By: Skyler Gallarzan
What does it mean to be Filipino-American?
Is it the integration of American ideals, with rooted traditions of the Philippines? Is it the practice of living out and embracing the “American Dream”, whilst being Filipino? Or is it the effort into fitting into the category of an everydayAmerican citizen,as a person of color surrounded by Eurocentric driven ideals? What does it mean to grow up in the Philippines, and to move to the United States? To born in the United States, being Filipino? Today, many 1.5 generation (born in their native homeland, and moving to the United States) to 2nd generation Filipino–Americans struggle with this question. With so many Filipino-Americans coming from an immigrant background somewhere in their lineage, there is a constant battle with identity, and a growing uncertainty about understanding their own culture. At this rate, an alarming number of Filipino-Americans risk the loss of their language, tradition, and culture as generations pass in the United States.
The 1999 hit movie, She’s All That, is the typical, American Cinderella-story that Paola Mardo dreamed that she would live out her high school experience as. With parties, dancing, teen romance, and makeovers, Mardo filled her imagination with the hopes that her move to California would bring a similar experience. Yet, in being a young woman raised in the Philippines, her dreams on television looked slightly different from reality.
As a teen in the United States, Paolo Mardo had the same priorities and goals as every other high school girl: “How can I fit in with everyone else”? While she was born in Historic Filipino Town in Los Angeles, she spent the majority of her upbringing in her native homeland of the Philippines, and in the neighboring Southeast country of Malaysia. When she was 15 years old, she flew 7,000 miles to America to live in Northern California, where she found herself battling with her own identity as a Filipino-American.
She daydreamed of an American lifestyle as a child, imagining life like the television shows and movies she watched. But when she arrived in the Bay Area, she admits how she felt lost in the sea of white students in her high school in San Ramon, California. Besides her own family, Mardo had little opportunity to explore her heritage.
“I eventually found Filipino friends, but we were all Americanized. We were into hip hop, we were into MySpace… I was growing up in a very predominantly white suburb in the Bay Area, where we didn’t have things like Filipino clubs or like Filipino cultural events, nothing like that.”
At the time, she didn’t fully understand the value of her heritage. But what she did understand, was the beauty of The Arts.
“Honestly, this sounds so cliché”, she chuckled, “But I’ve always been really interested in storytelling, media writing. This is something I’ve been doing since I was honestly a child. I was always writing, always performing. I was into theater. And I was just always into arts and anything like – you know, whether it was film or theater, or music and things like that. So that’s always just kind of been part of me, as a person.”
Studying at UC Santa Barbara, Mardo studied film to pursue her passion for producing content, and paved her career towards the film industry. During time at UCSB, her interest towards Filipino culture grew through her involvement in the Filipino American Interest organization on campus, and finding other Filipino Americans who shared similar backgrounds.
“Maybe you grew up the same way, or maybe you ate the same food growing up. We had some connection through your Filipino upbringing”, says Mardo, talking about meeting other Filipino Americans in connecting with UCSB’s Fil-Am organization, Kapatirang Pilipino, “It didn’t matter if you were an expert in Filipino culture or not, you are just there to learn.”
Mardo went on to major in Asian American Studies along with her Film and Media studies major, working in the film industry after receiving her Bachelor’s degree. At Sony Pictures, Mardo thrived in the international publicity department, producing events, tours, and premiers for big films. And when she worked at production company, Annapurna Pictures, she continued to work towards success as a producer. While she described her opportunity to work, create and travel through the years as “unimaginable”, Mardo felt as if something was missing.
“What is it that I do want to do, and how do I get there?”, she asked herself, “I wanted to do something just for me, and for myself, and by myself, and what would that be”?
Paola Mardo’s first podcast episode premiered on her first podcast series called “F this Weekly”, a podcast about women of color in the arts and entertainment industry. The rest was history.
Mardo fell in love with the process of being a podcasting. She loved hosting. She loved interviewing. She loved editing. While she explored her newfound interest through audio storytelling and radio programs, she grew in her skills at USC, to receive her Master’s degree in Annenberg’s school of Journalism, specializing in podcasting.
In her current podcast series, “Long Distance Radio”, Mardo asks the question: “What does it mean to be Filipino outside of the homeland”?
Long Distance is a source where the Filipinx community can come to a communal understanding each other. It offers the chance to listen to the stories of all kinds of people, to discover our similarities and differences, yet commemorate our connection through our shared heritage.
In her first episode of Long Distance, launched in October of 2018, Mardo gives a rundown of what she believes, Long Distance is all about:
“You’ll hear about forgotten histories and true tales of Filipino-Americans. I want to know about our connections, or disconnections to the homeland, and to each other.” She asks the questions, “Is there something new we can learn from our varied experiences? Is there something I can learn about my own experience through all this?”, hoping to learn something new as she embarks this journey in beginning this podcast.
Every Filipino-American’s story is different, and to Mardo, the biggest part in producing a true representation of a community that is underrepresented, is attaining the perspectives of variety of individuals. “For me, as someone who makes a podcast about stories in the Filipino diaspora, I need to make sure to get diverse voices and perspectives just within the Filipino community.” Within its past two years of production, Long Distance put out 16 stories reflecting on various Filipino-American experiences. Her guests ranged from Filipino restaurant owners, to healthcare workers. From film directors, like H.P. Mendoza, to actors, like Dante Basco.
Her most favorite piece is her 5th episode, called Long Distance Love Story. “It’s a story of this couple this undocumented, immigrant Filipino couple, that were high school sweethearts in the Philippines. And they went their separate ways and lived separate full lives. And it wasn’t until 40 years later, they reconnected on Facebook”. Mardo followed their story through the couple’s rediscovery of each other, their struggle with documentation under the Trump Administration, and their “happily ever after story” once they got married.
This journey of self-discovery was not only for herself, but for Filipino-American listeners everywhere. Alicia Bernal, is a college student who, as another Filipina- American, understands the value of representation, and production of content of underrepresented culture and tradition of the Philippines.
“The creators of Long Distance provide something invaluable to listeners who relate to their content, especially Filipino-Americans”, says Bernal, “I believe that it’s very important for a person’s self-awareness, self-understanding, and growth to feel connected to people like them, who share their background, culture, etc. It can be a helpful reminder that you’re not alone, it can offer you a new perspective. The space they’ve created for Filipinos to speak about their experiences and hear from others is something every community deserves.”
While the production of Long Distance currently remains on pause due to the events of the pandemic, Mardo continues to tell the stories of others in being in a managing producer position at Pushkin Industries, is anticipating bringing new content to Long Distance in its next season.
“It’s just kind of cool to like, you know, to do what we get to do, telling people’s stories and people letting us into their lives a little bit. That’s like, honestly, like, that’s a gift. That’s something I never thought I would ever end up doing.”