Could you talk a little bit about your background and your heritage and how that plays into maybe your design work or in your life in general as an Asian American?
Yeah, totally. So I am a second generation, half Filipino, half white. I like to say Jersey, cause my dad's from Jersey. So people always ask, “But like, is it Italian? Is it German?” I'm like, “Nah, it's Jersey.” just to like keep them. But, but yeah, I'm half white, half Filipino. Ilocos Norte is where my grandparents are from.
They immigrated here to San Francisco in the 1960s. Uh, my mom was born not too shortly after like a year or two after. And then my dad came here from New Jersey. I've been born and raised in the Bay Area. I've been living here my whole life. Yeah, I've been mostly connected with my Filipino side since like all my relatives are out in the Bay area and everything.
It's kind of interesting cause I feel like if I wasn't like that, I would feel like I wouldn't be so in-tune with it and like really knowledgeable about being an Asian American. More so than lately, I've been learning more about it. I mean, just like learning about identity and everything even a little bit more about my family's backstory.
I guess a little bit more context like my background and everything. Like. I've been working in the music industry for like, almost like seven years now. And like that was like working in-house at a nightclub, but then also like working with these like independent artists and like different promotion groups around the Bay area.
And then once COVID hit, it was kind of like a big wake up call, like, wait, is this like sustainable? Like is like, what's going to survive. So like, you know, fault radio, for example. And fault radio, for example, is really good. Cause they were ready, had a streaming outlet and kind of how to do the whole presence.
With Hyde FM and all those other places. So. It was really cool. Um, I've always wanted to work with them and they kind of hit me up, like towards the end of the summer, like, Hey, we're looking for a rebrand. Um, and then I went on that and then they're just like, do you just want to be our art director?
And since I did all this stuff, like really just kind of like elevated like the whole back-end of it. So they're just like, you want to just be our art director and like, it's, you know, it's a volunteer job. So it's like, You know, I'm not getting paid little to nothing, but it's just more of like a passion project for me, just like being able to do something, have a little bit more freedom, but then like also through my freelance, being able to like, apply knowledge of like art directing into this space where I kind of have a little bit of free reign and is a really cool space to be able to do that.
Like, I call it the sandbox cause like whoever comes on, it's just like, you. You kind of use that as your area to like work on things and like, you know, whether it's like booking or marketing or design in my case and art directing more specifically. So it's been, it's been really fun and cool. It's a really cool team.
What was it like growing up in San Francisco?
When my grandparents came over here in the 1960s, they were some of the first from their village to come over here. So they got a house in the Castro. Um, they started SOMA and then they went to the Castro and the house is still there today. My Lola's sister still lives upstairs--We own the bottom flat. Both my grandparents passed away, but so much of that house and just like going there as a kid was just part of my Filipino identity from a very local level. I lived in the East Bay, but we'd always go to San Francisco. All the family gatherings were at that house. It was like a pillar in our family--a place that everyone could go to.
Since my grandparents were some of the first people to come over here from their village, a lot of people from the village would come here, crash at that house for like a couple months until they found a place to live and most of the time they ended up on the block. So growing up that whole block in the Castro was mostly Filipino.
I like to visit that house a lot and I was actually there last Sunday. My lolo planted an avocado tree in the backyard, so we always pick avocados. And like, you know, after this past week everything's kind of crazy. It was a lot to think about. I just needed some therapy and like just kinda zone out. And it’s like my way of connecting with my grandfather. Just go in and pick an avocado with the long pole off the trees.
I think about my grandfather's story of even coming here. He came over here before my grandmother did. He got on a Chevron tanker, went to Hawaii to live and work there for a little and then eventually moved to San Francisco. Got enough money and flew my grandmother and uncle here.
How that applies to my work, even just from a very broad sense, just understanding that history of what it took for my family to even get to America makes me want to hustle a little bit more. It gives me a lot of motivation.
I need to, you know, I need to try a little bit harder because my grandfather went through so much shit just to even get here and I need honor what he did to come over here. I think about that a lot, obviously. And then even just from a cultural standpoint, I mean, you say you're Filipino, right?
It's kind of funny and wacky. Like if you think about it in a way like Jolly Bee is like the funniest thing, my heart, when I wrote the love it. And it's just like, I mean, if you've seen my work, I've incorporated the Jolly Bee in some ways. And I guess it's just like the humor.
