SAN FRANCISCO – In 1992, Mona Lisa Yuchengco launched a new Filipino American publication in the Bay Area called Filipinas Magazine.
It was a case of good timing – and bad.
Good because by the early 1990s, Filipinos were an established and growing community in the United States. Filipinos were then the largest Asian community in California, the second largest in the entire country.
Filipinas quickly built a readership with its lively features on the Filipino American experience and profiles of prominent and not-so-prominent Filipinos in the U.S. who had engaging stories to tell.
The monthly magazine became an important addition to an already vibrant Filipino American media scene that featured the weekly Philippine News led by the late Alex Esclamado and veteran journalist Cherie Querol Moreno.
Yuchengo and her team later even introduced the annual Filipinas Magazine awards, which became a yearly community celebration of successful and committed Filipinos in America, similar to the Alma Awards in the Latino community and the Image Awards in the African American community.
As the Filipinas Web site recalls, the magazine “managed to turn itself into more than just a household word” as “the only nationally-circulated Filipino American monthly magazine.”
But Filipinas also burst onto the Filipino American media scene at a time when media and journalism were changing rapidly.
The magazine was born less than a year after the introduction of the World Wide Web which transformed the Internet (which has been around since the last 1960s) into a global phenomenon. The Web, in a way, also turned out to be a curse on print media.
Like other print publications, Filipinas struggled with the rapid shift to online advertising.
After peaking with a paid circulation of 30,000, Filipinas began to steadily decline. Yuchengco sold the magazine in 2005. The print edition of Filipinas was eventually shutdown, though the magazine still exists as a popular Web site.
Twenty years after launching Filipinas, Yuchengco is giving the magazine business another try. This time, however, she’s going for a purely online play.
Positively Filipino is set to make its debut in January, though you can already catch a beta version at http://positivelyfilipino.com
Yuchengco recalls how the idea came up in an introductory essay: “When I sold Filipinas Magazine in 2005, many of you asked me what I was going to do next. My bucket list was full, and publishing a magazine again was not on it. … But I would bump into some of you at events, and again you would ask, ‘Why not a new magazine? There is nothing else out there. We have lost our voice.’ I, too, felt that way but I didn’t know if we could recapture the magic of twenty years ago. But I believe in the story of the Filipino, so here’s another shot.”
Positively Filipino, she says, “fills a need not only in cyberspace, but also in our own consciousness. As Filipinos become more visible and acknowledged worldwide, we need to let each other and other people hear our stories and ideas. We need to share our dreams and aspirations and be part of the global community. “
The publication’s name is based on the infamous sign in a Stockton, California hotel then aimed at Filipinos in the 1930s and 1940s, most of them farm workers and laborers. It said: “Positive No Filipinos Allowed.”
It recalls a time when Filipinos were a far less visible community in the United States, a besieged, even maligned, minority.
The picture is different today. But Positively Filipino, in a way, is sending a good message with its name: that history is important as the magazine seeks to tell the stories of today’s Filipino America.
But like other Web publications, Positive Filipino faces an uphill battle.
It’s easier to launch a magazine now, which also means Positively Filipino is joining a fairly crowded field of Filipino American and Philippine-based publications striving to build an audience and attract advertising revenue.
Then there’s the rise of social media sites, led by Facebook and Twitter, which is changing the rules of the game in journalism.
But these are hurdles that can make the journey even more fun and exciting.
Perhaps there’s even lesson in the magazine’s name. After all, those early Filipinos didn’t let some stupid sign stop them from pushing on.
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