When Crazy Rich Asians hit theatres in 2018 (and promptly made breakout stars of its cast), "representation" seemed to be the buzzword of the year. The conversation reverberated beyond Hollywood circles, and for Los Angeles jewelry designer Jella Roson, it's exactly what inspired her to create her passion project, In the Heart Stories.
Roson immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 6 and was raised in Glendale. She grew up in a Filipino community but didn't feel connected to heritage until college. "All of my mom's friends are Filipinos; I always grew up with Asian friends. But it wasn't until [I went to UC Santa Barbara] when I saw that there's so much more [to the culture] than going to church or Filipino friends' houses."
Roson started attending more Filipinx cultural events through Kapatirang Pilipino, the university's Filipino heritage club. After working at UCSB for several years, Roson founded her jewelry line and relocated to L.A.
Fast forward to a few years ago: "A friend had said to me, 'There's no Filipinos in the media,' and I got really defensive," Roson tells UncoverLA. "I was watching a lot of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at the time and the male lead [Vincent Rodriguez III] was Filipino," she says. At that time, Filipino fare had already gone mainstream in the food world, and L.A.'s own foodie hot spots included Egg Slut, LASA, and Rice Bar, to name a few. Roson could easily rattle off more names of Fil-Am insiders outside of entertainment to share with her friend.
That's when In the Heart Stories was born. "I thought, What if I created a website that would highlight that Filipino Americans are everywhere and they do everything; they're not just the stereotypical nurse or dancer," says Roson. The online platform has been somewhat of a full-circle moment for the L.A. jeweler, who spent her spare time in high school creating punk rock 'zines with friends and entered UCSB as a Communications major ("they didn't have a journalism major," says Roson) before switching to Asian-American Studies.
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Tess Paras @tessparas is an actor, writer, director, producer based in Los Angeles. Known for her roles on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Grimm, Take My Wife, Tess is now creating her own space and is discussing her personal experiences. Her current project, @thepatientsfilm , is a film about a Filipino American immigrant family that is learning to heal through trauma in the time of the #MeToo movement. The Patients tackles the subject of a young woman who experienced a "bad fight" and the subsequent repercussions. It shares the story of relationships within the family, coping, seeking help, and supporting each other. An inclusive film, The Patients holds a Fil Am main cast and a diverse supporting cast, with a crew behind the camera that are women, persons identifying as LGBTQIA, and/or AAPI. This is about sharing Asian American and Filipino American experiences that are not always told, validating our community, and being seen. To support, check the link below and read more about Tess and her work. Tess is driven and strong, taking up space and telling her stories. #intheheartstories #pinay #thepatientsfilm #filam #filipinoamerican
In the Heart Stories' interview subjects have ranged from podcasters to producers to professors and spanned across ages and industries, including fashion, public health, music, food, art, and beyond. A few past profiles of SoCal-based talents include Barbie Signature designer Carlyle Neura (whose fashion line was featured in Please Do Not Enter's Filipinx-focused Pulo Project exhibit), actor Tess Paras, Café 86 co-owner Ginger Dimapasok, a cappella group The Filharmonic, and author/activist Dr. Kevin Nadal, to name just a handful.
We recently caught up with Roson to learn more about her own career journey, how becoming a mother has inspired her to take her activism up a notch, and her favorite Filipino eateries in L.A. Read on below, and check out In the Heart Stories here.
First off, how'd you get into designing jewelry?
I got into jewelry design after my wedding. I had focused a lot of my creative energy towards the wedding and afterward, I felt the need to keep creating. Outside of hikes on the Santa Barbara bluffs and taking photos, I began playing around with jewelry I owned and ideas. A friend I met at Unique L.A. is a metalsmith and taught me the basics and I went from there creating light pieces that reflect love.
