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Spotlight on Taiwan

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The 34th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) shines a light on the country of Taiwan, highlighting the best in Taiwanese cinema and the country’s rich culture and history that have shaped the island nation into one of the most dynamic countries in the Asia-Pacific Rim.

This year, LAAPFF is honored to present two feature films — Jay Chern’s third feature film, OMOTENASHI, and Frank W. Chen’s documentary LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY.

OMOTENASHI, from LAAPFF Award winner Jay Chern (THIEF, LAAPFF 2014), stars Edison Wang as Jacky, the young heir to a construction company in Taiwan. His father sends him to Kyoto to oversee the renovation of the  beautiful yet obsolete Bright Moon Ryokan. Jacky is going in hopes to get back his ex-girlfriend Naoko and to sell the hotel. There, he meets the innkeeper Mistuko and her daughter Rika. Unaware of his hidden agenda, the innkeeper is excited about the idea of turning the hotel into a wedding venue, and suggests that Jacky learns “omotenashi”, the virtue of traditional Japanese hospitality, together with her daughter and her otaku helper.

LATE LIFE: THE CHIEN-MING WANG STORY could be best described as a baseball version of LINSANITY. Directed by Frank W. Chen and produced by Brian Yang (coincidentally, who also produced the eponymous Jeremy Lin documentary), chronicles Taiwanese baseball player Chien-Ming Wang’s last ditch effort to be recruited back on a professional baseball team after a series of injuries disrupted his trailblazing career in the major leagues. Much like LINSANITY, the documentary is an up close and personal film that delves into Wang’s personal drive as a star athlete with a steely determination and resiliency that impresses everyone in his wake.

In addition to these two features, this year’s spotlight also highlights the works of emerging Taiwanese filmmakers with three short films — 100th BIRTHDAY WISH by Lien Chien Hung, MISS WORLD by Georgia Fu, and FUNDAMENTAL by Shih-Chieh Chiu. These short films present universal stories that are also unique in capturing everyday Taiwanese life.  As LAAPFF is an Academy Award®-qualifying festival for Short Film Awards, perhaps these new directors will one day be the next Ang Lee.

We celebrate Taiwanese filmmakers with their latest shorts, in the following programs:

100th BIRTHDAY WISH (dir. Lien Chien Hung) appearing in Forever Alone (Or Not)

MISS WORLD (dir. Georgia Fu) appearing in My So-Called Adolescence

FUNDAMENTAL (dir. Shih-Chieh Chiu) appearing in My So-Called Adolescence

SPOTLIGHT TAIWAN: BUY TICKETS 

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The No Spin Zone

This Filipino American Life shorts program recommendations!

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival continues to highlight talented short filmmakers and storytellers. A few short films that shouldn’t be missed are Just A Kid From Seattle, Fakeapino, Limboland, and Aswang Next Door.

If you are looking for one shorts program to check out, TFAL recommends The No Spin Zone. Filipino/Filipino American Short Films included in this program include The Duwende, Killings, and Your Mother.

THE NO SPIN ZONE, Downtown Independent, May 5, 2018 9:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

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While working far from home to make ends meet, Boyet is called back to his family in rural Philippines after his young daughter Abby goes missing. His distraught wife, Tata, believes their child was taken by the duwende, a mythical creature from Filipino folklore that steals children from their homes.


Director’s Bio

Odin B. Fernandez is a filmmaker from Quezon City, Philippines and currently based in Melbourne, Australia. He has been in the film production industry in various capacities for more than a decade. In 2016, he graduated with a Master’s degree in Film and Television from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. His graduate film received the Best Production Script at the 2016 VCA Film and TV Graduate Awards.

 

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Through a series of killings, PATAYAN examines the wearisome violence plaguing the country and questions the amalgam of murder with impunity, along with the public’s apathy for the dead. Without narrative or characterization, choosing only to depict the act of killing itself, the film confronts the violence head on.


