Karenderya: How a Filipino Restaurant in Nyack Made it to Esquire Magazine’s Best Restaurants in America 2018

Karenderya, a Filipino inspired restaurant, opened its doors in the suburban village of Nyack in July 2017.

Last November, the fast casual restaurant was named in Esquire Magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America 2018 list.

According to Esquire, “In the future, we pray, thousands of small towns in America will have Filipino restaurants as excellent as this one, with adobo pork belly braised to crispy meltiness atop garlic rice, and shrimp aswim in a coconut broth that tastes like French cream, and a cassava-jackfruit cake that comes across like a cobbler in which the topping and the filling have magically merged, and a smart beer list that highlights the best of Hudson Valley breweries.”

The owners, Paolo Garcia Mendoza and Cheryl Baun, were beyond thrilled.

Karenderya is located at 248 Main Street in Nyack, New York.

“That was completely crazy, totally unexpected,” Cheryl said, remembering the moment. “It was a validation, not that we needed one because we’ve known that this food is good all along. Not our food in particular but Filipino food in general. It feels like a win for our culture and for Filipino food.”

Indeed, chalk it up as a major win.

Business tripled, quadrupled even as people began to flock to Karenderya to see what the fuss was about. How could this small gem of an eatery in Nyack nab a place in the esteemed magazine’s Best New Restaurants in America list?

But first we asked them, how did it happen?

Jeff Gordinier, the food and drinks editor of Esquire, is a local in the area and he went to the restaurant.

“I recognized when he first came in because I follow him on Instagram,” Cheryl recalled. “He did introduce himself, he was a very friendly guy and we started chatting. The restaurant wasn’t busy at the time so we talked about the food and it was a nice conversation.”

That was the end of it, or so she thought. Here was a nice guy with his family eating our food.

Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce

“It never occurred to us that he would ever write about us. The best that I hoped for was maybe he would post something on Instagram. I would have been so happy with that,” Cheryl shared.

A few months later, the magazine contacted them for a possible feature.

“That was a huge shock when it came out,” she remarked. “It’s still so hard to believe.”

They were expecting a restaurant listing, or maybe even a part of a feature on Hudson Valley restaurants. What they did not expect at all was their Karenderya being named as one of the Best New Restaurants in America for 2018.

“It’s a big deal, a huge deal. Isipin mo, hindi lang New York City, or Hudson Valley ang coverage, hindi lang east coast. It’s the whole America!,” Paolo exclaimed.

A trio of appetizers: asparagus, lumpia and PEI mussels

After Esquire

“We see more Filipinos now that we have gotten some attention,” Cheryl said smiling. “It almost seems like it is more validation for the Filipinos who might have been skeptical.”

The restaurant’s clientele has always been very diverse, from locals who were not familiar with the food at first, to regulars who come from the neighborhood, to day trippers from New York and New Jersey who make the drive during the weekends.

Growing roots

More than two years ago, Cheryl and Paolo decided to open a space in Nyack, a village in Rockland County that is about 20 miles north of Manhattan. Paolo as the chef would be in charge of the kitchen while Cheryl would handle some of the business side, including dealing with community and media.

Shrimp Adobo, cooked with rice vinegar/coconut milk broth, yams and served with crispy shallots

Cheryl grew up in the Rockland County area while Paolo grew up in Manila. They moved back to the area when their son was born.

“We chose this town because it is a very artsy town. We knew that if we were to open a restaurant, it would be here in Nyack. Parang ito yung Brooklyn ng Rockland County,” they said.

They chose the name as homage to the Filipino carinderia, which are market or roadside eateries in the Philippines.

The couple saw that opening a Filipino restaurant in the area is an opportunity for them “to share our food, but more than that, we want it to be a gathering place.”

Bicol Express (pork braised in spicy coconut milk).

That is how Karenderya has been in the past year, a place where people would come in and have a full experience, eat well, enjoy the food and feel the welcoming space. It is a place where couples can have drinks and still bring their kids, they can eat and linger if they want while the kids play in one corner.