Prior to Honey My Heart, I was working at UCSB, first as an assistant in the Center for Middle East Studies, then as a research group manager in Engineering. The former had a lot of events and opportunities to learn, the latter was rigid and routine which made it easy to decide to pursue jewelry full time. This was 2012 when I moved back to L.A. to start a family.
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As a Non Black WOC, I recognize the privileges that I hold, a personal one of them being not having trouble/being questioned by security/authorities. I also hold a sense of safety and comfort in the neighborhoods and communities I frequent. And it pains me that this is not the same for the Black community. With all that is happening, it is important to be united against racism and the injustices of the Black community and dismantle anti blackness in the Asian Am community and break the cycle of colorism. Please take a moment to sign the petition, call the MN govt, donate to @blklivesmatter and @mnfreedomfund ❤️ #georgefloyd #breonnataylor #amaudarbery #tonymcdade #filipinaoxforblacklives this image is by @kalamendoza
As America is facing its own racial reckoning, many Asians — myself included — are also re-examining whether they've played the "model minority" role or prioritized their proximity to Whiteness. How have recent events affected you in your personal life and your advocacy work?
I always knew that I was different [as an immigrant so] I didn't want to stand out. As I was growing up, my dad [would point out the hardships of other minorities] — he was like, Look at the Black people, they'll say something; Latinx people, they also have to shoulder the burdens of [systemic racism].
Now, I think it's the sense of, I've not been profiled or stopped by police; I've not had the hardships that the Black community has, so I have to try to start to do more. Especially once I had my daughter — she has to see she's not just [half-]White; she has to see that she's Filipino too. I knew mixed kids in college and they would only identify as White. I don't want my kids to feel bad that they're White, either.
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Creating Filipino Soul Food, Chef and Owner @a.c.3.000 is at the helm of Rice & Shine. A Filipino American pop-up dining experience, Rice & Shine @riceandshineeats began as a series of pop up brunches in 2014 around Long Beach and LA with sinigang lumpia, longanisa scotch eggs and ube mochi waffles. They have events like Brunch Club, Kamayan Feast, Wu-Tang Clan themed dinner, weddings, and make an amazing ensaymada butter. Rice & Shine believes "that the soul of Filipino food is at the family table" and AC is doing it for family and to keep his father's legacy alive, "what food means to me is the memories of my childhood, the memories of where food is love." And so he continues to build and grow, with BAON, a new Filipino lunch counter in Downtown LA, and is opening a restaurant, pop up venue, and community space (and home to Rice & Shine Catering) in Long Beach at the end of summer. #intheheartstories #riceandshinebrunch
What do you hope In the Heart Stories readers — particularly those who are Filipinx — take away from your profiles?
I hope they see a little bit of themselves in it and find the beauty in their identity as Filipino Americans. I wanted to provide a platform for people to be seen and maybe see themselves, or their friends in it [and realize], I could actually do anything or do whatever job I want. I love interviewing someone and then people I know start following them on social media because it grows the community.
Being a fellow Filipina, it was a trip for me to see foodies discover "Flip" cuisine a few years ago. What was it like for you to see familiar dishes get the celeb chef treatment?
The boom in Filipino food was really cool. For example, I've never had sisig (a pork and chicken liver dish) in a burrito. We went to LASA once and they had the best adobo. I attended a Filipino food panel once and while it was very cool to see White people learn about it, and it's also frustrating to see Filipinos say, "Why is it so expensive?" To me, it's different because [they offer a unique and new spin] — they made vegan Kaldereta, [a traditional goat meat stew] and there's usually only two vegetables.
Speaking of food, where are some of your favorite Filipino restaurants in L.A.?
I really like Hi-Fi Kitchen, they have a lot of fun bowls like the La'ing bowl, which made with taro leaves. I also really like The Park's Finest; their barbecue is so good. Crème Caramel is my favorite dessert place; [the founder] Kristine [de la Cruz] started it the same time I went to Artisanal L.A. and she was selling flan. She only had regular flavors at that time.