#FirstTimeISawMe? I’m Still Waiting.

“Representation is important.” You hear this message all the time, just like you do with “Climate change is real” and “gender is fluid”. All of which are equally true, but it sometimes feels like they’ve lost their gravitas, merely being used as buzzwords to keep the message in the zeitgeist.

Thankfully, there are initiatives that come around that remind you that these aren’t just slogans sparking political debate – they’re real issues that greatly effect society now and for future generations to come. In this particular case, one such initiative is the #FirstTimeISawMe campaign, which encourages people to reveal which character first represented them in the media.

The hashtag is a collaboration between Netflix and all-around cool organization Black Girl Nerds. They released this video earlier this month, and hundreds of people took to Twitter to share their own firsts.

Answers ranged from older TV characters:

To those that resonate with a lot of millennials:

To the contemporary:

For a lot of people, coming up with an answer to this is viral hashtag is probably easy. Especially if you’re white. And a male. In which case, you probably haven’t thought beyond your answer to a simple question. But when I decided I should chime in too, I realized (or just became completely mindful of) the fact that there hasn’t truly been one character that I felt fully represented me as a female Filipino-American. I was having a difficult time coming up with an honest answer.

I’ve touched on this before in my Fresh Off The Boat post (why aren’t you watching it yet), but the first time I remember seeing an *Asian woman* on TV was in 1994, when Margaret Cho starred in All-American Girl, a short-lived sitcom that was cancelled after one season.

Fun fact: There was a plot line in Fresh Off the Boat in which Emery and Evan want to become actors, but their reluctant mom Jessica (played by the brilliant Constance Wu) says, “You’re not going to become actors. You think they’re going to put two Chinese boys on TV? Maybe if there’s a nerdy friend or a magical thing where someone wanders into a Chinatown, but no.”

Cut to the end credits when they’re watching an episode of All-American Girl, and Emery quips at his mom, “So, no Asians on TV?”

The show centered on U.S.-born Margaret (Cho) who lives with her Korean-American family in San Francisco. Her much more Westernized POV on life is in stark contrast to the traditional, Eastern values her family has, and of course, comedy ensues. Sure, I too am a first-generation child who has arguably taken up American culture more-so than my parents, but I’m not Korean.

This problem kept coming up anytime I’d try to see myself in any of my favorite TV or movie characters. I speak to my parents in English when they talk to me in Tagalog like Jane does with Abuela in Jane the Virgin, but I’m not Venezuelan. I enjoy hip-hop and grew up obsessing over music like Eddie on Fresh Off the Boat, but I’m not a Taiwanese male. I so hardcore related to Dev’s dynamic with his parents in Master of None, but I’m not an Indian male wannabe actor. If you took Lane Kim’s upbringing in a religious household (and tbh, Lorelai’s hot/cold relationship with her parents and knack for pop culture), you’d be pretty close to representing me – but I continue to not be Korean.

In fact, the only example I could come up with of even seeing Filipinos on TV at all is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – and that show just ended its second season. Overall, the show is superb and speaks to my interests of romance, comedy, tragedy, and musical theater, but moreover, for the first time, I saw a Filipino as a main character. And one that didn’t just ignore the fact that he’s Filipino. Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III) isn’t even a goofy sidekick. He’s the hot guy who is the one with the “crazy ex-girlfriend”. His name is literally in every episode title.

I already loved the show as soon as I finished the pilot, but what really turned the tide for me was the 6th episode titled “My First Thanksgiving with Josh”, written by comedy writer/actor and Filipino-American, Rene Gube (he also plays Father Brah). In this ep, Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) manages to get herself invited to Josh’s family Thanksgiving, despite the fact he’s still engaged to Valencia, who the Chans do not like that much. Because of this, Rebecca wants to impress his family as much as she can, which is why she teaches herself some basic Tagolog while cooking a traditional Filipino dish called Dinuguan (a stew with pork blood that I even refuse to eat).