“We serve the food that we love. If you’re Filipino and you look at our menu, you’d see a lot of things that are familiar. Occasionally, you’ll see some things with a twist,” Cheryl said.

On their menu are silog bowls, from the traditional tapa and longganisa to chicken tocino and pork ribs adobo. For first timers who are not familiar with Filipino food, these dishes can be served as a sandwich and they will get the same full Filipino flavors.

Adobo Pork Belly (pork belly braised in soy, vinegar and garlic and served with hard-boiled egg)

Paolo previously worked in fine dining restaurants and he knew that when he opened his own, it would be relaxed, casual and comfortable place for everyone to enjoy, including families with small children.

He insists on serving some traditional dishes and mixes it up with his creations. An example of this would be their pork ribs sinigang. It does not look like sinigang at all but when you taste it, all the flavors of the dish are there.

His secret for the dish? No sinigang mixes, he uses tamarind puree, which makes the broth a little darker. He sears off the meat as well, which gives it the dark brown color and more flavor.

The dark Pork Ribs Sinigang (pork ribs in sour tamarind broth, bok choy, long beans, served with rice)

“I have to give props to Cendrillon because they were the first ones to do this. I don’t want to use the word elevate. Sila yung pioneers ng modern Filipino cuisine,” Paolo said.

Karenderya is Paolo’s first Asian restaurant. He previously worked in restaurants that focused on French and new American cuisine and his last job was a sous chef at Roost, a restaurant in Rockland. He also interned at Tabla, owned by Floyd Cardoz.

When he started studying culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in 2003, Cendrillon was the only Filipino restaurant in the city and as early as then, Paolo has dreamt of opening his own Filipino place some day.

Years later, Maharlika and Jeepney opened and people started talking about Filipino food. He knew the timing was good. He quit his job and they opened Karenderya.

Weekend Special: Kare Kare

Two years in and the couple are working extra hard to keep the restaurant running. They know that it is a tough business, and they are prepared. The couple is thankful that Esquire played a major role in their journey so far and made things a tad easier for them.

From “getting work permits, paper work, food cost and providing high quality dishes to handling staff and customers,” Cheryl and Paolo’s hands are full, facing day to day operational challenges.

“People ask us ‘when are you opening in this place or that place’ and we don’t really think of it that way. We just try to think of how to make this the best that it can be. You can always make something better.

Our guess our dream for this restaurant is to just be the best in that, and make sure that people have a great experience from the moment they walk through the door and the time they leave,” Cheryl said.

Getting to know Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment

“DON’T go in with a pre-conceived idea of what you think you are going to do.”

That was Anne del Castillo’s quick response when I asked about her advice for young people of color who want to be in her shoes someday.

Del Castillo is the new Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment after getting appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 17, 2019.

Anne del Castillo, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment on her appointment: “I am honored to accept the Mayor’s appointment, and grateful for the opportunity to continue to work with MOME’s dedicated team to support the development of New York City’s creative sectors and nightlife industry.”

Born and raised in New York, del Castillo joined the commission’s legal department five years ago when then-Commissioner Cynthia Lopez tapped her to join the team. A year later, she was appointed as Chief Operating Officer.

“That was huge. I had only been here for a year and I had no previous government experience,” del Castillo told the Asian Journal.

Which was why she had to learn the ropes fast. She served as General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of MOME since 2015, helping structure and advance several groundbreaking workforce and diversity initiatives.

Now as Commissioner, del Castillo will amplify MOME’s efforts not only to strengthen the city’s media and entertainment economy but to ensure that the workforce in those industries is as diverse as New York City itself. 

“Media and entertainment are central to New York City’s economy and identity. Anne has the vision and experience to continue to strengthen the industry during this time of unprecedented growth and change,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Her commitment to diversifying our entertainment sector and piloting innovative programs will ensure New York continues to be the media capital of the world.”

Looking back

We met up with Commissioner del Castillo in her office downtown a day before she celebrated her first month in office.

