Today's photos brought to you by Tim Santos' Photography, Kubo and Conrad Contreras, first of many interviewees who are Filipino storytellers and/or also young professionals taking on entrepreneurship and digital communications. Also added a photo of Conrad's dog Meka because I always support animals who support awesome humans.
After writing about WaPow’s launch party and the New York Times’ boba article, I’m pretty sure it’s obvious that I strongly advocate communities who tell their own stories and diversity of stories in the media landscape.
Enter Kubo, a recently launched media outlet that seeks to highlight the stories of young Filipino Americans. The outlet takes it’s name from Bahay Kubo, the name of a stilt house or hut found in many areas of the Philippines. When needed, community members can actually move these huts together. As such, Bahay Kubo is a cultural symbol of bayanihan, or the spirit of the community effort to achieve an objective. And for a media outlet that wants to target young Filipino Americans, Kubo definitely seems like a fitting name.
Full disclosure here, I do plan on submitting a piece to Kubo mostly because of an event that I believe would be more appropriate to tell on their platform rather than on here. But to honor National Filipino American History Month, I thought it would be fitting to get to know someone who is running the show.
From Science and Society To Communications
Enter Conrad Contreras, Kubo’s CMO who co-founded the outlet with follow UCLA alum, CEO Mallory Valenzuela. Conrad graduated in 2015 with Bachelor of Arts in Human Biology and Society and a minor in Asian American studies. Nowadays, he’s spends his time being a proud dad of Meka, his one and-a-half-year-old puppy, killing it at competitions with dance team Project M and working as a communications manager at The Greenlining Institute, a think tank that aims to shape policy that better serves communities of color.
Even just explaining his role at The Greenlining Institute, Conrad’s passion for community came through. When he explained one of his recent campaigns, No Uber Oakland, he stressed that the gentrification affecting housing prices throughout the Silicon Valley were close to hitting Oakland hard when Uber considered officially moving there.
“That was such a big thing for the community, this was going to accelerate gentrification more than ever.”
Yet the connection between having a degree in Human Biology and Society to a title like Communications Manager might not seem so obvious until you look at Conrad’s involvement at UCLA. Outside of class, he took up leadership roles at UCLA’s Filipino organization during his junior year and Undergraduate Student Government during his senior year. Conrad also had internships that allowed him to explore communications, politics and society.
“I liked my major for its content,” Conrad said, “But I also knew what you majored in doesn’t necessarily translate into your career.”
For all the politics and policy issues he faced in the offices and organizations he worked in, Conrad realized that he was good at the communications and media aspect of his roles. And after taking a communications fellowship at Fenton’s San Francisco office, he realized what he loved about digital communications was influencing culture towards social justice.
While his work at The Greenlining Institute allows him to do just that, Conrad still felt a call to go back to his roots.
“I missed working specifically on those issues affecting Filipino communities.”
Conrad also noticed in his work of a lack of a platform for Filipino stories for younger generations. While certain Buzzfeed posts and Filipino-centered content pop into the mainstream now and then, there wasn’t a central place for such content. So Conrad teamed up with Mallory, “Why wait for someone to create [a platform]?”
Written By Filipinos, For Everyone (but especially Filipinos)
It should be noted that there are plenty of Filipino media outlets and content if you look for it. I grew up, for instance, with Asian Journal, Inquirer News and Kababayan Today. But after researching such outlets Conrad and Mallory determined that they don’t appeal directly to young Filipino Americans.
“I don’t read Inquirer everyday,” Conrad explained, “But I do read Buzzfeed.”
It’s the narrative and casual style of outlets like Buzzfeed that Conrad hopes to emulate with Kubo’s content. He didn’t want Kubo to cover politics the way a hard news outlet would, for instance. Rather, Conrad wants to touch on such issues in a roundabout way with personal stories, “In a way that you feel your friends are talking to you.”
For this reason, you actually won’t find content that’s in-your-face Filipino all the time. With pieces talking about self-care and why grad school isn’t always a path to take, Kubo’s content strives to share experiences of Filipinos rather than completely focus on experiences that are solely Filipino.This, Conrad knows from meeting other Filipino dancers, is key when trying to reach those who aren’t connected to Filipino culture. At the end of the day, he says, these people still consume content about life and adulting.
“We want to help Filipinos thrive, whether or not you have flailing pride.”
Yet Conrad hopes to extend Kubo’s influence outside of the community, too. Filipino Americans are the second-largest Asian American group in the United States at 3.4 million according to the 2010 Census, and we have a connection to the country preceding even pre-colonial American history. With a platform like Kubo, Conrad hopes, Filipino Americans have a place to reach a larger audience and have greater influence on public policy.
But whether the stories are funny, informative or serious, Conrad and the rest of the Kubo Team take on the mission of helping Filipino Americans take control of their narratives. And, Conrad adds, “We’re not getting paid for this. It’s all work that comes from the heart.”
Things I talked about here and other reading:
No Uber Oakland, A Campaign Headed By Conrad
Project M, an all-male hip hop group where Conrad also manages its social media
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