The Debut Will Have Its Own “Debut” at the Cinematografo International Film Festival on November 10

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You heard right, folks. It’s been 18 years since the release of The Debut, the pioneering Filipino American film by Director Gene Cajayon. To celebrate The Debut’s maturation into adulthood, the Cinematografo International Film Festival will host a special screening of the film with some of the cast and crew in attendance as part of its weekend-long celebration of Filipino and Filipino American filmmaking.

For the uninitiated, the film centers on Ben Mercado (played by the one and only Dante Basco), a young high school senior unfamiliar and ashamed of his Filipino American heritage, and his exploration of his identity through relationships to his family and community at his sister’s debutante ball. As a coming of age film, The Debut explores issues that many deal with today: immigration/acculturation, interracial relations, cultural values, inter-generational conflict, family tsismis, hiya, and of course, love. It’s hard to imagine all of these matters addressed in a movie about one night, but don’t a lot of us put all of our eggs into one basket? (Think: PCN).

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In essence, The Debut was truly Cajayon’s ode to a 1990’s Filipino America, an era when young 2nd generation Filipino Americans – the children of post-1965 immigrants – came of age in an increasingly diverse society to create a distinct culture that continues to this day. The scenes featuring Sun-In’d hair, pagers, rice rockets, and dance battles harken back to simpler times for many of us. And in true pre-social media era fashion, making the film was a community effort fueled by a grassroots campaign, involving thousands of Filipino Americans from numerous cities throughout the nation – some of the TFAL crew included.

The Debut’s “Debut” will take place on Saturday November 10, 7pm at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theaters in San Francisco. Following the screening, come join the fun at the Cinematografo Centerpiece Party at Hotel Kabuki (1635 Post Street, San Francisco, CA, 94125) following the event!

Tickets are now available!



In addition to the special screening, the Cinematografo Film Festival will feature many new films by talented Filipino and Filipino American filmmakers. HP Mendoza’s Bitter Melon and Mikhail Red’s Neomanila are some of the TFAL crew’s top narrative picks. Additionally, PJ Raval’s Call Her Ganda, Hans Block and Moritz Reisewick’s The Cleaners, and former TFAL guest Alexandra Cuerdo’s Ulam: Main Dish are must watch documentaries. Also, make sure to check out the short films blocks, particularly Filipinx: Queer Shorts, which will feature Drama Del Rosario’s In this Family and the By Way of America which will feature Filipino American stories like Jeremy Sistoso’s Fakeapino and Joy Regullano’s I Won’t Miss You.  Plus, the Festival will feature other films, conversations, panel discussions, and much more!

The 2nd annual Cinematografo International Film Festival, presented by ABS-CBN International, will be held on November 8-11 at the AMC Kabuki 8 Theaters in San Francisco. Check out all of the other films playing at the Festival on their website


About the Festival:

The Cinematografo International Film Festival is an annual film exhibition series presented by ABS-CBN International and aims to showcase emerging filmmaking talent from around the world, focusing on issues of representation and inclusivity. We also provide financial support for filmmakers to tell their stories and passion projects through our Cinematografo Originals initiative.

On its second year, the festival’s theme is “Breaking Down Walls,” which refers not only to divisions along global political lines but also aims to empower storytellers in breaking through barriers in film and story whether in terms of subject matter, representation and cultural limitations.

Episode 28.5 – Stockton’s Little Manila, Journey for Justice, and the Legacy of Dawn Mabalon


Stockton, California, an agricultural city in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, was the center of Filipino life in the United States for much of the 20th century.  Beginning in the 1920s, thousands of Filipinos called Stockton home.  The intersection of El Dorado and Lafayette Streets in downtown Stockton was the heart of what was fondly called Little Manila.  Yet, much of this rich history is unknown to most of America, and sadly, to the majority of Filipino Americans.

However, the history of Stockton’s was not lost to one Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon.  Dawn was a born and raised Pinay Stocktonian who spearheaded the reclamation of Stockton’s Filipino American history.  As developers threatened to demolish the three remaining buildings of Little Manila, she helped to organize community members to stop the further erasure of Filipinos in the city.  Ever the scholar, Dawn also documented the history of Stockton’s Filipinos in her much lauded book, Little Manila is in the Heart.  She was truly a pioneering scholar and leader of the Filipino American community.

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Dawn Mabalon. August 17, 1972 – August 10, 2018.

