‘Annihilation’ and Hollywood’s erasure of Asians. So as you can imagine, I was stoked to learn more about the woman behind Dragon Lady, Sara Porkalob. Straight from her bio, “Sara Porkalob is an award-winning solo performer, director, and arts activist recognized on City Art’s 2017 Future List and has recently finished her term as Intiman Theatre’s 2017 Co-Curator. She is a co-founder of DeConstruct, an online journal of intersectional performance critique.”

Something I totally missed as I was feverishly scrolling through her blog and her performance list is that she’s based in Seattle. Well, while Sara isn’t a BOSFilipino, she is a boss Filipino and you need to catch her while she’s in town performing her latest show Dragon Lady at The A.R.T (OBERON) March 22nd - 24th.

And thank you to Sara for taking some time to chat with me about her past work, inspiration, and how we can make theater more inclusive.

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Do you remember a particular moment growing up that inspired you to be a performer?

Sara: I was born a performer! My mother says I came out of her vaginal canal performing and I am inclined to believe her.

I loved going through your performance list and seeing you playing characters that aren’t traditionally cast with Asians or POCs (people of color). What do you think the theater community can improve upon or do to be more inclusive?

Sara:

  1. Hire POC in all areas, especially in positions of power.

  2. Allocate resources, infrastructure, and decision-making to POC.

  3. Make EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Training mandatory for all Trustees and employees. Implement this ideology into the mission, vision, and programming.

  4. Create systems of accountability and actionable quarterly objectives.

  5. Engage with the community outside of your audience demographic, maintain these relationships and deepen them through community programming curated BY them, FOR them.

Theatres can do more, but I charge a consultant fee for those :)

Did you find that the more you studied acting, the more you were driven to be an activist? Or were you always engaged in conversations and work around social change?

Sara: I’m privileged to have been raised by two women who value social change and justice. Our household was talking about intersectional activism before they became buzzwords. The more I studied acting, the more I realized how problematic and white American theatre and arts education was. It was this disparity that pushed me to become an advocate and activist within the arts community.

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Reading through your blog post “Institutional Racism Made Me a Better Artist,” we get to hear a little bit about the early inspiration for Dragon Lady, which is your family. What has been their response to the show and your other work?

Sara:
In this order:

  1. Disbelief and suspicion

  2. Incredulity and laughter

  3. Tears and catharsis

  4. Anger and healing

  5. Pride and joy

  6. Sharing MORE stories of the past, making sure I know all the details.

My family is my rock. They keep me humble. They are a constant reminder of where I come from and why I should never forget that. They love my work and think I’m the best of my peer group, but they could be biased. Or not. ;)

Did Dragon Lady always have music? What drove you to make it a full musical?

Sara: Dragon Lady has always had music. Transitioning to a musical made sense but required more capital and institutional support. The first two years of performing it, I had musical tracks and sang covers of popular songs that had special significance for the story. The third year, I had enough resources and support to commission a composer to create original music, plus create covers of the past songs. My grandmother was a singer in the Philippines. All of the women in my family are singers and the men are musicians. Music is in my blood. It wouldn’t be a Porkalob show without music.

Who / what (else) inspires you?

Sara: My entire family. Black women. Children. Asian Grandmas.

Dragon Lady poster provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady poster provided by Sara Porkalob

Performing can be physically and emotionally draining, are there any activities you like to do to recharge?

Sara: I eat Korean, or Filipino, or Japanese food. I also enjoy a hot shower, with a cold beer, and then some good ol’ marijuana after. I also love cats and enjoy relaxing with mine because she’s sassy and silly and doesn’t bore me with small talk.

How else can our community here in Boston support you (besides attending your show)?

Sara: GET MORE BROWN AND BLACK PEOPLE OUT IN THE AUDIENCE!!! That’s the dream, as many POC as I can get, I’d love for them to see this show.

