My name is Rowena. I'm a reporter-at-heart turned public relations specialist who will always love to write and get carried away when I'm passionate about something. I am a freelance writer on the side. My lifelong goal is to write about the Pilipino American experience for a major magazine. For me, BakitWhy has become my writing outlet, 21st century technology wake-up call, and Pilipino community-building platform all in one.
*This post below is from my own blog (that's severely under construction): The Filipina Chicagoan:
I know this is long, but I wanted to tell you about a site that means a whole lot to me. You may have heard about it: BakitWhy.com. Brace yourself, it's a long read...
It's already been a year since I wrote my first real post for BakitWhy.com: "Every Turn, Every Story: Life for Pilipinos in Chicago Then and Now." I wrote about my mother's immigration to the United States. My mother and I sat down one night and I asked her to tell me the story of what it was like when she first arrived in this foreign land. I had heard the story before, but now I had the chance to share it with a larger audience -- an entire network of Pilipino-Americans across the country. Part of the article also included anecdotes from one of Chicago's first U.S. born Pilipinas, Ms. Estrella Alamar of Hyde Park. It was the first of several posts I was able to write on the Pilipino American lifestyle site. I also asked a ton of knowledgeable and involved Pilipino Chicagoans to help search for the resident experts on the history of Pilipinos in Chicago. It was then I realized, there's a lot I don't know about the presence of Pilipinos in my community, but maybe it was time I finally did.
To my surprise, the post was well received. Thankfully, BakitWhy (based in Los Angeles) let me on "the team" after that post, which was a part of my interview. But I didn't even know there was "a team" or a BakitWhy.com (Bakit means "why" in Tagalog), until Ryne Dionisio asked me if I had time to talk about this in late 2009. I kept saying I was too busy and didn't have time. (Sorry, Ryne, I shoulda listened!!) I also had qualms about being a part of something tied to the Pilipino community, because sometimes, well, Pilipino organizations just don't work. There are power struggles and in-fighting. I didn't want to deal with any of that. But then I kept an open mind, and it paid off.
In the fall of 2009, I was invited to be a workshop presenter at FACT (Filipino Americans Coming Together) at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. BakitWhy.com happened to be covering it, and I just so happened to take the ride down to Urbana with some of BakitWhy's greatest staffers, Kathlyn Amidar and Rina Dakanay, and BW's first Midwest contributor extraordinaire, Ryne. Not only were they the first Pilipinas I met from Los Angeles (I'm not kidding, really they were), but they, along with Ryne, were busting their chops to cover the event, network and make BakitWhy.com known. They were on their iPhones or laptops, responding to emails and calls, constantly working and strategizing. As a reporter at the time, hearing this I thought, OK, BakitWhy is the real deal. I knew it was serious about being a media entity. That weekend I was officially impressed -- then, I got hooked.
After that weekend (they say you always learn something new at FACT, right?), I became a fan of BakitWhy.com. I was intrigued by the topics that contributors posted about (the history of the People Power Revolution; the rapid growth of Pil-Ams in the US; colonial mentality, etc.); I was captivated by the video interviews they had done with high-profile Pilipinos (Manny Pacquiao/Charice/Lea Salonga et al) and I was enamored by the ability of some field correspondents to actually interview (in Tagalog) some of these said celebrities. That right there was empowering and inspiring, and I'm sure they didn't even realize it. BakitWhy, since its inception, has been doing big things and it is only going to do more.
Now a year later, I have been able to make my own contributions here and there to this online community. I have been able to bring my strengths and skills to the table as a writer/reporter, as well as highlight and give credit to Pilipinos who are deserving of acknowledgement in our local Pil-Am community. In one year, BakitWhy has allowed me to test the waters. I started as a Regional Contributor writing meaningful pieces that draw discussion about what it's like to be Pilipino American. (At least I tried to I hope! It's the job description if you must know.) Then, I moved into an Editor role for awhile, before I decided what I really enjoyed and wanted to do was Public Relations. I've been grateful to BakitWhy for letting me have my identity crisis as an "associate" through all of these position changes. (Thanks Fred! Thanks Kat!)
I also have to say that BakitWhy has exposed me to Pilipino America -- And I really do mean that. I have seen firsthand what the lifestyle is like on the West Coast having attended FPAC, the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture, which has been going on for 20 years. I was blown away. California, in and of itself, just does that to a person especially if you're Pilipino, right? And I am sure at one point, I'll go to the East Coast and experience something life-changing, too. It has truly been an eye-opening and thought-provoking BakitWhy-ride for me.
But you're probably thinking, that's nice, but what's in it for me? Ok, here's my last point. I know this is getting long: BakitWhy opens doors and I can attest to that. While working full-time as a reporter, I contributed to BakitWhy on my own time. I did this voluntarily, as in I was not paid. In my role with BakitWhy as a Public Relations Coordinator now, I help set-up event coverage, and when necessary, secure interviews for our team. (The Midwest Team so far consists of regional contributors, a PR coordinator and a media producer). In the fall of 2010, the same week our team covered FACT again, we also obtained an interview with White House Chef Cristeta Comerford. My sister actually told me Chef Cris was receiving an award as Chef of the Year from a national charitable organization in Chicago. Immediately I thought, BakitWhy has to be there to cover, no matter what.
So I got on it right away...by starting talks with the organization's media department. We had to have our interview approved by the White House -- very exciting and also quite nerve-wracking. Everyone on the Midwest Team and National a.k.a. BakitWhy headquarters of Los Angeles, was pumped that we'd soon be interviewing the "Top Chef" of the White House, who is Pilipina and calls Chicago her home, in fact. (Actually, Ryne had already broken the record as first interview with Chef Comerford earlier that year when she was at Northwestern!)
We also wanted her to do a "I am BakitWhy" shout-out this time, too. So our whole team (Ryne, Gephine Fernandez, Ram Catapang and Camelia Rodriguez) got together on a late weeknight to brainstorm the questions we'd ask Ms. Comerford. When it came down to it, Feeny and myself conducted the interview. Local media were also present and some 1,000 guests for the event. I thought to myself, this is actually going to be the most exciting interview I've ever been able to do in 5 years as a reporter. It was true. And it was so worth it. Why? I was called by the organization for an interview as a communications coordinator.
I took the job, and the rest is history. I will forever be grateful and indebted to BakitWhy for helping to open doors. Who knows what could've happened if I didn't get involved with BW two years ago? What would my life be like if not for BakitWhy? How else would I have started my lifelong goal about writing about Pilipinos in America as a freelancer?
So, if you've read this far, I want you to ask yourself some questions. Do you want to get more involved in the Pilipino community? Do you feel you have a void right now you're not filling? Are you looking to do something quite possibly opposite from your day job, on your down time? And if you don't think this fits you, I'm sure you know somebody that is just screaming to do something like this, right?
I want to lastly say that ... although these experiences have all been rewarding, everyone on BakitWhy busts their chops to get it all done. We need more people to keep BakitWhy going, and we need motivated people all over the US.
So check out this post to find out how to join up:
If the positions you're interested in aren't available yet, still contact BakitWhy to introduce yourself. I know I might sound crazy, but trust me, you will not regret joining BW. In fact, I think it could change your life.
P.S.: We also get cool BW email! I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org.