Director’s Bio

Joseph Mangat is a filmmaker born in Manila, Philippines and based in Brooklyn, New York. He received his BA in Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego. He holds a MA in TV, Film and New Media from San Diego State University. His short films have screened at multiple festivals and showcases. He is currently finishing his first feature documentary film, HOLY CRAFTS.

 

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Follow Ana, a housemaid in Manila, and her quiet resilience as she is hassled by the family she has come to care for. While she is desperate to send more money to her mom, her job is jeopardized when her employer’s children’s desire for her go too far.


Director’s Bio

Mary is an NYC based filmmaker. She blurs the lines between personal drama, fantasy, and fiction ever since she got a hold of her first 16mm camera as a teenager. She received her MFA at NYU for Writing and Directing where she was the recipient of the prestigious Tisch Graduate Fellowship for Cinematography. With her work, she pursues distinct and transformative stories full of bullish heart and levity.

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The Cleaners + Call Her Ganda

This Filipino American Life Documentary Recommendations!

THE CLEANERS and CALL HER GANDA are two films in the documentary competition for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Under the International Documentary Feature Competition there is THE CLEANERS highlights who’s job is it to Olivia Pope/fix your online profiles. CALL HER GANDA makes it’s west coast premiere in the LAAPFF Documentary Features Competition. The film follows the story of a 19 year old transgender woman murdered by a US Marine.

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THE CLEANERS, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 13, May 7, 2018 6:30 pm: BUY TICKETS

When you post something on the web, can you be sure it stays there? Who is controlling what we see… and what we think? Social media sites — particularly Facebook and YouTube — have been under intense pressure to monitor and delete offensive, pornographic, and incendiary posts. Compassionately portraying the Filipino workers who comb through thousands of online images in the dark of night, THE CLEANERS exposes the dark side of information technology.


Director’s Bio

Hans Block is a German theatre director, musician, and filmmaker. He studied Music at the Berlin University of the Arts and Directing at the Ernst Busch Institute for Theatre Directing. Moritz Riesewieck is a German theatre director, author, and filmmaker. He studied Economics as a scholar of the German National Academic Foundation, followed by Directing at the Ernst Busch Institute for Theatre Directing in Berlin.

 

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CALL HER GANDA, AMC Dine-in Sunset 5, May 4, 2018 7:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

Grassroots activists in the Philippines are spurred into action when a local transgender woman is found dead in a motel room with a 19-year-old U.S. marine as the leading suspect. As the activists demand answers and a just trial, hidden histories of U.S. colonization come bubbling to the surface.


Director’s Bio

PJ Raval is an award‐winning filmmaker whose credits include TRINIDAD (Showtime, Logo) and BEFORE YOU KNOW IT, which follows the lives of three gay senior men, described by indieWIRE as “a crucial new addition to the LGBT doc canon.” An accomplished cinematographer, PJ shot the Academy Award‐nominated Best Documentary, TROUBLE THE WATER and is a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, 2016 Firelight Media Fellow, and a 2017 Robert Giard Fellow.

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The Fever and the Fret + Neomanila

This Filipino American Life Features Recommendations!

The Fever and The Fret and Neomanila are two films that are in the features competition for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. The Fever and The Fret is in the Narrative Feature Competition, while Neomanila is in the International Feature Competition. Neomanila also happens to be by Mikhail Red, who’s film BIRDSHOT is currently streaming on Netflix.

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The Fever And The Fret, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 14, May 9, 2018 7:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

A shy, artistic loner growing up in the Bronx, Eleanor is tormented at school because of her large facial birthmarks. At night, she begins visiting another world, and encounters another being. But when Eleanor is forced into a confrontation at school, she may have to leave her other world behind forever.


Director’s Bio

Cath Gulick is a New York-based filmmaker. Her previous short film world-premiered at Slamdance, where Film Threat applauded it as “very funny and well-acted.” She helped produce the burlesque shows, “Guilty Pleasures” and “The Blushing Diamond Review” as featured in New York Magazine, and worked assistant camera on Jeremy Saulnier’s MURDER PARTY. Most recently she wrote, produced, directed, photographed, and edited her first feature film, THE FEVER AND THE FRET.