One last question, because I read somewhere that your happy place is “food in my face,” so naturally, I had to ask... what’s your favorite food? Favorite Filipino dish?

Sara: Korean food allll the wayyyyy. Sorry, Filipino ancestors! Fave Filipino dish? Sinigang, all the way. With some patis and hot rice, yesssssss.

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Dragon Lady picture provided by Sara Porkalob

Thanks again to Sara Porkalob for being amazing, and taking time to do this interview.

If you don’t have tickets to her show Dragon Lady, playing over at OBERON in Cambridge, get your tickets now! The show is running for 3 nights at 7:30PM, March 22nd - 24th, with one 2PM matinee on March 24th: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/dragon-lady


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers / subjects! If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestions, feel free to send us a note: info@bosfilipinos.com.

Filipinos In Boston: An Interview With Civic Action Leader Helena Berbano

By Trish Fontanilla

I met Helena Berbano a few years ago when I was volunteering with ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence), and emceeing their Asian American Women in Leadership Conference. There was a volunteer potluck afterwards, and while I do remember Helena pretty well, I remember the food she brought even better. Seems like the Filipino way, right? The way to our hearts is through food? I’ve been incredibly impressed with Helena’s work (we’ll be doing a followup piece on more opportunities for civic engagement), so I figured she’d be perfect for our “Filipinos in Boston series!

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in  Batangas , Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena and her mother in Batangas, Philippines

Where's your family from?
I’m from Boston, by way of Bronx, NY and Winter Park, FL. My mother and father are from Quezon City, and my grandparents are from Quezon City and Cavite. My dad’s side is Ilocano, and my mother’s side is Tagalog.

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena knocking on doors for Newton City Council Candidate, Nicole Castillo

What do you do?
During the day I work with grassroots groups on their civic action and electoral work. Off hours I’m involved in progressive political campaigns and nonprofits. I’m also a full time karaoke queen. Other hobbies include fiction and poetry writing, hiking, amateur baking, and binging Law and Order: SVU.

What inspired you to be so civically engaged?
What compelled me to get involved in civic action work is reality. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, but what I can describe it as...is that I faced a self-reckoning on the reality of access, power structures, and privilege. I confronted myself about the model minority myth, growing up “middle class”, and I reflected on my experiences as a 2nd generation Filipina who grew up in the South. The result of this reckoning was an unyielding passion and motivation to dismantle oppressive systems.

On Boston...

How long have you been in Boston?
I’ve been in the Greater Boston area for almost a decade. I’ve lived in Metro Boston for about 4 years.

Favorite Boston spots (could be restaurants / parks / anything!):
Food: The Beehive (South End), Avana Sushi (Chinatown), Eldo Cake House (Chinatown), Le's (Allston), Thinking Cup (Downtown), L’Espalier (Back Bay), and many more.

Places: Jin Karaoke (Brighton), Lawn on D, Brighton Music Hall, Boston Public Garden, and the Museum of Science.

What's your community superpower?
Keeping up constant humor despite the disheartening political situation. Like I always say, “I laugh, so I don’t cry.”

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the  Taal Volcano  in the Philippines

Picture provided by Helena Berbano / Helena at the Taal Volcano in the Philippines

On Filipino Food...

What's your all time favorite Filipino dish?
Kare Kare hands down. It’s savory, funky, and decadent.

What's your favorite Filipino recipe / dish to make?
I love making Chicken Adobo (writer's note: including a recipe we recently published on the blog). It’s simple, delicious, and magical. When I am having a bad day, the smell of toyo (soy sauce), suka (vinegar), bawang (garlic), and peppercorns is the most comforting thing. Also, sinangag (garlic rice) with adobo is NOT OPTIONAL.

On staying in touch...

How can people stay in touch? 
At me: @helenaberbano (Twitter)


We’re always looking for BOSFilipinos blog writers! If you’d like to contribute, send us a note at info@bosfilipinos.com.