When I go to family functions, everyone's always cracking jokes. And that's how I view my culture. It's kind of wacky, but then kind of like funny and endearing. So like, I try to like, bring that approach into my work. I just approach it more or just like a general sense of work hard.
Were your parents and grandparents supportive of you as an artist? I know it’s sometimes a touchy subject coming from family members who never saw that as a career option.
Luckily, my grandparents were very supportive of what I do. Even my parents were very supportive of going into the art field. Especially my grandmother--she was very supportive. I think about that a lot because of what they probably went through and endured to get the opportunities in America. If they're encouraging me to become a designer and artist, or pursue something creative, I'm going to try my hardest to do it. So I think that's like the big inspiration that the culture has behind me.
Yeah, it's super inspiring. I'm doing a project about Filipino food at the moment and it's just so difficult for me to kind of get my hands on because it’s just the whole thing, right? Like you have to take in context so many things like the Filipino diaspora, colonization, you know, and that kind of describes Filipino food, but also it doesn't at the same time.
That leads to another question. I stumbled upon your work and I saw a project about elderly family members. And I was wondering if you could maybe talk about that and kind of what inspired that and where that is now.
Yeah--It started with talking with one of my friends and we always talk about things like elderly fashion. There's a really good account called @chinatowngritty that highlights Asian elderly fashion. And my friend and I do that all the time. We always send pictures to each other like, “this is so sick.”
And then the spikes on the attacks on the elderly started happening. And this was around when we were throwing around the idea of just us working together. So I was thinking I kind of want to have it an open forum for whoever wants to submit. It can be just something personal and something fun.
My direct grandparents passed away and like I see a lot of elderly Asians and it makes me think a lot about my grandparents. It's very comforting. They were very important to me. The issue of attacking the elderly is heartbreaking. You always respect your elders, but I feel in Asian American Pacific Islander culture, it's like you especially respect your elders, you hold them to a much higher standard of gratitude and honor.
I just wanted to get to know other people's perspectives and stories understanding that our elderly are so important. Like one of my friends he started an Instagram account for his grandpa because his grandpa sends him selfies all the time. I always ask him, “How's grandpa doing?” I always check in on him even though we're not blood-related. It just goes to show that the APPI community respects our elders and we just think they're so cool. We always look up to them. The project really just came out of just trying to respect our elders and and trying to see other people's stories and kind of see how they like to honor them through an artistic lens.
It also just comes out of just our enjoyment of elderly people and just like how we look up to them. A lot of AAPI artists and designers, whether they explicitly say it or not, have been inspired by the generations before us.
It's really amazing. I saw the post on it and I saw it like on the day that everything was due and then they kind of bummed, but I found your work and I just wanted to say, “hi” and learn a little more about you.
I mean, like a Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is coming up in May, so I'm thinking, just give it a couple more weeks, just like get a couple, get a couple more entries and then go into production. May get it released in may for APAHM. I have like other projects that I'm working on that are API focused. Yeah, we haven't announced, we haven't announced it yet, but we're doing an event for Fault Radio called Chinatown Live. We’re focusing on AAPI DJs and we're broadcasting live from Chinatown. We're going to have some prints for sale. We're just going to try to generate some content surrounding the AAPI community. That’s going to drop in April, so I've been busy with that. And then coincidentally, through my contracted job, I'm working with a team right now on the APAHM stuff for Facebook. That's been a big thing. I'm kind of hitting it from a corporate, grassroots, and personal level.
How do we, as designers, contribute to the AAPI, BIPOC equality, um, more than just like a base graphic level? You know what I mean?
At least for me, how I think we can help is by connecting on a very close level, like the people around you. I believe that as much as we want to change the world, you can have these changes to the people around you and like to help the people around you, whether it's like mutual aid. One thing I did recently was I bulk ordered some pepper spray, stun guns for my AAPI women friends. How can I help them directly without being like, Hey, be careful. Like maybe I'll help them by like, Giving a little bit of a sense of security by getting a protection, you know? So like just doing little things like that. Just like checking in on each other, working on these projects, getting a dialogue going in a very, very small, but meaningful level with the people in your close circles. I feel like it’s a good way to start because you know, one person may start something and they might affect two people. Each of those two people might affect two other people and it kind of spreads beyond that, you know? It's kind of tough because when it sounds like such a big level, you feel like you don’t have that type of clout or kind of power in the community. You feel kind of hopeless. So I feel like helping your just immediate circle is just like, definitely beneficial to you if you want to help and take care of people, but it's really just taking care of your immediate circle and then hoping that that it trickles and spreads from there.