 

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NEOMANILA, Regal L.A. Live – Theatre 14, May 9, 2018 9:15 pm: BUY TICKETS 

Since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election, the Philippines has been in a grip of the “war on drugs”, where the police use bounty hunters to kill gangsters. A street orphan named Toto is one of many caught in the crossfire when he is recruited by a notorious death squad.


Director’s Bio

Mikhail Red is a Filipino filmmaker based in Manila, Philippines. Exposed to cinema at an early age, Red wrote and directed his first short film when he was fifteen, immediately earning him recognition in local and international film festivals. His sophomore feature film project, BIRDSHOT, won the top prize of the Asian Future section of the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival. It was the Philippines’ official entry to the Academy Awards.

 

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PRISON FOOD

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This Filipino American Life is thrilled to be a community sponsor for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival premier of PRISON FOOD, a docu-series directed by Aditya Thayi and hosted by The Park’s Finest owner Chef Johneric Concordia. Throughout the docu-series Chef Johneric learns how inmates prepare meals for each other under the circumstances of prison.

PRISON FOOD, East West Players, May 6, 2018 2:00 pm: BUY TICKETS

Get your tickets for this screening today! Share your thoughts about the episodes with the TFAL crew. This is something that shouldn’t be missed!

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Volunteer at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival!

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Why volunteer at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival? For perks like free movies!

You also will get this awesome free shirt!

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Volunteer Benefits Also Include:

  • Meeting film industry professionals and artists, Asian Pacific American community members, and fellow film enthusiasts
  • An official festival volunteer shirt
  • Vouchers for Festival screenings (1 voucher every shift)
  • And more!

Festivals like this rely on people power! Be one of those people. Find community with fellow Asian Pacific Islander Americans who are passionate about APIA storytelling.

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SEARCHING

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The 34th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival kicks off with the Sundance NEXT Audience Award winner SEARCHING from director Aneesh Chaganty and starring John Cho. The film is a suspenseful and hyper-modern thriller about a desperate father searching for his missing teenage daughter told through a screen that we all are too familiar with, a computer screen.

Get your tickets to see the film and opening night party. Say hi to the TFAL crew at the opening night party!

SEARCHING, Directors Guild of America – Theatre 1, May 3, 2018 7:00 pm

 

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Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2018

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The 34th Annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) runs May 3rd – May 12th. The festival will hosts features and short films from both North America and Internationally. This Filipino American Life is excited to partner with LAAPFF to highlight Filipino, Filipino American, and Asian Pacific Islander American stories.

You can purchase general tickets to films and programs here: LAAPFF General Festival Tickets 

Plan on checking out multiple films throughout the festival? Why not purchase a Festival 10 pack or a Festival Pass?

There are also free programs that you can check out! Tickets are required for admission into the theater and will be distributed online and at the Box Office. First come, First serve.

FREE PROGRAMS

 

Follow This Filipino American Life on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for our LAAPFF picks!

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Shallow Shore Leave: How Filipino Cruise Ship Workers Carve Out New Spaces in Alaska

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Over the summer, my family and I went on a cruise to Alaska. It wasn’t my first choice of a vacation destination, but being that this is a family trip and my mom’s 70th birthday wish, my familial obligations took precedence. However, being the academic nerd that I am, the week long cruise allowed me to make some interesting observations of the most glaring thing you’ll notice when you go on a cruise – the crew on the ship is comprised mostly of Filipinos.

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With the advent of jet air travel and the subsequent decline of ocean liners for intercontinental transit, many ocean liner companies launched cruise ships and gained mass appeal beginning in the 1970s. The popularity of the TV show, The Love Boat, certainly aided in marketing the industry. However, to maintain the bottom line, cruise ship companies incorporate outside the United States to circumvent U.S. labor laws. Employing many able-bodied workers from the Third World is essentially the industry’s dirty little secret. Ships are filled with international workers from Eastern Europe, Russia, Indonesia, India, South Africa, and Latin America, but Filipinos comprise the vast majority.

