Ryan Catabay – IE Graphic Designer/Creative Director – The son of immigrants becomes a modern designer.
“My last real job was working at Kinko’s, and before that I was working at McDonald’s. Technically, I have only had two jobs.”
So says the man who is now at the head of a successful and fast-growing design studio that specializes in graphics, branding, and marketing. It is as though he does not consider it a “real” job running a company of six people out of his office at the International Examiner.
While the rest of us were sleeping through college courses and daydreaming about what it would be like to run our own company, Ryan Catabay, 31, was busy making it a reality, and is not shy about taking credit.
“It was all me. I came up with the name (Rytek) and got a business license at the age of 21,” says Catabay, sitting in front of two massive Apple computers, their screens displaying several current projects. He plans to replace them with an even more impressive setup. Rytek now has an exciting clientele that includes high-end real estate, restaurants, magazines, and local non-profits.
Although Catabay has come a long way, he shares a humble family beginning that many immigrants can relate to.
His father, Leonardo Catabay, came from Dagupan, a city in the central Philippines where Leonardo’s family managed a funeral home and he attended nursing school.
His mother, Helen Gonzales, came from Marikina — a former capital of the province of Manila, today located on the eastern border of Metro Manila. Her family ran a Jeepney van — a public taxi service.
Leonardo and Helen met and married in the late 1970s in the Philippines. Catabay’s sister, Maybelle, was born in 1977.
The couple sought out better opportunities in the states and arrived in Seattle from the Philippines in the late 1970s to reunite with an uncle who served in the Navy for many years.
Filipinos have immigrated to the U.S. for generations. The largest early groups came for job opportunities, working on plantations in Hawaii, California and the Pacific Northwest. Then, many found work in the Alaska salmon canneries beginning in the 1920s. With multiple U.S. naval bases in the Philippines, many Filipinos opted to join the navy, which offered a ticket to the American Dream.
The Catabays settled in the Rainier valley area to be near extended family. In 1979, Catabay was born. His father worked as a bus driver and his mother had a long career at the post office, where she worked until 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Catabay said he had to learn to take care of himself at an early age.
“On the weekdays I would see [my mom] for like an hour after school and she’d go back to work,” he recalls.
“Seeing my mom work so hard inspired me to work hard, too, for a better future,” said Catabay.
The family became concerned about crime in the Rainier area and believed a move south to Renton would afford better opportunities for the family. The Catabays later moved to Kent in 1991 where Ryan attended Kentridge High School. He later enrolled at Bellevue Community College (BCC) planning to transfer to the University of Washington and obtain a Bachelor’s degree, but fate had something better in store for him.
While at BCC, Catabay worked at Kinko’s where he dabbled in designing flyers for entertainment venues, until his sister, seeing his knack for design, told him about the Art Institute of Seattle. It was career training he hadn’t considered before, but pursued it. Art and design has been a part of his life ever since. He attributes his family history to inspiring him to pursue his true talent and give back to both his parents and the community that served as a home for them.
“The hardships and struggles I witnessed made me realize that working hard will culminate in success,” said Catabay. “This gives me the motivation to work every single day and not take it for granted.”
Catabay is the Creative Director for the International Examiner and is responsible for each issue’s cover design.
“The reason I work with the Examiner is to establish a connection between me and the community,” said Catabay. He said partnering with the Examiner is different from working with his other clientele.
“Everyone has a little bit of love but the community … there’s extra love there,” said Catabay. “Working with the communty is like going back to our roots — not just our family but our whole ethnic community. I didn’t realize that until I started working and living here in the ID.”
At first Catabay read about the community through articles in the Examiner but since moving into the neighborhood, his connection has taken on more powerful meanings.
“I almost feel like I’m replacing those guys that used to walk the streets of Chinatown back in the 60s,” he said, describing the community’s new generation.
“Long-time activists in the community are so willing to share the history of Asian Americans in the area, and I respect that. Because doing so preserves my family’s history, too.”
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