Daily Tagalog and Comics - Dani Chuatico (The Alley)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
I’ll admit, I haven’t been the best Filipino over the last couple years. I grew up in a very different time in America, where assimilation was held above individuality. I lost my language and over the years grew up never speaking Tagalog at home. It all started in the 5th grade when I was placed in ESL by a teacher that mistook my accent for my inability to speak English. I spoke perfect English, albeit with an accent and occasionally throwing Tagalog words into my regular speech. My father was livid, but after that he began to teach me to cover up my accent, something he did when he first came to the United States, in 1980 that was unfortunately needed to gain employment and be taken seriously.
I’ve always felt a disconnect to my heritage, something I always envied in my friends who spoke their native language at home. It’s why when I stumbled across Dani’s twitter account and her 30 Days of Tagalog comic, something she released a page a day, I instantly resonated with it. So, I’m here to introduce Dani to you guys.
Justin Prince: Since it’s Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I wanted to introduce you all to Dani. Over the last month she’s been releasing a daily comic featuring Tagalog words/phrases. Dani, how important was this project to you and what originally inspired you to do this?
Dani Chuatico: Hiya! My Daily Tagalog series was actually a required assignment from one of my classes here at school. I’m currently taking my Masters and the project was to do a 30-day Challenge for social media. At first, I was thinking to do a gratitude journal but I thought that I just missed talking and hearing Tagalog and that’s how the Daily Tagalog series was born. It’s been fun to make and hear the feedback from other Filipinos. I appreciate hearing how people have been using it to communicate with others or reconnect with their roots, so it’s been a memorable project for me.
JP: Being a Filipino in the US, what are some aspects from the motherland you miss the most?
DC: My immediate thought was the food…I currently live in the South and where I live does not have as much variety. I miss the home-cooked meals, sinigang na hipon, adobong pusit, and kare-kare. I constantly dream of sisig...Besides food, I also miss the malling culture. I lived in Makati and time spent on the weekends was strolling in an airconditioned mall, watching movies with my family, and eating out. I also miss my family, of course! Hi, Dad! Hi, Quita!
JP: While Asian Americans are represented in media these days, the fact remains that many South East Asians, Filipinos included, are not as represented in the media. Going forward, what do you hope can change? What would you like to do to help foster than change?
DC: When it comes to American mainstream media, such as movies and television, it’s always nice to see Asian representation, but I believe mainstream media could always do better, especially when it comes to Filipino representation. I hope that one day, mainstream media properly reflect the diversity of the US and are able to not only represent Filipinos but have them work behind-the-scenes as key players, as directors, producers, and screenwriters.
As a comic creator, Filipinos are always the main characters of my stories and I believe it’s the best way I can contribute to representation. I cannot sit on my hands and wait for others to draw Filipinos when I can do it myself. I can’t say that my stories represent all aspects of being a Filipino but hopefully, my stories show a little bit about my home, how I was raised, and the culture behind it.
JP: I see that you are looking to pitch your first graphic novel, what are some challenges you’ve encountered with this project?
DC: Making comics has the tendency to being a long and tedious process and making a full graphic novel is no exception! I think that the biggest challenge that I’ve been facing is just managing the time to do it. Besides working on my Masters, which includes projects every week, I’m working on comics for anthologies and I work part-time as a graduate mentor. Setting aside time to do my graphic novel has been a struggle but I believe in my story and myself!
JP: How much of your own personal experience as a proud Filipino translates into your work?
DC: I believe that my best works are the ones that I’ve inserted my personal experiences. I frequently do autobiographical comics and all of them try to be personal and honest to what I’ve been going through, especially as a Filipino in the United States. All of my works have at least a little bit of myself in them. It makes things a little easier and a little more sincere.
JP: Shifting gears a little bit, what are your favorite Filipino dishes? Do you know how to make them as well?
DC: I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge fan of sinigang na hipon, kare-kare, adobong pusit, and sisig! I only know how to make sinigang and I have made it before! But it feels strange to eat it when I’m not surrounded by my family or when I cook just for myself. It doesn’t feel right not to share.
JP: Of course I said “dishes” because I can never pick just one, my faves are Kare Kare and Dinuguan. Living in Georgia, do you find it difficult to surround yourself with people from your heritage there?
DC: Ah, dinuguan is a classic but I’m not sure if I’ll make it anytime soon! Funny enough, there are two restaurants near where I live that I often go to that are filled with Filipino workers. I make sure to speak Tagalog there!