Not sure what I was expecting, but I don’t think I ever expected to see a white actress learning Tagalog while making a Filipino dish on network TV. That is not a thing I ever expected would happen. But then the episode continues, and we meet the rest of his family including his dad, mom (played by Amy Hill, who was also the grandma on All-American Girl), and sisters Jayma and Jastenity (who have perfectly ridiculous Filipino names). Not to mention there’s an entire ROOM full of Filipinos, or Asians that act like they’re Filipino at least, eating a mix of American and Filipino food on Thanksgiving, just like I did growing up.

“I saved you the pork adobo and turkey skin, anak (child/something my parents and aunts and older relatives still call me to this day)” Mama Chan to Josh

Plus there’s the other line that Mrs. Chan says to Rebecca in yet another slight to Valencia, by saying, “We are so thankful God sent you to us”, a precursor for when Mrs. Chan later invites Rebecca to mass that same night. This isn’t a thing that I personally did with my family, but I will say that I grew up going to Filipino Bible Study, was super active in my Protestant church, and went to Catholic school my entire life. So yeah, my parents love the Lord and I understand the Chan’s church on Thanksgiving tradition.

Later in the season, we’re introduced to Josh’s aunt, played by Queen of the Philippines Lea Salonga, and we get to see even more of the Filipino culture when Josh’s sister Jayma gets married. The men, including Jayma’s Jewish husband, all wear traditional shirts called Barong Tagalog, which are lightweight and embroidered and worn at formal gatherings. Again, never in my life have I seen so many barongs on American TV. I never could have imagined this.

So all this to say, that’s what I tweeted. I said I’m still waiting for the one person in media that I can relate to wholeheartedly, but the Chans are the closest thing I got. And lo and behold, they responded:

Vinny also tweeted back and I unexpectedly started a Twitter convo between the Chan family. #FangirlGoals, amirite?

But through my own delve into how Filipinos/Asians/Females are represented in the media and seeing all the responses from other POCs on Twitter, it’s just a reminder that we still have so far to go. There are so many more stories to be told, especially in America, where not only are we a melting pot, but minorities are lit’rally taking over the country. According to a 2015 U.S. Census Bureau report, by 2020, “more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.” By 2060, the minority population is expected to rise to 56%, while the foreign-born population will reach 19% (that stat was 13% in 2014). Plus,  the population of bi-racial, or “two or more races” is projected to be the fastest-growing in the next four decades.

If this is the direction the U.S. is heading, doesn’t it just make sense for the media we consume to reflect the diverse makeup of this country? The more we see POCs in the media, the less likely we as a nation are to be culturally insensitive and racist. Just look at the LGBTQ community. Over the past two decades, the mere presence of characters like Willow and Ellen and Will Truman and Jack McFarland, Cam and Mitchell, have become part of pop culture history and “normalized gays” for those in the South or midwest or any area in the U.S. where being gay is considered against God’s will.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s the accurate portrayals of this community that have helped society embrace the real life gays and lesbians and transgendered folks we meet at work or in the grocery store. The same goes for all the POCs listed above – Brandy proved that she, too, could be a Disney princess in Cinderella (and get the handsome Filipino prince), America Ferrera inspired Latinas in both Gotta Kick It Up! and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as a smart, confident young lady, and Regina King showed in American Crime that wearing a hijab might just be a superpower to become a badass who never gives up on seeking justice. These characters don’t fall into negative stereotypes that have long been shown in film and TV, which can subsequently give viewers a false sense of these minority groups. If you’re a white woman living in a small town in Alabama where the population is 95% white and all you see are black people on TV who are gangsters and drug dealers, I’m going to assume there’s at least a small part of you (if not whole) that believes this stereotype to be true of all black folks. Whether you realize it or not, the negative portrayal of minorities leads to invisible (and possibly outright) racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., which is why we need to keep having conversations like #FirstTimeISawMe.

Not only do we get to see others’ personal experiences with representation in media, but it’s a reminder that when you forget about skin color for just one moment, these are people just like the people in your bubble, who are going through similar trials and tribulations. That’s not to say we should be completely colorblind, but rather encourage the acceptance and appreciation of all cultures, no matter how different they are from our own.