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From the casual conversations I had with some workers, many are contracted for these jobs, often for six to nine-months during the peak cruise season. They cook and serve food, they tend the bars, they clean the staterooms, they serve as security officers, and they maintain the ship, working seven days a week on meager wage. The majority of the Filipino workforce is male, but there are significant numbers of females as well. Surprisingly, Filipinos are not heavily involved in the entertainment division of the crew. Americans, Brits, and Australians hold many of the positions that provide “entertainment,” comforting much of the largely white, middle class clientele. Indeed, racial stratification among the staff was very much apparent throughout the voyage.

Yet, my observations of these workers on my cruise experience are less focused on their lives aboard the ship. There are other articles and studies of the roles of Filipino seafarers both in the shipping and cruise ship industries. (You can read some of them here, here, here, and here). Rather, I am more interested in their lives on shore and the physical spaces that Filipino cruise ship workers create, inhabit, or are created for them.

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Every week cruise ships leave the U.S. West coast cities and sail non-stop to Alaska, stopping by Alaskan coastal towns. My particular trip brought us to Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, before heading back south to Victoria, Canada, then back to Seattle. Many of these towns have had a long history of Filipino presence dating back to the 1920s.

In Juneau, local residents established the Filipino Community Center and dedicated a traffic median as “Manila Square,” which pay homage to the long history of Alaskeros that labored in the area for nearly a century.

Ketchikan, Alaska was also a major stop for Filipinos of the Manong generation during the 1920s to the 1960s. Alaskeros came to the “Salmon Capital of the World” to work in the canneries during the summer and returned back to the mainland after a few months. The town was highly segregated, with many people of color relegated to the area south of the Ketchikan Creek.

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A remnant of that era is Diaz Café, a Filipino restaurant dating back to roughly 1921. According to the Ketchikan Historical Commission, the restaurant was first opened as The Lucky Spot, serving the thousands of Alaskeros who labored in the area.

However, with the cruise ship industry, Filipino spaces in Alaska have shifted to accommodate a new mobile, temporary workforce. Filipino cruise ship workers, like the cruise passengers, disembark and seek a short respite from their lives on the ship. Close to a thousand Filipino crew workers emerge from these ships to venture into town. Ten percent of the Juneau’s population is made up of Filipinos, roughly 3,000 in total. When cruise ships make their weekly visit at Juneau’s ports, the Filipino population instantly skyrockets.

Yet, their movements are restricted by the temporal demands of their work on the boat. They are only allowed to go on shore if their work schedule permits. If they do go ashore, they travel only as far as time allows, tethering them to certain a geographic area. In light of these restrictions and their mobility, they are still able to carve out spaces of their own. In these spaces, Filipino cruise ship workers can maintain their familial bonds with their loved ones in the Philippines, satisfy their cultural, material, and gastronomical needs, and most importantly, suspend social and racial hierarchies brought on by the employment structure of the cruise ship if only for a brief moment.

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Servicing the needs of these workers, budding entrepreneurs from the Filipino community have opened dozens of stores and restaurants near or around the port.

A handful of all purpose “sari-sari” stores serve as community centers for these Filipinos, who become Juneau residents for the day. Dressed in casual wear (men usually wearing the latest NBA basketball sportswear), Filipinos can buy Philippine snacks and other curios, remit money to their families in the Philippines, and watch TFC.

Right next to Juneau City Hall, there are two food stands, or BBQ-han, where hungry crewmembers can eat Filipino barbecue.

Further up the street, a turo-turo restaurant, Bernadette’s, serves Filipino dishes – Adobo, Sinigang, Munggo, and even regional dishes like Pinapaitan and Bicol Express.

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Aside from filling their nostalgic needs of a home cooked meal, Filipinos largely take advantage of the free wi-fi – a resource they cannot access while on the cruise ship – to video chat with their loved ones back in the Philippines or somewhere else in the diaspora.  Every town we stopped at, Filipino workers knew exactly where to log on.