Yeah. I definitely know the feeling of being helpless for sure. And I think what you're trying to say is like, by doing something, whatever big or small it is, is helping.
Yeah, when we think about systemic changes it always starts at the grassroots level, you know? Some people might have a lot more political connections to be able to do that, but for someone like me who doesn't have those connections, I have a little bit of internet clout, like what can I really do with that? As long as I can use the resources that I have, take care of people that are close to me and try to offer as much as I can within my own means, you know? So it's just like, you know, trying to work within your means and try to work with what you got.
How did growing up in San Francisco and the Bay Area influence you as a designer?
RTO: Growing up going into the Fillmore and seeing all the Fillmore posters, like that's like the one thing I wanted to do was like, “I want to do this. I want to make music, flyers just like this.” San Francisco has like a very rich, you know, musical poster, like history, you know, from. From like the psychedelic movement, even to like the nineties with like all the rock posters that you see sometimes of dive bars. That was like a big influence for me. My family, as far as my Filipino side, not a lot of them are artists. So it was, it was really interesting. I always thought about that and I was just like, “How did I get into art?” Within the AAPI community, you deal with your parents and grandparents being forceful in what profession you go into. It's like become a doctor, become this, become that like, you know, to get money. But like my family wasn't like that. It's very, they were very open to whatever I wanted to do. They just supported it. Um, So, yeah. I mean, I don't really know how it all started from that. They were always just thankfully very supportive of me wanting to go into art.
Yeah, I feel like I had a similar experience. My mother is a retired nurse, but I grew up wanting to be an illustrator and wanted to move to Tokyo and draw anime. I ended up studying photography and my mother was surprisingly, always supportive and never really said, “Maybe you should do something else.”
RTO: Yeah, it's really interesting because like I always hear about like other artists in the AAPI community that kind of dealt with that like backlash from their parents and weren't supported and what they did, but like maybe, maybe also, because I was, you know, my dad was white, so like maybe that's had an influence, but even my grandparents were very supportive. I think it kind of goes back to like, they were always just like, You know, they wanted me to have like the American experience or like how the opportunities that they were seeking, no matter what I do. And just as long as I'm happy and like, that's something that I've tried to understand because the generations before us, they were very silent about the things they went through. My grandmother was a teacher in the Philippines before she came over here. Then when she came over here, she worked for like Pacific Bell for 18 years. I wonder about what she had to sacrifice in order to like gain the opportunity,but she had to sacrifice what she loved to do in order to get an opportunity in the US. So I think like a lot of that. That probably has happened to a lot of people that immigrated over here. They kind of have to give up what they love to do in order to survive and just like try to gain an opportunity. Yeah, I think about that a lot. It's a big driving force for me.
It's nice to hear that you have such a strong family backing because I feel that same way. It feels nice to have someone that has a similar experience of the family members coming from a different country and what their mentality was like.You touched on this earlier, but there aren’t a lot Filipino designers. And why do you think that is? I'm also very new to the design world. Right. So I could just be ignorant in that sense, but, um, yeah, it just feels like a lot of notable designers are white or male.
I think it’s not just an APPI issue, but I think it's also a BIPOC issue and also a socioeconomic issue of accessibility. You know growing up here from what I know, you know, I'm not a hundred percent positive, but a lot of the Filipino families are working class they might not have the access to computers and design. Design wasn't even in my ideas until I got into college. But yeah, I think it's just more of just an accessibility issue. Even the accessibility to like programs like paying for access to Photoshop, or just like having a place where you can go to do that. It feels it needs to be more open to the underprivileged communities. And a lot of those communities are BIPOC and I feel like that should change. Something that I wish I had more access to as a kid was a center where kids can go to learn how to do this stuff. And labs where they can access these computers and learn how to use these softwares and learn how to do these things. They’re making coding more accessible for younger people, you know and I just feel like there should be more access to underprivileged communities. Not even just design alone, but art in general, they fall out of it because like, you know, money becomes involved. They like, I have to pick a profession that gets me out of that, betters my situation. Graphic design can be lucrative at times and like a lot of kids don't know that's an option and don't have the ability to try it out. They don't have the softwares, they don't have the guidance earlier in life. Some families might just have one computer per household. So I think it's just making it a little bit more accessible as I think it would change up the representation.