TFAL was set to interview Dawn Mabalon along with two other community leaders on August 19.  However, Dawn passed away a week prior to the recording.  In this episode of TFAL, Joe and Gerlie speak with two of her compatriots, Gayle Romasanta, co-author with Dawn of Journey for Justice, a children’s book about the life of labor leader Larry Itliong, and Dillon Delvo, Executive Director of Little Manila Rising, an organization dedicated to the well-being of Filipinos in Stockton.  In the episode, Gayle and Dillon remember the life and legacy of Dawn Mabalon, her impact in their respective work, and the importance of reclaiming our history as Filipino Americans.


Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here, or subscribe to us on iTunes here!

To donate to the good work of Little Manila Rising, go to their website here:

To purchase Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, go here:

For more on the history of Stockton’s Little Manila, check out this video:

To see the power of Dawn Mabalon, check out her speech during the dedication of Little Manila in 2002:

Episode 28 – TFAL talks Voice Acting (and Secrets & Fears)

On this episode of TFAL the crew shares their memories about their favorite cartoons and imagine what a Filipino American cartoon show would look like! We then geek out with Eric Bauza (voice of Marvin the Martian and countless other characters that he will recount in the episode) and three time return guest Earl Baylon, […]

TFAL Podcast Merch


Support This Filipino American Life by picking up a t-shirt, women’s t-shirt, women’s v-neck shirt, thank top, long sleeve, and hoodie. We even have onesies for the babies in your life and toddler and youth sizes for the little ones!

Head to our store at This Filipino American Life at the good folks at What A Maneuver. Remember to tag us on social media with #TFALPodcast or @TFALpodcast.

Make sure to follow us as we release different t-shirt designs in the future!

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TFAL Ballers


Episode 27.5 – The TFAL Game Show!!


Hey there TPals!  In this episode, we change things up a bit and host our first ever TFAL Game Show!  Listen as Elaine, Ryan, and special guest Berto battle it out over Filipino and Filipino American-related trivia questions. Earl Baylon also serves as a special guest judge.

Who knows the name of the Philippine Vice President?  Who knows where the Filipino American Highway is located?  Who can “name that tune”?  Who phones Producer Mike for help?  But most importantly, who wins the coveted banh mi sandwich?  Find out by listening to this hilarious episode!

Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here or subscribe to us on iTunes here!

Got any trivia questions to use on the next edition of the TFAL Game Show?  Call us at (805) 394-TFAL (8325) or email us at

P.S. Here’s the Santo Nino and the Rockyfellers videos we referred to in the episode.

Episode 27 – TFAL goes to DC

20180726_221343Lincoln Memorial at night.  

According to 2016 Census estimates, there are over 87,000 Filipino Americans in the Washington DC Metro area, and over 175,000 when you include all of Virginia and Maryland.

But as an LA-based podcast, we only occasionally get insights into what life is like beyond Pacific Standard Time.  So when Producer Mike had to trek out to DC for work, he figured, why not fit in a couple conversations with some folks out there as well?  So we present to you a trio of interviews with some of folks we’ve been lucky enough to meet through this podcast:

Malaka Gharib is an artist, writer, and reporter for NPR.  Her forthcoming graphic novel, I Was Their American Dream, is an outgrowth from the countless zines and comic strips she’s been publishing for many years.  Producer Mike sits down with her at her home to debate whether or not one can truly love both Radiohead and The Pharcyde (the answer is yes), and to talk about how the simple spoon can spur community connections and cultural awakenings.

Speaking of spoons, Kuya Ja’s is a Rockville, Maryland restaurant that specializes in Lechon Belly.  Producer Mike just happened to go there for a “light” brunch with some friends, only to find out from Elaine that they had recently reached out to TFAL to invite all of us to drop by.  Luckily, chef/co-owner Kuya Ja / Javier Fernandez was in the shop that day, and so the resulting impromptu interview with him and his Front-of-House manager Dominic is just further proof that that food is often the best way to bring all of us together, even if by complete accident.


Finally, Eden Picazo is a fellow UC Irvine alumnus along with Producer Mike and Elaine, and while her calling in life is most succinctly described as being an “archivist,” her work has brought her to places like Brooklyn to work for Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks and now Washington DC to work as an archivist for the government.  Oh, and did we mention she won an Emmy for her contributions to Spike Lee’s short doc on Phil Jackson’s Triangle Offense?!

Please note that the latter two interviews were conducted in fairly noisy environments, but hopefully that doesn’t take away from the great insights into DC life shared by everyone.  Enjoy!


From the exhibit “Evicted”, on display at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here, or subscribe to us on iTunes here!