I’m grateful that I live in a time where I can see Filipinos (and minorities as a whole) being portrayed in an accurate light on screen, and it gives me positive reinforcement that we aren’t an afterthought. That we, too, have a place in this society, despite what the horrible actions and hate crimes of other Americans may say. It provides an intangible sense of belonging that no travel ban or affirmative action law can change. It gives us the ability to open up the dialogue and insist that there is always room for representation of all people on TV and film. Despite knowing all this, we can always do better. We have to do better. And we have the power to do so.  If you’re a storyteller, tell your unique story to the masses. Pen a script. Direct a movie. Write a blog post. Yeah, Representation Is Important. And who better to represent us than, well, us?

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TV Characters We Need Back In Our Lives: 2016 Edition

A great songwriter once summarized the way we feel when our favorite TV shows come back on the air after a summer hiatus:

What ever happened to predictability
The milk man, the paper boy evening TV?
You miss your old familiar friends

But miss them no longer – they’re waiting just around the bend: the best returning TV characters of Fall 2016:

Rebecca Bunch from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

We considered including Greg Serrano and Paula Proctor in this list, but ultimately we had to give it up for this great show’s leading lady. It’s not just that Rachel Bloom is a writer/creator/actress/singer/comedian/all around fantastic human. It’s also that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend hinges on the audience suspending disbelief – it’s a musical comedy after all – AND identifying with a protagonist who sounds pretty questionable on paper, what with moving cross-country to chase her camp boyfriend from 2005. Rebecca, though flawed, has to be relatable, professionally competent, and get the audience in her corner. Against the odds, you believe that Rebecca has her head in the wrong place and her heart in the right one, that she’s out of touch with reality yet the smartest person in the room.

Jessica Huang from Fresh Off The Boat

Roughly half of Jessica’s lines from Fresh Off The Boat remind me of all of the 90s moms I knew during my childhood. The rest are cut straight from my internal monologue. Jessica is exacting and confident, at turns assimilating her family into American culture and criticizing it. Jessica is a rare TV parent: neither the tough mom nor the fun mom, she is a welcome break from the smiling-while-head-shaking moms from paper towel commercials and CBS sitcoms. Just watch her getting obsessed with Melrose Place and imagining intrigues in her neighborhood, or tackling her school-aged son with a giant stuffed bunny to teach him not to date rape, or spouting off about prosperity perms and tell me she isn’t the most endearing and “aggressive yet elegant” sitcom mom there is.

As an aside, we love actress Constance Wu every bit as much as we love Jessica, and if you don’t yet, you should too.

Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers

It’s impossible to pick just one favorite Belcher, but I’m doing just that and it’s Tina. I have a comedic soft spot for characters who have no reason to be confident but are anyway, and that’s Tina. Plus it’s just fun to watch her and thank your lucky stars that you’re not in that horrible junior high not really a kid/not really a teenager stage any more.

Liza Miller from Younger

To paraphrase Death Cab for Cutie (we were 19 in 2006, ok?), we would follow Sutton Foster into the dark – or to TV Land. Yes, the channel where your dad watches Newhart has original programming now, and Younger is really good – kind of like a TV version of goldfish crackers, where you can consume it for a half hour and the time kind of just disappears. Liza is a 40-year-old restarting her career and passing as a 26-year-old in order to do it, which is plausible because Sutton Foster has a portrait in her attic that ages in her stead. Plus Hilary Duff is in it too, and you know we loved us some Lizzie McGuire.

Rogelio De La Vega from Jane the Virgin

I binge watched both seasons of Jane the Virgin this summer and totally got hooked, largely in part to the great writing, the outstanding acting, and the character that is Rogelio De La Vega. I’ve never seen a fake actor so egotistical yet so lovable at the same time, and I think that’s credit to Jamie Camil, who plays the Telenovela star. He has a way of saying Rogelio’s lines that make you almost sympathetic to him, before you realize what he’s actually saying – and what he’s saying is usually the most ridiculous. #RogelioMyBrogelio

Porsha from Empire

I had a few complaints about the second season of Empire, and one of them is that there wasn’t enough Porsha on the show. As Cookie’s assistant she should probably be by her side more, yet not as much as I wanted. She’s hilarious, always has good comebacks, and is the perfect complement to Cookie’s sassiness. Also, she’s an amazing rapper IRL.

