UC Irvine Alums Host “This Filipino American Life” Podcast

Elaine Dolalas and Michael Nailat reach a diverse, far-flung audience with their podcast, “This Filipino American Life.”
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

The couple founded the podcast in 2017 with friends Joseph Bernardo, a second-generation Filipino American, and Ryan Carpio, a Manila native who immigrated to the U.S. at age 7. Its hour-long episodes mix witty banter and in-depth interviews, with recent shows tackling such diverse subjects as a popular Filipina burlesque artist, urban gardening, and journalist Maria Ressa, an outspoken critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Nailat: What surprises us most—there are people who listen from other parts of the country, the South or the Midwest, also the Philippines and Australia and Europe. You start to think about the diaspora of Filipinos and where do they end up. We get people calling in from Iowa.

Dolalas: And Arkansas or Wyoming. You think, oh, there are Filipinos there? A lot of feedback we get is from listeners who say we are their cousins. It’s like a family party, and we are the cool cousins hanging out. I love that because whatever we’re saying, we come very much from a Southern California perspective, and folks are listening and hearing our stories.

Dolalas: For so long, Filipino American history was ignored. It’s a footnote in a U.S. history book. You only know about the Philippines from a line about the Spanish American War. You would never know about the Filipinos landing at Morro Bay or the settlements in Louisiana. We want to be able to create a space to document our history and our presence. I watch “Hamilton,” and I know the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” and it’s so true. Millions of years from now, when robots take over, maybe they’ll find these files and they’ll know our history.

Nailat: I think the biggest challenge was trying to find the right tone and approach. When we first started, it was like, oh, let’s record our conversations. But to do it in a way that’s compelling enough for people to want to listen to it and feel like we’re being genuine and authentic, and also a balance of intelligent and funny—it took us a while to find that right voice and sensibility. At first, we were very stiff. I would say it took us a good year to settle into just chatting the way we always do but also bringing people into the conversation.

Nailat: Both Elaine and I have Asian American studies degrees from UCI. Growing up, I understood my community to the extent that just naturally comes with being Filipino American, but I didn’t have a critical framework by which to more deeply understand it until college. When I got my degree in Asian American studies, my mom was like, “Why do you need a degree in this? You are Asian American.” I think it helped put this lens on my life and allowed me to think about what do these stories mean, and how do we put them together to advance our community and our culture?

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