A photoessay on your favorite Filipino American lifestyle online content provider but not quite only but sorta is but in a different way

A Post-Primordial Conceptual Transubstantiation: Bakitwhy at 5

Let's do something a bit different this year.  It is 5 years anyway. It's time to stray from the norm, gosh darnit.

Typical website anniversary posts follow the same template:

  • Start off with overstated disbelief that you made it this far
  • Say something inspiring yet vague. Like a quote about finding yourself in what you do or the sky is some celestial crockpot of opportunity or something
  • Have a really boring history lesson on the site for 75% of the site covered somewhere else.
  • Cap off with where's the site's going, but not really because you're still figuring it out

I'm bored of that template too.  Let's just follow a string of loosely connected verbiage to examine what really happened back in the day with BakitWhy.

If you haven't read the BakitWhy milestones series, do it!  That's where you'll get the full history on BakitWhy.  Read it and I won't bore you with it here.  Let's just say it all in a nutshell:

BakitWhy was a graduate school project formed officially on April 8, 2008 by our founder and previous director Jeremiah Abraham after a lengthy research period as a part of the USC Annenberg Program on Online Communities.  Jeremiah enlisted his friends from UC Irvine and a few others in his nerd haven of a bedroom, and thus BakitWhy was born.  BakitWhy at the time focused on becoming the premier online community for and about the Filipino American lifestyle, whatever an online community is.  From there we spread the joy of articles, videos, and other content to the world's eyeballs.

Phew. That's a mouthful.

An in-between of the first BakitWhy version, April Fool's Style

I can't claim to know everyone's story about why they wanted to take on BakitWhy, but I sure (sort of) know my story.  I joined BakitWhy in that April of 2008 because 1) I was laid off 2) the idea of a Filipino online community seemed feasible and 3) I so really wanted a crew to get Filipino food with.  Over that month though, it transformed from just a simple little blog to a big little blog.  Baby steps right?

Over the months people tagged on from both Jeremiah's and my past and current circles.  We had folks doing travel, studying film, and some who.... wait. I'm getting into a history lesson again. Not cool.

Let's talk something else.  WHY BakitWhy anyway?  Our initial team went through some tough existentialist questions back in the day.  You know Caulfield-level stuff. You can say we're still going through that now.  

The evolution of BakitWhy's Mission

Sure, we could say BakitWhy is about capitalizing on the ever-growing online platform to better disseminate information that the mainstream media wouldn’t touch. Or it could be about exposing and confirming that Filipino Americans and their lifestyles are as diverse and awesome as any peoples.  Or it could be about being that media provider for Filipinos. Period.  Every single year (and a half) we always come back to that question. But it’s a difficult one.

With rapidly changing trends and generational characteristics, it’s almost cocky to think you can tailor a site in perpetuity to address the needs and interests of a large demographic.  We’re seeing 4th, 5th generation Fil-Ams, the traditional paths of nursing or engineering being overshadowed by the arts and entrepreneurship, and a rising awareness that transcends the local.  For example Filipino students in California have this thing called Pilipino (american) Cultural Night.  However, it's similar in some respects to the midwest's Battle of the Bamboo. And New York's...something or other.  And with increased information and awareness, comes rapid and unpredictable (hopefully good) change.

But maybe that’s it. We just need to continually show what’s trending at the moment in the Fil-Am community. Hmm…

As reasonably transient our mission has been, we also underwent a significant amount of back and forth on our branding.  Jeremiah’s initial thought—which we agreed—was to make it truly unique and not so “in your face” Filipino.  Notice from all our designs in the past there’s not one Filipino flag, no yellow sun and three stars, no barrel man peeking at you ever-so-quietly in the corner.  We wanted to show that the go-to novelty items or standard behaviors don’t define “Filipino American”.  If anything we want to showcase the deviants, intellectual and artistic brigands, and the prevailing geeks of the time. Anything else would just be, well, boring.  As such, our branding went from literally on stilts to something very subtle. Heck I don’t even know how to describe it.

The logo evolution from 2008-2013

Our humble beginnings, and subsequently our content, started off in the not so humble city of Los Angeles. Ok Hawthorne, CA to be exact.  But that’s how big things start out: locally.  It was an opportune place though since we’re so centrally located to the entertainment industry. Also one-third of all Filipino Americans reside in the Southern California area—that’s over 1 millions folks.  We were just a very long plane ride from our families from the Philippines.  Our location was definitely an advantage, but as any good things it’s easy to get really comfortable in an increasingly easier position.

Every year we have a team retreat that may or may not be in Vegas (hint: yeah it probably is).  In these retreats we go over a number of topics to make sure we’re setting and hitting our goals for BakitWhy. The one that demands quite a bit of time is the question “Why are we still in LA? Let’s get out of here?”  Sure, we have a great set of volunteers from San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and other far off places (cough).  But is our national presence strong? Are we fulfilling that long-term goal of connecting these disparate communities via the Internet? 

Sorry, not much of an answer.  But these pictures tell a lot about how BakitWhy’s not quite LA.  Well we still have that swag.  So I tell myself.

A selection of all-team retreats totally not in Vegas. Ok most are.

As we expanded and contracted, pulsating through the community like adobo sauce through glutinous rice, we found that that the team started to reflect the diversity of the community we’re trying to serve. We picked up quite a few gems, from a Midwest engineer who’s aiming to be the better Ira Glass to a Filipino-at-heart that teaches a thing or two about what’s happening in the Philippines to (I’ll write odd descriptions for the rest of you, don’t worry!).

That’s where it kind of clicks. Maybe BakitWhy’s not about just providing a torrent of content. It’s about acknowledging and a highlighting the sometimes eclectic but always-relevant lifestyles and interests of Fil-Ams, Filipinos, and Filipino fans and celebrating its never-ending liquidity.

We do a lot of stuff

Ok ok, I’ll revert back to the overdone template for this one last part.  It’s important though – BakitWhy after 5 years.  We’ve learned almost too much that it’s hard to remember what we learned.  We both succeeded and failed hard all over the Internet. It’s part of the process. It’s why you see a new BakitWhy every year (more hints: May) and a fresh team mixed with grizzly veterans.  We’re going in a direction that serves great content to a diverse audience, highlights the trends that our community creates, and exposes what wouldn’t normally be exposed in the mainstream. Vague huh?  I guess you have to stick around for another five years and see what happens.

[Insert cheesy Filipino saying here],
BakitWhy since 2008

I can never get my celeb picture (circa 2008 Festival of Philippines Arts and Culture)

About the Author

Kaywan has been on the BakitWhy team since 2008 and is equally as ancient.