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Reminiscent of the “Little Manilas” that sprouted up during the 1920s and 1930s in U.S. towns, many young Filipinos “make tambay” along the sidewalks in front of these stores, making their presence visible in the town. To be certain, racial, gender, and labor dynamics are different from the pre-WWII period, but these spaces similarly service a transient labor population.

Skagway, Alaska is no different from Juneau. A small gold rush town during the late 19th century, Skagway is now fully dependent on tourism as its main economic driver. There is one restaurant that is a favorite among the Filipino cruise ship workers: Gold Digger.

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The owners are a Filipina and her husband from Italy. They opened a small restaurant near the cruise ship docks called Mermaid Garden. Proving their model was quite profitable, the owners purchased the old Gold Digger restaurant on the main drag of town and changed the menu to serve Filipino food. (Why they didn’t change the name of the restaurant is beyond me). Their portions are enormous, which make the restaurant among Filipinos’ favorites. Here, one can hear laughter abound. Jokes and stories are abundant. And at times, workers vent about their work life on the ship. I heard one gentleman tell his fellow shipmates how idiotic his Australian supervisor was when doling out staff assignments.

The cruise’s last stop, Ketchikan, the state’s so-called “First City,” is the most popular place for passengers to buy their souvenirs. Like in Skagway and Juneau, many crew workers visit Ketchikan to run some much needed migrant worker errands. However, as one crewmember explained to me, many workers choose Ketchikan’s sari-sari stores to send balikbayan boxes to loved ones in the Philippines given the number of curio shops in town. It became such a popular destination for Filipinos to fill balikbayan boxes that Walmart capitalized on this global circuit of consumption. The local Walmart established a shuttle that takes cruise workers from the downtown area to its store some four miles away so that they could purchase material goods to ship home.

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Today, Ketchikan has several Filipino sari-sari stores that serve the cruise worker community.

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A week later, we were back in Seattle and ready to go home. When I exited the port terminal, I noticed a make shift “Crew Center” at the edge of the passenger pick-up area with a tent full of Filipino goods as well as a food truck. At first, I was surprised to see this pop-up market on the port grounds given the readily available Filipino stores in Seattle. After some thought about the limited mobility of these workers, I was no longer surprised.

Overall, these service stops are a double-edged sword. They act somewhat of an oasis from the cruise ship for the migratory labor force. Filipinos are able to eat their own cuisine, socialize with other workers, and communicate with their loved ones. They are spaces Filipino cruise ship workers and immigrant communities alike carve out to alleviate the alienation of being in a foreign place.

Yet, the comforts of the familiar these spaces uphold only reinforce the realities of global migration. These spaces allow them just enough familiarity and comforts of home to facilitate their exile from it. On the other end, these spaces also allow workers just enough access to get a taste of living in the First World. They are continual reminders of the political and economic confinement of workers in this global industry. As one worker told me, the stores in these Alaskan port cities remind them of how far they are from their families in the Philippines and yet how close they are to their extended family in the U.S. Left in limbo, Filipino cruise ship workers sail on.

Balut Club is Too Sweet

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This article is written by by guest contributor Berto Ponce. If you would like to write for TFAL email story ideas to thisfilipinoamericanlife [at] gmail [dot] com. 

On a summer afternoon when I was six, I turned the television dial and stumbled upon the first wrestling match I’d ever seen.  I had no understanding that it wasn’t exactly a legitimate sporting contest, and that the wrestlers were presenting stories of good versus evil.  It was a tag team match, and the bad guys won through nefarious means.  I turned to my dad in exasperation and exclaimed, “They cheated!  How are they getting away with this?”  My dad smirked and simply stated, “It’s wrestling.”  Instantly, I was hooked.  

Soon I discovered that I had friends who were also fans of professional wrestling.  We showed up at school on Mondays, excitedly discussing what we had seen on shows like Wrestling Superstars and Saturday Night’s Main Event.  We shared a bond, booing the bad guys and cheering the good guys.  As I grew older I started to realize that my friends, mostly people of color like me, and I looked more like the bad guys and nothing like the good guys.  It was the Cold War Era, and wrestling presented its larger-than-life foreign characters as evildoers.  

