I was asked by poeta Barbara Jane Reyes to write an informal blog for PAWA. She gave me some questions/prompts (below) and here’s my brief blog post in answering them. Thanks for reading!
Why the publication? How did you conceive of it, what were the original discussions like, surrounding its creation. Did this come out of any perceived lack, something(s) not being addressed by existing pubs? What’s unique about your pubs, and/or describe the particular niche you’re filling? Where do you envision the publication going, what kind of life do you envision for it?
It is a little difficult to trace the origins of TAYO Literary Magazine because its birth was gradual. To answer why this publication and why is it needed, I must first address its creation. In the beginning, I envisioned TAYO as a community magazine that celebrated Filipino and Filipino American arts and culture. With the ambition and support from my executive director/cofounder Kristine Co and staff, TAYO has become an international publication that showcases voices that are rarely heard. In 2011, we received submissions from across the U.S., Philippines, Brazil, England, Canada, India, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Lithuania. Looking back, it is hard to believe that TAYO started over a very small idea at a college apartment in Los Angeles.
TAYO began over a small discussion of creating a fundraiser for the Filipino American Library (FAL). Back then, as college juniors, we saw that we wanted our project to become more than a fundraiser for FAL. We sought to create a magazine that showcased Filipino works in a tangible, present, and stylistic publication pleasurable to the human eye, allowing such works to stand alone on their own weight and gravity (this is why our staff works ardently to perverse the minimalistic presentation of our layouts). We talked endlessly about the lack of Filipino representation in media and the need of unity for Filipinos in Los Angeles. The next morning, we pitched our idea to Jonathan Lorenzo, who was then a staff member at FAL, and eventually to the FAL board of directors. In the first few years, we solidified support from our generous sponsor, Robert Sanchez; branched out of FAL as our own separate organization; became an official nonprofit under the State of California; and implemented various enrichment programs from our readings to TAYO’s Writers’ Lab, headed by our editorial director Paolo de la Fuente and editorial assistant director Ed Mallillin.
But what brings “us,” our publication and our staff together is the singular and begging question of identity and the importance of knowing it.
Personally, why I felt the need for TAYO was because of my upbringing. I grew up in Carson, a small suburban town overpopulated with a richness of colored faces. It’s the Daly City of the Southbay, if you may. I went to a disadvantaged and overcrowded school with other Filipinos, Samoans, Latinos, and blacks. But growing up, “being Filipino” was as equivocal as being brown skinned. Being Filipino meant listening into hip hop, doing a windmill or a pop-lock routine, wearing skinny jeans (if you’re a guy) or flat ballet shoes (if you’re girl), having puka shell necklaces and bracelets, or going to mass. My father neglected to teach me Tagalog because he believed the accent he fought so hard to resist would carry over to me. As a child, I had to discover what it meant to be Filipino beyond the food I ate and the values my family held at home. I had to constantly ask myself, “Who am I?”
Since 2009, our publication has set forth to answer that question but with an artistic and geographic context. Who are we as Filipino Americans? Who are we as Filipinos in Saudi Arabia? In Hong Kong? In Lithuania? In Canada? The answer is, still, left opened. It is ever growing as it is equivocal and eclectic. In the words of Kristine, the purpose of TAYO is “to help Filipino Americans explore their creative and often ambivalent voices.” TAYO prides itself in being a mosaic of different Filipino and Filipino-American perspectives, a literal space where Filipinos can struggle and make terms with who we are and what place we have in the world today.
Lastly, the importance of TAYO is found in our community. We are nothing without the art provided by our contributors and skillful expressions of identity embedded in their works. In the future, we see TAYO growing as an independent journal and nonprofit, expanding our programs and hopefully establishing a national conference and workshop where Filipino art and writing are cultivated and uplifted. Most importantly, however, we see the need of our publication’s existence because of this small caveat: good art, by itself, cannot exist in a vacuum. TAYO has taught me that we must grab our art with our own hands and bring it to the world to see.