A new magazine celebrating the achievements of Filipino Americans in Seattle is available online and coming soon in print. With an emphasis on photos, Filipinotown Magazine will feature over 200 printed pages, highlighting some 80 notable Seattle Filipino Americans. Full video interviews are available online for subscribers.
Subjects range from Taekwondo Junior Olympics Gold Medalist Trinity Yamada, to illustrator and tattoo artist Raychelle Duazo, to Seattle writer Angela Garbes, author of Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change. In the Chinatown International District (CID), Bryan Myers, owner of Tabletop Village, Walter Franco of Namsayin, which brings auto shows to the CID, and Chera Amlag, the entrepreneur behind Hood Famous Cafe + Bar, are featured. Amlag is one of 18 Filipina American women leaders in Seattle’s culinary scene holding court in their own section of the magazine.
The plan is to release a new edition of the magazine each October during Filipino American History month, each time highlighting the Filipino American community in a different city, according to Jeffrey Terrance Santos, the magazine’s founder and principal photographer.
Santos, who has a background in film production, got to know many other Filipino American restaurant professionals when he and his wife operated their own restaurant. In 2017, Santos started work on a documentary (still in progress) about Filipino Americans in the restaurant industry.
He created an Instagram account, Filipinotown Seattle, as a place for behind the scenes content for the documentary, but the handle morphed into an advocate for Filipino small businesses in its own right. Santos noticed that when the account posted about general Filipino American history, it received a lot of interest.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for Filipinotown Magazine in more ways than one. First, Santos and his wife needed to pivot after their restaurant was forced to close.
“Many of us lost loved ones,” Santos said. “I really just wanted to take the opportunity to hopefully create a platform so that we can start giving flowers to our community members while they’re still with us.”
Santos sought out interview subjects he knew from the restaurant world and beyond. The magazine also includes a statement on its website about diversity, equity and inclusion. “I was trying to do my best to showcase as much as possible the full diversity of our community,” Santos said.
Over 200 people attended the magazine’s launch party at Seattle’s Filipino Community Center on October 15. The level of excitement surprised Santos. “There was just a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of community,” Santos said.
Santos hopes the magazine will archive and share Filipino American stories across the U.S. and diaspora. He sees it expanding into more platforms in the future: documentaries, feature films, podcasts, comics, and more.
“Our other hope is that these stories will lead to our next generations seeing themselves represented, and hopefully understanding that they can thrive being their full selves, choosing whatever path they want,” Santos said.
The meaning of Filipinotown
Filipinotown Magazine is focused on the whole of Seattle, which has the ninth largest population of Filipinos among cities in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center analysis of 2017-2019 data from the American Community Survey.
But it also shares its name with a recent concerted movement to recognize Filipinotown as an integral part of Seattle’s CID.
In the CID, Filipinos are “a group that’s always been present, but just forgotten,” said Devin Israel Cabanilla, public historian and former board Secretary for the Greater Seattle Filipino American National Historical Society. Cabanilla advised on historical themes for the magazine, and wrote an essay for the inaugural issue titled “Filipino Town Does Exist,“ available to subscribers.
Often, Asian American communities are seen as monolithic, and Filipino Americans forgotten. “To ensure our presence is included, we need to create the signifier just to remind people we are here too,” Cabanilla said. “And we have been here for decades and have consistently participated in creating institutions that serve the Chinatown International District.”
Cabanilla brought the term “Filipino Town” forward in Seattle’s public consciousness after the Seattle City Council removed a reference to “Manila Town” from a 2017 resolution intended to protect the cultural identity and history of Seattle’s Pan-Asian Pacific community. The resolution also named the commonly-accepted small enclaves of Japantown, Chinatown, and Little Saigon, without controversy.
The removal of “Manila Town” at the time was a concerted effort from some individuals in the Chinatown International District to prevent its recognition as a distinct part of the neighborhood.
After pushback from the newly-formed Seattle Filipino Town Coalition, led by Cabanilla, the City Council apologized and amended the resolution to recognize “Filipino Town” in the CID. But opposition to recognizing Filipino Town has never really gone away, Cabanilla said.
Filipinos were concentrated in Seattle’s Chinatown area soon after they arrived in the city at the end of the 19th century. As U.S. nationals, Filipino men were sought as laborers, according to historian Doug Chin in his 2009 book Seattle’s International District: The Making of a Pan-Asian American Community.
In his article, Cabanilla notes that Filipinos have been integral in activist movements on behalf of the CID neighborhood: “Filipinas and Filipinos have been protectors and advocates of district integrity and preservation as much, if not more, than the city government itself in developing the neighborhood,” Cabanilla wrote.
The late CID activist “Uncle” Bob Santos used the term Manilatown to reflect the long Filipino American history in the CID. But the coalition organized by Cabanilla decided that the term “Filipino Town” was more inclusive of the FIlipino American experience.
Recognition of Filipino American culture and presence is a growing movement, Cabanilla said, with people making strides in cities like San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Today, the Seattle Filipino Town Coalition works to promote Filipino American presence in the CID. Santos of Filipinotown Magazine is a member, as are representatives from businesses like Hood Famous Cafe + Bar, Kilig, and Joël Barraquiel Tan, who joined the Wing Luke Museum as executive director in 2022. Tan was also featured as a subject in Filipinotown Magazine.
“It was a true honor to be part of this incredible grassroots publication,” Tan said. “I love the way Jeff does his publications… It’s celebratory. And gregarious.”
For Tan, Filipinotown Magazine “directly counteracts that painful moment” of attempted erasure of Filipino Town.
“It was significant, but it was ultimately also just a moment. But it’s held such a long, painful kind of place in so many. And that’s what I noticed coming in as a newbie.”
Tan observed that people in the Seattle Filipino Town Coalition would tell the story of exclusion whenever they met. “I said, so what if we change the story?” Tan said. “In only telling each other this story, we’re stuck.”
What’s needed, Tan believes, is grassroots creative energy, and people coming to the neighborhood again and again. “If you really want a Filipinotown, what you really want isn’t for the city to say, ‘Okay, now you’re Filipinotown.’ No, you actually just want to be around more Filipino creativity, more Filipino people, more Filipino things and the government can’t give you that.”
For Tan, more meaningful than an official designation is “Greetings from Filipino Town” merchandise created by Hood Famous, or Santos’ magazine.
“Filipinotown Magazine is concrete. It is changing the narrative,” Tan said. “You’re holding something in your hand that’s branded Filipinotown, Seattle, right? And it becomes real.”