Bonus Episode – TFAL talks Crazy Rich Asians

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On this bonus episode the TFAL crew talks about the recent phenomenon that is Crazy Rich Asians. The popular novel by Kevin Kwan debuted in 2013. The film premieres this month with high expectations. Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, and director Jon M. Chu grace the cover of Hollywood Reporter with the cover story The Stakes Are High for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ — And That’s the Point.

Constance Wu shared why this film is a monumental moment for Asian Americans. Crazy Rich Asians is the first blockbuster film with a predominantly Asian American cast in twenty years. Nico Santos is a part of the cast and Kris Aquino makes an appearance, but does this film have a larger impact on Filipino Americans? Is the story reflective of our own stories? Does it have to be?  We discuss these issues and more on this bonus episode.

Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here, or subscribe to us on iTunes here!

What are your thoughts on Crazy Rich Asians? Let us know by emailing us at or call our voicemail, (805) 394-TFAL (8325)!

Episode 26.5 – Filipino American Weddings


(Photo Credit: In The Clouds Events)

The union of two people is a very momentous occasion and the catalyst for much celebration throughout human history.  Weddings signify many things from the love of two people, the alliance of two families, and the coming together of a community.

Weddings also signify exclusion.  Marriages were and still are elusive to many people.  In decades past, people of color (including Filipino Americans) were forbidden from marrying Whites in many states of this country.  The LGBTQ community was not able to partake in marriages legally until recently (and even its legality is on shaky ground at this day and age).  Weddings (at least extravagant ones anyway) can exclude those without the means.

And yet, weddings continue to be prevalent in our communities.  They provide an opportunity to experience some cultural traditions.  Jumping the broom.  Riding a white horse.  Wearing something blue.  Many of these traditions are ways the married couple can share a part of themselves with people they love.

In this TFAL mini-episode, the crew discusses Filipino and Filipino American wedding traditions.  A mixture of Filipino, Spanish, and American traditions, many Filipino American weddings have a certain formula to them.  We talk about some of them and more!

Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here, or subscribe to us on iTunes here!

Which Filipino or Filipino American wedding traditions do you know of?  Let us know by emailing us at or call our voicemail, (805) 394-TFAL (8325)!


McRibbed for Our Pleasure: A Conversation with Xanthe Pajarillo and Jason Barlaan from ‘AIRMEN’

An Interview With AIRMEN’S Xanthe Pajarillo and Jason Barlaan

In this guest blog post on This Filipino American Life, Xanthe Pajarillo, the creator of the web series AIRMEN, and Jason Barlaan, AIRMEN’s starring actor, sit down and talk about their new show, life in the military and the film industry, and their experiences of growing up Filipino. Pajarillo is a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran, while Barlaan, who portrays 2nd Lieutenant Anders, is a United States Marine Corps (USMC) veteran.

AIRMEN is a new web series that follows a group of Air Force troops navigating life during peacetime operations. It is a response to the lack of diversity in veteran narratives. It takes on a subject matter that is often marginalized in the entertainment industry: how military members experience their time in service, rather than focus on war or PTSD. They are currently raising funds for the first season on Seed&Spark.  The deadline to contribute the web series project is August 15.

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XANTHE: The first thing that I noticed was when you introduced yourself. Jason Bar-lun? I thought it was pronounced Bar-lawn.

JASON: You know it’s Barla-an in Filipino but no one gets the two “A”s at the end. Bar-lun is the American one. That’s the way most people can understand it. That’s how it was all through the military too.

XANTHE: What did you do in the Marines?

JASON: I ended up in the Aviation Support field. When we were deployed, they would call our unit to dispatch aviation assets: drones, anything that had to do with the sky to help with the war out there in Iraq and Afghanistan.

XANTHE: When you joined the military did you feel you were going to be the only Asian?

JASON: I’m used to that, growing up in this part of Los Angeles being the only Asian. You’d see [Filipinos] more so in the Navy but not in the Marines.

XANTHE: When I was talking to one of my Filipino friends while I was in the Air Force, he said that he expected that he would be the only Asian in a sea of white dudes, but then he met a lot of Asians. It depends where you are, I guess.

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JASON: As a military person, are you proficient in weapons handling?

XANTHE: No. I was Health Services Management. The only time I held a weapon was in boot camp. I saw a lot of family members and airmen needing appointments.