But in terms of my daily life as a grad student, I only know a handful of Filipinos who are undergrads or studying different fields, but none of them are specifically Sequential Arts graduate students like me. Although, some of my closest friends here are South East Asian and we carry ourselves with pride in our heritage!
JP: How often do you speak Tagalog these days? Has working on your comic helped foster a closer connection to your heritage?
DC: I don’t speak it enough! I have family back in Atlanta and my tendency is to switch immediately back to Tagalog once I am home. I see them every vacation in between my school quarters but it’s not enough Tagalog-speaking time for me!
I think working on my comic has been a nice exercise to briefly remember the fun phrases I used to be able to use all the time, joking around with my friends back at home. They’ve been a reminder about the rich experiences I’ve had prior to coming here to the States and that I have a beautiful and fun culture I carry around at all times.
JP: What do you hope people can get from your comic?
DC: I honestly didn’t expect much reaction to my comic! I just thought it was fun to do, so I’m especially happy from the feedback I’m getting from those who are reconnecting with the language and using my comics to connect to others.
Now, I just hope that people get a tiny bit of joy when they learn a new Tagalog word or remember a silly Tagalog phrase. I hope it helps them remember good memories and create nice new ones!
JP: Looking at the reception of it, you have received lots of positive reaction to it. Do you think you’ll make it into a physical book people can buy? (because I totes would).
DC: Hopefully! I haven’t self-published in a while so it would be a fun project to print (once I have the budget agh!).
JP: How do you manage balancing your life? From art to your job to releasing this daily comic, it must keep you quite busy.
DC: I’m barely managing, to be honest! Every day always comes along with a full to-do list and I’m always on my toes. Although I do prioritize getting my work done, I always try to make time to hang out with my friends or catch a movie and it gets frustrating when I don’t even have time for that. During hardships, I just try to remind myself that I’m very lucky and privileged to be where I am now. I’m grateful to be busy with art work to do than sitting around in an office cubicle.
JP: Outside of creating art and comics, what are some hobbies you enjoy that don’t involve holding a pen or stylus pin your hand?
DC: Since I’m getting my Masters in comics, majority of my life is really just making comics or consuming comics. If I’m not drawing or writing them, I’m reading them and I still don’t think I’m reading them enough! I have been considering getting into other hobbies since it’s probably not healthy to have your mind revolve around one thing constantly. I used to do a lot of film photography in high school and I made movies in my undergrad.
I guess my main other hobby would be watching movies and tv shows. I really love a good movie and a good dramatic tv show. I also like to think that watching movies/tv shows helps you make better comics (everything is comics!).
JP: Then touching on comics, what are some books you’ve read that resonated with you?
DC: On a western graphic novel end, Young Frances by Hartley Lin was a recent favorite (he’s also Asian, I believe!). There’s also Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten that just talks a lot about imposter syndrome and what it means to really create art. I’m also a big fan of PEOW Studios books, such as Rule Break by Anna Syvertsson and Painfully Embarrassing Otaku Weekend by Jane Mai!
I still read a lot of manga though and my recent favs are Our Dreams at Dusk by Shimanami Tasogare and rereading Genshiken by Kio Shimoku has been eye-opening!
At the same time, I want to say I wish I had access to the minicomics and zines I could buy back in the Philippines since there’s so much talent and stories being told that aren’t fulfilled by the books I can buy in a bookstore here or on Amazon.
JP: If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
DC: My piece of advice would be to keep creating stories and keep making comics. I realized very late in my life that comics was what I wanted to pursue and if I had a mentor or someone to look up to in comics earlier, I probably would have begun my pursuit of comics as a career sooner. I just hope now that the art that I do and the art that my other Filipino colleagues are doing are an inspiration and an indicator that Filipino women can pursue comics as a career. With social media and the internet, there’s just so much more access and exposure to that and it makes me really excited and happy for young creators.
JP: In closing, do you have any projects you’d like to plug and share with our audience? What’s next for you Dani? Any projects you can actively talk about yet?
What’s next for me is probably just working hard at getting my Masters degree and getting my graphic novel pitch picked up!
My graphic novel, tentatively titled, “Long Time, No See”, is a young adult coming-of-age story about a young office worker pursuing her dreams to become a comic artist. Crossing my fingers that it gets picked up soon!
JP: Thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me, I love your work and can’t wait to see what you do next!
What a way to celebrate the month eh? Heritage is so important and I feel blessed that I could reconnect with it in such an interesting way. Make sure to check out Dani’s work! Her website is here.