Coliver from How To Get Away With Murder

I KNOW I’m not the only person who ships this couple, mainly because there are many Tumblr blogs and gifsets dedicated to this hot, sweet duo. Connor and Oliver are maybe my fave romantic couple on HTGAWM because they just care for each other so much. Connor may be more broody about his feelings while Oliver is more outright, but there’s no doubt they’re meant to be. And I’m just the creep who reblogs their romantic moments on the Internet, it’s fine.

Betty DiMello from Masters of Sex

Annaleigh Ashford. Annaleigh Ashford!!!! I’ve always admired her talents from after since she’s a Broadway staple, but her acting skills are stellar in this show as a prostitute turned experiment volunteer turned receptionist turned closest confidant. It’s been quite the arc for Betty and Annaleigh as well, and I still think she should be nominated for more awards.

Captain Ray Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Captain Holt has grown on me so much over the years, and in the best way he can, he’s opened up to the Nine-Nine slowly but surely too. Andrew Braugher does such a spectacular job showing emotion in an emotionless character, and I can’t wait to see what happens next for him and Jake come season four.

Taran Killam from Saturday Night Live

I’m in complete denial Taran isn’t coming back for the upcoming season, so we’re just going to pretend he’ll be back.

Shows You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Last-Minute Binge Edition 2016

Since it’s only the first week of September, old shows and new shows are slowly rolling out this month and next month. And you know what that means? You still have time to sneak in one last binge-watch before a new season premieres! But what is easy to catch up on and worth your time? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Traci’s Picks

For viewers who miss the camaraderie of The Office, the quirkiness of 30 Rock, and the community of Community: Superstore

Seasons to catch up on: 1

Next season begins: September 22nd at 8pm on NBC

Why you should be watching: Remember how the first seasons of The Office and Parks and Rec were a little slow moving but you knew they had so much potential? That’s what I felt about the first season of Superstore. It could also be because the executive producer used to be a writer at The Office. But like both those shows, Superstore is a workplace comedy about a rag tag bunch of folks who work at a Wal-Mart/big box type store. It stars America’s sweetheart America Ferrera and Ben Feldman, who I’ve decided I will watch anything he is in. There’s also a Filipino character that was prominently featured in the Olympics episode they aired a couple weeks ago, and that satisfies me greatly.

For people who liked American Crime Story, but also literally every human alive: American Crime

Seasons to catch up on: 2

Next season begins: 2017 (I’m cheating since this doesn’t come back until next year)

Why you should be watching: On the real, because this show is an anthology, you don’t even need to watch the two previous seasons. But you should anyways. The first season centers on a home invasion in California which leaves a war veteran dead and his wife seriously injured. The investigation and trial deals with issues of race, class and gender politics, and stars Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Lili Taylor and Regina King. All four of them return for the second season playing completely different characters. This time, the season is set in the midwest at a private and public high school, when two of the private school kids are accused of drugging and assaulting a guy from the public school. Issues of sexual orientation, class and more (which I don’t want to spoil) come into play. Both seasons are spectacular in their own ways and it’s one of those well-written, well acted, and socially important programs that I feel like everyone needs to watch.

For all Americans and Hamilton fans who are OK with modern music being used to score a show about true events in the 1800s: Underground

Seasons to catch up on: 1

Next season begins: 2017 (all the shows I want you to watch aren’t coming back until next year!)

Why you should be watching: I hate that Underground didn’t get the Emmy recognition it deserved, because it could easily have been nominated for writing, acting and directing. The story follows a group of escaped slaved called the Macon 7 as they attempt to make it to the North. With the feeling they’re going to be caught making you tense in every episode, along with the romance, unwanted romance, race relations and general drama throughout the first season, the 10-episode binge will not be hard to get through at all.

