By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
Editor’s note: For clarity, this piece has been modified to acknowledge that utang na loob can have different meanings to different communities.
A late-night Zoom call started it all. After Rio Therese Capistrano, Thea Marie Melliza, and Kim Regala — three friends and Vancouver-based Filipinas — got to talking, they became inspired to learn more and educate others about their Filipino culture. They named their podcast Tipsy Taho, after a Filipino dessert, taho, which contains tofu, brown sugar syrup, and tapioca pearls. In an interview with The Peak, Capistrano, Melliza, and Regala detailed the significance of their podcast.
“We have our own identity, and it’s different from Canadians [and] from native Filipinos on the mainland, so we have our own experiences [that] we relate to in our Filipino-Canadian identity. We wanted to talk more about that and see if anyone else could relate,” Melliza explained.
Each region of the Philippines has its respective culture, and the Tipsy Taho hosts highlight that. Capistrano grew up in Parañaque city, Melliza’s parents are from Iloilo, and Regala’s hometown is Iligan, so they combine their unique experiences, along with research on the history of the Philippines, to showcase Filipino diversity in their podcasts.
For Melliza, who was born in Canada, Tipsy Taho is a way for her to learn more about Filipino culture too. She admitted to feeling like the odd one out amongst her Filipino friends growing up. Realizing that in her childhood there were few resources for her to learn about her culture, she wanted to bridge that gap by educating others through the Tipsy Taho podcast and Instagram account. She uses the podcast to provide a platform for Filipino-Canadians to have their voices heard. Because Capistrano and Regala were born in the Philippines, Melliza will “ask questions that maybe they wouldn’t think about.” Expanding on the importance of this, Melliza illustrated that “when people don’t know much about something, they just assume or they use stereotypes [ . . . ] but that’s not all we are. What I want the public to gain from this [podcast] is to see that we’re all so different.”
Capistrano expressed the same goal of using the podcast to bring more awareness to Filipino culture. Sharing what the community response has been like, she described a walk she took with Melliza, where they met Edwin Padilla, a Filipino musician from Laguna fundraising for Filipino earthquake survivors. “We were telling him about the podcast. He was excited with the fact that we’re trying to [recognize Filipinos] more,” Capistrano said.
On the same page about the podcast’s goals, Regala said, “The three things that I want people to take out of this [are to learn] a lot more about the culture and how we’re raised as Filipino and Filipino-Canadian, [be] aware of the talent that our Filipino community has to offer, [and resonate] with it.”
In addition to educating herself, Capistrano aims to reintroduce cultural traditions. Since the Philippines was a Spanish and American colony, some Filipino traditions are a combination of Indigenous knowledge and Western influence. For example, in Tipsy Taho’s second episode, “We Love Love: Kiligs, Haranas, and Getting in Our Filipino Feels,” they discussed the Spanish-influenced tradition called harana. It entails suitors or hired musicians serenading Filipinas. Similar to the harana, the kundiman, a Filipino love song that can also express patriotism, is a tradition that became less common during courting.
Inspired by her cultural values too, Regala incorporates utang na loob, which she sees as a debt of gratitude, into her role as a host. Regala was careful to stress that utang na loob has different meanings to different communities. For her, it means “you’re obligated to want to do something for someone, because they did something for you. You’re being a lot more selfless and a lot more giving.” Regala further explained that, based on her understanding of utang na loob, she “treat[s] [her] friends as if they’re family.” She takes that into the podcast host meetings, where she returns her friends’ support by being respectful of and grateful for their dedication.
Filipino representation in the media is also of interest to the hosts. Melliza noted that the entertainment industry has started to promote Filipino culture, such as in the shows Blues Clues and Ratched. She hopes to see the media actively “incorporating aspects of Filipino identity,” such as names and foods, to accurately portray Filipino characters. “[I think] using real Filipinos for characters that are Filipino [ . . . ] and honouring their Filipino identity in those characters [is] the first step,” she added.
Capistrano and Regala recognized the potential of social media to promote their culture and increase representation. Regala prefers “grassroots approaches,” such as podcasts, because these initiatives widen the scope to include a global audience.
Capistrano also discussed how Tipsy Taho provides opportunities for Filipinos to support each other and grow their media representation. On Instagram, Tipsy Taho celebrates Filipinos’ achievements and features local businesses. When asked about her message to the Filipino community in BC, Capistrano replied, “I want to be able to communicate and share our experiences, whether it’d be you being born here or being born back home [so] that we can have [and create] a community, a very strong Filipino community.”