JASON: I wanted to ask you something. The Talk of Santa Clarita podcast we did last week reminded me of your McRib thing. As a friend to you, I’m like “Was that an act?” My wife and I just finished watching it this morning, too. You don’t have to answer…  [Laughs]

XANTHE: [Laughs] No, I get it all the time it’s fine. In Germany where my dad was stationed, the McRib is there year round. When we moved to the US, we wondered why McRib was only here in the fall. We made the McRib a part of our fall routine. I moved here for CalArts and got ovarian cancer. I had surgery to take it out. My dad was in Iraq. After we got together again, we wanted to do our family thing, and McDonald’s said the McRib’s not coming back. I thought, “This is not okay,” and I went to the [Santa Clarita] City Council — not because I felt like those were the correct people, but I thought someone there would get something done.

Song written in support of Santa Clarita City Council plea

JASON: I saw that video before I knew you. I thought that was a total gag. [Laughs] Now that you put it into context, you never judge. That’s a beautiful story. I never knew that. Wow, that’s so resilient.

XANTHE: Thanks. It’s been weird because I’ve gotten extreme reactions. Someone was really offended when they found out I was a veteran. They said, “You’re a disgrace to the military.” A lot of mad people message me, but some appreciate it too. I’ve had friends say “I need to go viral” and it’s actually not fun.

JASON: You lose your anonymity. They threaten you.

XANTHE: But I’ve met a lot of cool people through it too so it has its pros and cons. How was your upbringing? You said you didn’t have a traditional Filipino upbringing.

JASON: I meant in the sense of nuclear. My mom died in a car accident when I was six. My dad wasn’t in the picture, so my maternal grandmother raised us. My mom’s brother came from the Philippines and he had a drug problem. I went through a long period of time of child abuse. I know for a lot of kids in Filipino culture, that’s standard punishment, but in America it’s abuse. So yeah, Filipino traditions came in family parties. So when I see your mom cooking on set, I see the other actors and crew say, “This is awesome!” and I say, “This is standard, dude.” [Laughs]

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Photo Credit: Courtney McAllister


XANTHE: This is a Filipino party!

JASON: Yeah, you just cook.

XANTHE: Well, thanks for sharing your story.

JASON: Yeah, it’s part of why I started teaching now. There’s a lot of kids that are like me. They’re down and out and want to turn to crime. I want my life to be like, “Hey, I was there, and it’s actually possible to make a good life.”

XANTHE: So you’re into teaching.

JASON: I had to put the acting thing on hold. You know, child care and going into these auditions in Hollywood… the high rejection rate is not paying off. Burning all the gas and time, paying for child care. I’d probably book every four months. Sometimes I wouldn’t even book.

XANTHE: Do you have a horror audition to share?

JASON: I wrote I knew capoeira on my acting resume. I know basic one-two movement of capoeira. It got me into an audition for a music video for… not One Direction, it was one of the groups at the time. The other kids were literally jumping off of walls, somersaults, aerials, and stuff like that. I don’t know how to do that. I had to slate my name and I had to go. She was a very well-known casting director. I did this number. I grabbed my foot and did a Homer Simpson. It was bad. The song gets radio play every now and then and when it plays, it’s like “This is the song!”

XANTHE: You hear it still?


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L: Jason in Not Man Apart’s Ajax in Iraq, R: Performing at CalArts


JASON: Yeah. I have a lot of good experiences with auditions, too. I was the stereotypical Asian featured guest spot in Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johansson. I was an “Asian bad guy militia man.” All I had to do was fire the gun twice. I was shooting on set for twenty minutes, but I was on the lot for about 10-12 hours. That’s typical Hollywood, life of an extra.

XANTHE: Is there anything repetitive in what you’re brought in for?

JASON: They brought me in for a Benghazi movie. I could hear the people behind the camera say, “He’s not tall enough. We need more Asian.” I’m full 100% Filipino. I went home and the movie came out. I wanted to see who got my role. I’m not doubting his talent, but I was very confident in that audition. I totally killed that thing. But he was tall, darker, had a head of hair. He delivered the lines the same way. It taught me about what casting directors look for. They needed someone at the same eye line [as the lead actor.]

XANTHE: What were some stereotypes you’ve experienced from people?

JASON: My half-sister’s Black and Filipino. I would always get the dirty eye from the black community. They would think we’re dating. One night I was dropping her off at her dad’s house. We’re at a red light, and there’s this older black man who’s like, “Roll down your window!” I’m like, “What’s your deal?” He said, “Take her home! How dare you!” I said “That’s my fucking sister, dude.” The guy says sorry, all apologetic.

XANTHE: He doesn’t want black and Asians to date.

JASON: It’s very sad, but it’s also very interesting. If Magat and Anders [the two characters from AIRMEN] actually got together you could deal with that. People who don’t have those experiences and don’t want to know the different cultures. Like people who don’t take off their shoes when they walk into our homes. [Laughs] We say it as a courtesy “You can keep them on,” but what we really mean is take your shoes off.

