Journey of a podcaster: from a hate crime to the manongs of Stockton

Lilibeth Frondoso
Journey of a podcaster: from a hate crime to the manongs of Stockton
A podcast series by Filipino-American millennial Paola Mardo on the Filipino diaspora takes us back in time to Little Manila in Stockton, California

“What does it mean to be a Filipino in America?” Audio producer, journalist, and host Paola Mardo asks that question a lot during the course of two episodes of the podcast Long Distance

She launches the series by looking into an act of vandalism that may very well be a hate crime. Hers is a unique, storytelling style: think investigative journalism meets perky, driven Asian.

VANDALISM. Or hate crime? All photos by Patrick Epino

What follows are stories of Filipinos in America told through the voice of a young woman who straddles both worlds. In the process, she tells another story – her own journey as a Fil-Am in a country torn by race, politics, and forgetting. 

These are stories, first of despair, as gleaned from the letters of Manongs of another age: men who risked all to go to America and ended up in stoop-labor jobs. Later on these turn into stories of determination: how a son and daughter of the Manongs and Manangs fought to preserve the legacy of the past. And those spill over to today as stories of hope, as a vibrant community grows from the bigotry and hatred and becomes more aware of its Filipino heritage.

It’s a podcast set in the age of Trumpolitics, where conservatism is on the rise and race and immigration are major divisive issues. US-based Pew Research Center estimates that in 15 years, the Asian population might become the largest immigrant group in the United States.

Listening to Paola, a millennial immersed in digital multimedia – and boy, does she use it to her advantage – I got pangs of guilt and envy. How can a kid brought up abroad care so much about the homeland, while those of us who were born and raised here scarcely give our legacy a thought?

The titas and titos of Manila would probably tell Paola, “Silly girl, you’re already in America living the life of an American!”

Starting Long Distance on my Spotify, I wasn’t drawn by the promise of a history lesson; more like I was drawn inspite of it. I thought I knew my history well enough, and I was more curious about how this girl would present such a snooze-inducing topic on a digital platform.  It turned out I was wrong. I learned a lot about our kababayans in the United States in that era marked by discrimination, unfair labor practices, and World War II as much as it saw the rise of automobiles, film, and radio.

It’s a superbly produced podcast, her voice evocative, with a humor only someone her age can pull off. But it’s the authenticity that sets her apart, a voice on a journey of discovery. It was a journey of discovery for me too, as I was pleasantly surprised to find out that “Isang bagsak!” started as a strike cheer halfway around the world. 

The podcast is a gem – it creeps up on us, not lecturing, not judging, but still shakes us from the stupor of our secret colonial mentality. –

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Lilibeth Frondoso

She currently heads Multimedia Strategy and Growth in Rappler.