by Saleah Blancaflor, AsAmNews Contributor
When Nicole Salaver started the Cultural Kultivators podcast, she did it to highlight the Filipino Americans pushing the culture and the community forward. But her main inspiration was her young son, who she calls her “North Star.”
“Every episode I do is like a love letter to my son,” Salaver said in an interview with AsAmNews. “I think about him when I’m formulating the questions. I think about him when I’m picking the guests. I think about him when I’m even writing the intro and outro scripts, and writing my reflection of each episode, and what I’ve learned through the conversation.”
When Salaver found out she was pregnant with her son in late 2021, she relocated from New York, where she had lived for a decade, back to the Bay Area to be closer to family. Not long after, she got a job as the program manager at Kultivate Labs — a San Francisco-based nonprofit economic development and arts organization — where she pitched the idea to founder and executive director Desi Danganan.
“For [Nicole], it was important that Filipino Americans who are creatively inclined see that there are mentors and models in our community for them to follow,” Danganan said. “Oftentimes, when we grow up, our parents — being conservative and pushing us into professions of nursing, engineers, so on and so forth — they never see the creative profession as an actual, viable path. So I think that’s why she really wanted to create the Cultural Kultivators podcast series to really shine a light on all of these different kinds of mavericks in the creative fields.”
The podcast, which premiered in May, features guests like rapper Ruby Ibarra, Blue’s Clues host Joshua Dela Cruz, chef Frances Tariga-Weshnak, singer-songwriter AJ Rafeal, and soccer player Sarina Bolden. The most recent episode which debuted last week and kicked off Filipino American History Month, featured writer and Filipino-American Development Foundation executive director Gayle Romasanta.
In the former episode, Romasanta discussed her 2018 book Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, the process behind her latest project, Larry: The Musical as well as her experience working in the community.
“My daughter was doing a report on famous people in history and she had a long list of people she could choose from and nobody there was Asian American and nobody was obviously Filipino,” Romasanta said on the episode, referring to why she decided to write a book and musical about Itliong, a Filipino American labor organizer. “I could’ve sworn there was a book about him, and I Googled and was floored to find out there was nothing about him online. There were no books. There wasn’t anything. So I was trying to problem-solve how to get this history to my own children.”
In an episode with Chef Franches, which premiered on Aug. 23 and was co-hosted by guest hosts Kristen Brillantes and JP Reyes, Franches spoke about her career trajectory from working in Dubai’s royal family kitchen, cooking in New York City’s culinary scene and making several TV appearances. She also opened up about growing up queer, breaking through the stigma of mental health in Filipino culture and creating joyful spaces for future Filipino American generations.
“I feel, like, for the last 15 years I was in survival mode,” Chef Franches said during the episode, talking more in-depth about therapy. “My therapist kept telling me ‘You’re not in that situation anymore. You’re ok now.’ But as an immigrant — I started from zero. Nobody helped me. My siblings. I remember back in the day, I told my siblings ‘Yo, help me out. I want to come to America!’ They said ‘I don’t know. You’re not a nurse. I can’t help you.’ So that’s why I went to Dubai.”
Salaver tries to invite podcast guests who have a growth mindset and understand that it takes a village and community to do what they do. She wants to speak to people who not only want to represent Filipinos but are proud to be Filipino.
She added that many mainstream podcasts — like NPR — don’t usually feature many Filipinos being interviewed unless they’re a bigger name.
“I wanted to give a platform to Filipinos so we can go deeper,” Salaver said. “So we can talk about what really matters to them and how they go to where they are now, and allow them the platform to say what they want to say, and that they usually can’t say on mainstream media interviews.”
“For a really long time, especially being children of immigrants, we are taught that we have to struggle in order to succeed in order to make money,” Salaver added. “I’m hoping this podcast can give light to the ways that people don’t have to struggle to rely on patterns that were taught to us, but maybe open them up to patterns in being of abundance, passion, and love for what they do.”
Salaver said at the end of the day, the energy and passion she puts into the podcast goes back to her son and how she wanted to create this gift for him.
“I put so much love into these episodes in hopes that one day, he’ll get to understand all the things that I’m doing now is for him,” Salaver added. “I’m planting seeds, opening these doors for him and his generation, to know that anything is possible. And they can achieve anything, regardless of what other people including white supremacists have told them. It’s hopefully a beacon of hope for Filipinos.”
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