I was a Hulkamaniac.  A Little Warrior.  Consumed by Madness.   I was, and still am, a wrestling fan.  Around the time I started watching, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage were the heroes and biggest names in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).  But my favorite wrestler was Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.  He was a good guy, and I was a Dragonian.  Or did that make me a Steamboatite?

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Ricky Steamboat had  a Hall of Fame career.  He was a WWF Intercontinental champion, a National Wrestling Alliance United States champion and World Heavyweight champion.  His match against Randy Savage at WrestleMania III is regarded by many fans as the greatest in WrestleMania history.  But I especially liked him because he kind of looked like me, a Filipino kid watching wrestling on Saturday mornings.

Steamboat was born in New York, but billed from Honolulu, Hawaii.  He is Japanese-American, but I don’t recall his heritage being directly referenced.  The Dragon nickname and the gi he wore to the ring may have been the closest allusions to it.  While there were other wrestlers of Asian descent on the roster, they were presented as evil foreigners.  There was Mr. Fuji and Pat Tanaka (both also from Hawaii), Akio Sato, and Yokozuna (who was actually Samoan).  But Ricky Steamboat was a good guy.  He was my guy.

Through the years, more Asian and Asian American wrestlers have made it to the WWE, and not always as villains.  There are now more avenues to ply their craft.  Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, Lucha Underground, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla among others are some of the companies where aspiring wrestlers hope to make their mark.  As a historic first, two wrestlers of Asian descent will square off for the WWE World Championship at this year’s WWE SummerSlam: champion, Jinder Mahal, versus challenger, Shinsuke Nakamura, who made a name for himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling. (Side note: The Great Khali defended against Batista at SummerSlam in 2007 for the World Heavyweight Championship, which was a separate championship.)

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) is home to the Bullet Club, a faction of arrogant heels who make being bad look cool, much like nWo and D-Generation X in the 1990s.  Watch a current wrestling show from any organization, and you’ll most likely spot at least one Bullet Club shirt in the crowd.

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I was watching a Bullet Club segment a couple of years ago when my brain started playing with words and puns, as it often does.  Balut Club.  I chuckled to myself, thinking “I’d wear that shirt.”  Which became, “I should make that shirt.”  Which turned into, “I should make that shirt so I can wear it, and send it to Filipino wrestlers.”  The idea sat in the back of my head until recently.

TFAL co-host Elaine Dolalas credits me with getting her back into wrestling over the last year – and in a big way.  During a group chat, I brought up the idea I had about Balut Club shirts, thinking it was a throwaway comment.  Elaine jumped right on it.  Within a day, Vincent Collyer finalized the design.  A few weeks later, we were wearing the shirts.

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I sent a shirt to Kris Wolf, former Stardom High Speed champion, who I met at a Stardom show in Japan.  TJ Perkins, the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight champion, ordered one.  They both posted the shirts on social media and as a result, other wrestlers requested the shirt.  Now, people from all over the world are ordering it.  It’s surreal, but it’s an awesome feeling – sharing this parody about a wrestling thing that happens to pay tribute to our Filipino heritage.

Other people’s love for the shirt and witnessing some of our favorite wrestlers rocking it isn’t even the best part for me.  We decided early on that we would donate a portion of the proceeds to charity, and the Calub Fund would be the best fit.  Mark Calub is a friend of mine and Elaine.  He was visiting Atlanta a few months ago when he and his friends were randomly and viciously attacked.  He was taken to the hospital and was in critical condition.  Mark is healing now, but the fund will help alleviate the costs of recovery to Mark and his family.

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The experience has been nothing short of amazing.  Indulging in something I’ve enjoyed since childhood.  Sharing that geekdom with others.  Having the athletes we watch become a part of something we started.  Celebrating our Filipino heritage.  Doing our smallest part to bring awareness to an important cause.  It really has been too sweet.