Molly’s Picks

For fans of musicals, comedy, musical comedy, and anybody who thought “that’s a sexist term” upon reading the show’s title: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Seasons to catch up on: 1

Next season begins: October 21

Why you should be watching: Did you watch Glee because you love people spontaneously bursting into song, but you wished it was actually funny even ONCE? Are your favorite SNL sketches the clever yet relatable songs like (Do It On My) Twin Bed or Back Home Ballers? Do movies like Ghostbusters or Sisters make you want to start a letter-writing campaign to all of the major studios asking for more of this, please? Do you like a good rom-com where the protagonist is torn between two appealing gentlemen? Are you into 90s junior high flashbacks? Hey. Come watch this show. You’re going to love it.

 Rebecca Bunch is a New York lawyer who moves to West Covina, California after a chance run-in with her camp sweetheart, Josh. There’s a lot of Rebecca trying to act chill and normal so Josh doesn’t think she’s, well, a crazy ex-girlfriend, often with the help of her buddy Paula, the coworker we all wish we had. Oh, and Josh is engaged to Valencia, a yoga-teaching Pinterest goal board come to life. But then there’s Greg, Josh’s friend who Rebecca should definitely end up with … or I mean, you should watch and form your own opinions.

For viewers who love psychological thrillers like Orphan Black, tech conspiracies, or handsome men who hate themselves: Mr. Robot

Seasons to catch up on: 2

Next season begins: 2017 (season 2 is in progress and ends later this month)

Why you should be watching: Like Orphan Black, I feel like you should watch the pilot and second episode then just TRY to stop watching. There are a few plot twists and it is best to watch unspoiled, which is why you should begin the show now instead of waiting until Season 3. Besides, then you won’t need to wonder how there are so many nominations for a USA show come Emmy night.

Largely spoiler free summary: Rami Malek plays Elliot, a lonely hacker with some degree of mental illness, an omnipresent black hoodie, a mild but appealing lateral lisp, and a vendetta against E Corp (a global conglomorate responsible for his father’s death from cancer when Elliot was a child). Elliot joins fsociety, a Coney Island-based hacker group that’s working to bring down E Corp. Standout characters : fsociety leader Mr. Robot, acerbic hacker Darlene, and Elliot’s childhood friend Angela (who, along with Rebecca Bunch, is one of the only lady lawyers on television who seems like a human).

For people who didn’t listen to us last year: Jane The Virgin

Seasons to catch up on: 2

Next Season Begins: October 2016

Why you should be watching: Last year, JTV was on our last-minute binge watching list with a caveat: we should have been watching it too, but we had to wait for season 1 to get to Netflix. Between then and now both of us have emerged from heavy JTV binges and are obsessed.

Jane The Virgin, like real telenovelas before it, rides the line between comedy and melodrama. The writing is sharp and the show is brilliantly styled, but the whole thing rests on the endearing and spirited performance of Gina Rodriguez. Her Jane is nothing like the character I imagined when I heard the “virginal pregnant 20-something” descriptor. If the concept sounded a little iffy to you, give it 2 episodes and prepare for your mind to change.

As an aside, I “watched” the first 15 episodes while I was painting the downstairs of my house, so I actually listened like it was a radio play. This show works perfectly for that viewing style if you have any big projects to tackle this fall (as long as you’re fluent in Spanish for the occasional captioned scene). Only downside: realizing half the characters look NOTHING like you imagined when you start watching for real.

Fall 2015 TV Rookies to Watch

This is Back To School Week in the United States, and nobody wants to be the new kid. But this is Back To TV week on Cookies and Sangria, and we are all about celebrating the new faces. These are actors you may not have heard of before, or who haven’t been on network TV much, but we have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot more of them. Think about it: all of the TV greats, from the cast of Friends to George Clooney to… I guess people who didn’t hit the big time in 1994? … were once “that new guy on that show.” Keep your eye on these newbies – one of them just may be the rookie of the year.