XANTHE: At our house we tell them to take them off.

JASON: Take it off, man. These rugs aren’t cheap.


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A still from the AIRMEN episode, “An Officer and an Airman.”


XANTHE: How do you feel about the current state of Asian representation in the media?

JASON: It’s horse shit. It’s nonexistent. It’s a pecking order: Caucasian, black, Latino, LGBTQ — which is great, but then below all of that is Asian. I can tell by the way I’m casted or auditioned, I’m never considered for those speaking roles. I’m a trained actor. I’m competent. I’m educated. I can totally do this, but I’m never given the opportunity. That’s why I commend you because you’re making it happen, which is what you’re supposed to as a minority. We need more people like you. The representation is sub-par, saying it nicely. It’s really bad.


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Xanthe directing actors Chloe Mondesir and Blu Lindsey on AIRMEN.  Photo Credit: Courtney McAllister

XANTHE: How do you feel about those shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? They’re trying to add some change to that.

JASON: My sister’s a huge fan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and I think it’s great… but it’s very centered around our culture. It’s not centered around being a human being in America. I’m watching a show called Sharp Objects with Amy Adams. Great actress. Super talented. But they’re not celebrating her whiteness. They’re just telling a story about her being a journalist. I wish the marginalized groups like the Asians and Indians, Latinos, and LGBTQ would get those kinds of shows.

XANTHE: About who they are.

JASON: Yeah, about who they are. Just the humanness of them.

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L to R: Blu Lindsey, Jason, and Chloe Mondesir.  Photo Credit: Nick Jarry

XANTHE: How do you feel people will feel about seeing a Filipino in the military in AIRMEN?

JASON: You see them more so in the medical field as doctors and stuff. But as a military officer, it’s always good. It’s not out of the norm, nor is it for any kind of race, but it’s just sad how other shows create these other narratives about veterans. It’s important to show that Asian officers — they’re there, they’re real. Interracial relationships are there, they’re real. And other things you point out in your project. Very important.

Find AIRMEN on Seed&Spark, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Xanthe Pajarillo is a filmmaker, musician, photographer, and USAF veteran from Germany and Virginia. She is driven by a duty to tell stories that expand people’s empathy towards one another. She received a BFA in Photography and Media from CalArts, and will begin her MFA in Film and TV Production at USC this fall. Find Xanthe on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and on the web at


Jason Barlaan is a proud Marine Veteran who served honorably in both OIF & OEF as an enlisted Marine and an Officer, and has received recognition in multiple ranks. He carried over those talents into his civilian life and has credits with commercial work for USAA, Navy Federal, and USO. He loves his craft and understands the many challenges it presents, but being a Marine has prepared him to endure Hollywood and beyond. Jason loves working on projects with other Veterans!

Episode 26 – TFAL Meats Kris Wolf


Growing up in the 1980s there was WWF and WCW on the airwaves. Depending on where you grew up, you idolized wrestlers from either show. Guest contributor Berto Ponce wrote about his love of wrestling for TFAL and how it lead to the creation of #BalutClub in the article Balut Club is Too Sweet.  It’s through Berto that we learned about Kris Wolf, a Filipino American wrestler who got her start STARDOM a promotion based out of Japan.  In the video below you can see what Kris Wolf and fellow Filipino American wrestler Shotzi Blackheart bring to the ring. You might also spot a few familiar TFAL faces in the audience!


On this episode of TFAL the crew talks about who they used to watch growing up, how they followed wrestling as kids, and who would drop in and out of the scene throughout high school and college. The Park’s Finest hosted us for this interview as Elaine, Producer Mike, and Berto talked with Kris about her path and passion for wrestling, while dining on delicious bbq.

You can catch Kris wrestle at Bar Wrestling on Wednesday, July 25th in Los Angeles! Get tickets here: Bar Wrestling: Don’t Hassle Me I’m Local.  Can’t make it to Bar Wrestling? Follow Kris on Facebook (@wolfinjapan), Twitter (@wolfinjapan), Instagram (@wolfinjapan) for future wrestling dates! You should also subscribe to her Youtube Channel where she’s known to smash boxes!

Listen through the embedded player below, download directly here, or subscribe to us on iTunes here!

Who were your favorite wrestlers growing up? Would you be a heel or a face? Drop us a line on our voicemail, (805) 394-TFAL (8325)!

Want to hear more about wrestling from Elaine and the Mantaur Berto? Check out both of them on Episode 58 of Geek Offensive with Producer Justin.