Podcast in the Spotlight: This Filipino American Life

The podcast This Filipino American Life explores the nuanced experiences of Filipinos in the United States. The Los Angeles-based team — Joe Bernardo, Ryan Carpio, Elaine Dolalas, and Mike Nailat — discuss a range of topics, from mental health and popular culture to gangs and gentrification. Here, Joe explains why the podcasting medium was the right fit for them, and how their site complements their recorded content.

How did This Filipino American Life come to be?

We thought, might as well record our conversations and see if anyone would listen to us.

I’ve been studying Filipino American history and culture for years and earned my doctorate degree in the subject, but after I left the academic world, I couldn’t find an appropriate venue to share ideas. I was looking for a way to discuss issues in the Filipino American community, but not necessary known or discussed in mainstream media (or even ethnic media). I came up with the idea of a Filipino American podcast partly to fulfill this void.

I approached my friend Ryan about starting a podcast, and he immediately loved it. I then approached Elaine, who ran her own podcast, the now-defunct Oblivious Nerd Girl’s Great Idea. I knew her fun and enthusiastic personality would complement us. She brought on her husband Mike, who produced all of her podcasts. Once the four of us were on board, we were off and running.

We wanted a podcast that tackled issues and cultural trends in a lighthearted, humorous way. We wanted to mix the seriousness of 92.3 The Beat’s Street Science (from the 1990s and 2000s) and the humor of KROQ’s Kevin & Bean show. All four of us are involved with the Filipino American community in some form, so many of the issues on TFAL come from our experiences. And we all value humor as a means to bring people together. I mean, we talked about these issues all the time through humor, but it was never public or archived in any way. We thought, might as well record our conversations and see if anyone would listen to us.

Why was a podcast a more suitable medium than, say, a collaborative blog of interviews and conversations?

We’ve been podcast listeners for a number of years and big fans of the medium. (Los Angeles commuter traffic will do that to a person.) It’s also more conversational: a podcast discussion is more of a collaborative process of teaching and learning. There’s more room for humor, contemplation, and debate. With blogging, there’s a greater opportunity for refinement, but in many ways podcasts are more honest because they elicit more instantaneous thought.

There are a number of tools to get started with podcasts: you can embed players from other platforms or directly upload audio files, for instance. What’s TFAL’s process?

You can upload .mp3, .m4a, .ogg, or .wav files to your site if you have the WordPress.com Personal, Premium, or Business plans.

Alternatively, you can embed audio players, as TFAL does, as shown on the left.

We upload the audio file onto Mixcloud and then embed the player onto WordPress.com. Our site is directly linked to our iTunes account, so it gets updated there, too. Then we share the episode link across all of our social media.


What has been your most popular episode to date? The most rewarding? The most challenging?

With blogging, there’s a greater opportunity for refinement, but in many ways podcasts are more honest because they elicit more instantaneous thought.

By far, our most popular podcast has been our gang episode. Gangs were a big thing in the Filipino American community during the 1980s and 1990s, but kind of fell out of the public consciousness. When we released the episode, our downloads and website hits blew up. I think it was probably the nostalgia of Filipino American gangs that attracted some to the episode. For others, it was the curiosity of supposed Filipino “deviancy.” Whatever the case may have been, that episode really helped spread the word about TFAL.

The most rewarding episode was the one about mental health. While we’ve gotten the most feedback about the gangs episode, the comments we’ve gotten from the mental health one have been eye-opening. It’s a topic that is considered taboo, and by talking about our own experiences, we’ve hopefully made it easier for Filipino Americans to talk about the subject with their family and friends.

The most challenging episode was one we’ve never aired. We don’t want to mention what it was about, but it’s one we will never release. (Maybe we’ll release it on the 25th anniversary of TFAL as a “lost episode.”)

Top: Ryan Carpio, Joe Bernardo, Mike Nailat. Bottom: Lily Prijoles (of Arkipelago Books) and Elaine Dolalas. Taken when TFAL recorded in San Francisco.

What are the benefits of having a site? How does it complement the podcast?

Follow This Filipino American Life on Facebook and Twitter.

I mentioned earlier that podcasts are more instantaneous. The downside is that we might miss some aspects of a discussion on the podcast. The website allows us to mention or explain things about an issue that we missed during our podcast to get a fuller story. We use the website as the home of the podcast and use social media for marketing purposes. We also dabble in blogging so we use the site for this as well.

What’s one challenge of podcasting that you didn’t expect?

We didn’t expect the diversity of guests’ interview skills. Some guests are great writers or speakers, but not necessary the best interviewees in a conversation setting. Some are very animated visually, but not so much over audio. We have not had horrible guests, but we did have to do more work to get some guests to come off as “radio-friendly.” That took some getting used to.

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February 8, 2018Culture, Diversity, Identity, Interviews, Nonfiction, Popular Culture, Race, , ,