Priyanka Chopra in Quantico

tv trading card_priyanka

Previous Work: A lot A LOT of movies, making her one of Bollywood’s highest-paid actresses, singer, Former Miss World, Guess model, social media famous.

Why You Should Watch Her: Quantico, a show about a group of young FBI recruits, is Priyanka’s American television debut. She’s a star internationally, like an Angelina Jolie of India, so it’s about time she gets a big break in the U.S.

When You Can Watch Her: Sundays @ 10pm beginning on September 27th on ABC

Ryan Guzman in Heroes Reborn

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Previous Work: Pretty Little Liars, Step Up Revolution, Step Up: All In, The Boy Next Door

Why You Should Watch Him: He was JLo’s man candy in The Boy Next Door, Lucy Hale’s karate-kicking paramour in PLL, and now he’s in primetime as the resident hottie when the Heroes come back this month.

When You Can Watch Him: Thursday, September 24th @ 8:00p on NBC

Zoe Lister-Jones in Life in Pieces

tv trading card_zoelj

Previous Work: Fawn from New Girl; Lily from Whitney; literally all of the Law and Orders.

Why You Should Watch Her: Zoe has seriously made the canceled sitcom rounds, from Whitney to Friends With Better Lives to Bored to Death. That doesn’t mean that she’s unlucky, it just means that she must be immensely castable.  The new sitcom roster is pretty slim this year, but Life in Pieces looks potentially funny – a rare multicam CBS pilot that looks like it could be more reminiscent of NBC when it’s good.

When You Can Watch Her: Monday, September 21 @ 8:30 PM on CBS.

Stark Sands in Minority Report

tv trading card_stark

Previous Work: Lead in the original Broadway casts of American Idiot and Kinky Boots, Chasing Liberty, Inside Llewyn Davis,

Why You Should Watch Him: Stark has had a number of random roles on TV, but he’s most famous for being a two-time Tony nominee for his roles in Broadway smash hits. He plays the lead of Dash in Minority Report, which is a movie I’ve never seen, but apparently the TV show is about Stark as a Precog who has the ability to predict crimes. Not sure if I’ll understand the show, but I’ll get Stark’s enormous talent, for sure.

When You Can Watch Him: September 21st @ 9:00pm on FOX

Evan Ross in Wicked City

tv trading card_evan ross

Previous Work: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay (1 and 2); 90210; CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story

Why You Should Watch Him: If Evan looks a little familiar, he should. Maybe, like us, you enjoy dystopian teen novel adaptations and made-for-tv biopics. Perhaps you follow celebrity weddings and babies: his wife is Ashlee Simpson. Or maybe you just know a celebrity dynasty when you see one: his mother is Diana Ross, and his sister, Tracee Ellis Ross, is currently on Blackish. Anyway, talent and good looks run in the family and it looks like Evan has both. Besides, Wicked City looks pretty promising.

When You Can Watch Him: Tuesday, October 27 at 10:00 pm on ABC.

Donna Lynne Champlin  – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

tv trading card_donna

Previous Work: A whole lot of Broadway (Billy Elliot, Sweeney Todd, etc); a brief appearance in Birdman; several TV guest spots.

Why You Should Watch Her: Donna has some major theater credits, and if you’re wondering if that even translates to television, the answer is yes: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical comedy. She plays the lead’s coworker and I’m hoping for more than a lot of drama and more than a few solos: Champlin is an Obie and a Drama Desk winner. YouTube her, you’ll be impressed. [An aside: she also hails from our hometown of Rochester, New York.]

When You Can Watch Her: Monday, October 12 at 8:00 PM on the  CW.

Denise in The Muppets

tv trading card_denise

Previous Work: Head of marketing at Up Late With Miss Piggy

Why You Should Watch Her: After decades together, who could possibly wrestle Kermit’s affections from Miss Piggy? We NEED to know who this Denise is. Also: The Muppets will be a mockumentary-style comedy that looks like one of the only truly hilarious shows slated for a 2015 premiere.

When You Can Watch Her: Tuesday, September 22 at 8:00 PM on ABC