“It has been great. I can’t think of a better way to transition into this role, coming with the opportunity of working in the agency for the past five years and then coming from the industry, I worked in film and television for over 20 years, so I feel well prepared and conditioned to take on the role,” del Castillo said.

“It’s definitely a privilege and an honor. To be in a position where I can leverage my life’s work in the service of building the industry for New York City is quite an honor and not one that I take very lightly,” she added.

Del Castillo is the fourth Filipina American to be appointed by Mayor de Blasio in key city posts. From Maria Torres Springer (former commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the nation’s largest municipal housing agency) to Carmelyn Malalis of the Commission on Human Rights and Minerva Tantoco as the city’s Chief Technology Officer.

“I never ever thought that I’d be in this position. It’s a privilege and a very significant responsibility that I feel every day. It’s not just because I am Filipina that I feel like diversity is important in the industry,” she said. “New York City is an incredibly diverse city and I had the benefit…if I had grown up Filipina anywhere else, it would be a very different experience.”

As Commissioner, del Castillo leads the de Blasio administration’s effort to capitalize on the burgeoning augmented reality and virtual reality industries. She also leads outreach to the advertising industry to help foster career pathways for New Yorkers of all backgrounds, and oversee the work of the recently formed Office of Nightlife to ensure the sustainable development of nightlife in New York City.

“This is an exciting time for our agency to engage a broad cross-section of industry, community and other key stakeholders to advance an inclusive, sustainable and thriving creative economy that benefits all New Yorkers and reflects the diversity that defines our city,” del Castillo said.

Del Castillo joined MOME after more than 20 years in film production, public media, and non-profit administration. In 2014, del Castillo was appointed as director of legal affairs of MOME and was promoted to chief operating officer and general counsel in 2015.

Major initiatives

The commission has just announced some of its major initiatives it is working on, including the New York Music Month for June, Broadway in the Boroughs, Movies Under the Stars throughout New York city parks and the One Book, One New York, which is the largest community read in the country.

Del Castillo has served as the acting commissioner of MOME since February 2019 and during her tenure, she helped develop and launch mentorship and training programs to increase industry diversity and the Made in NY Women’s Film, TV and Theatre Fund, which is distributing $5 million in grants to women filmmakers and playwrights. She also helped establish the first of its kind Freelancers Hub to create a central resource for freelance workers.

“For my long term plans, we are looking at how do we support the growth of these industries, whether through business or career pathways or job creation but really with an eye towards diversifying the media and entertainment sector at every level,” she explained.

She plans to do that through career exposure in schools, internships, and job trainings to make sure that every New Yorker has an opportunity to benefit from this thriving industry.

The commission is also looking at ways in order to ensure that New York City remains to be the media capital of the world, and a couple of ways of doing that is looking through the areas for industry growth and create that talent pool that would keep companies wanting to come to the city.

MOME has recently expanded from supporting the film, TV, and theatre industries to supporting the music, publishing, advertising and digital media industries as well. These industries account for a total of 305,000 jobs and an economic output of $104 billion. MOME also encompasses NYC Media, the City’s official broadcast network and the Office of Nightlife.

“Our portfolio has expanded to include music, advertising, publishing and digital content and we are mandated to support those creative sectors which comprise 300,000 jobs and 104 billion in economic output for the city,” del Castillo said.

Tracing roots

Del Castillo worked with Ramona Diaz in her documentary film Imelda and she excitedly shared how they met.

She was then working at the Austin Film Society and Diaz has just moved there. She saw Diaz on the cover of Austin Chronicle along with other documentary film directors who del Castillo knew.

“I asked her for her number from a friend and I called her and said ‘Hi! You’re Filipino and I’m Filipino, too. I would like to meet you’,” del Castillo said laughing.

So they met and talked about their projects, including the Imelda Marcos documentary and del Castillo got on board, doing transcriptions initially and when Diaz eventually got the grant, she took del Castillo in as an associate producer.

“It was amazing. I don’t think I fully appreciated it in that moment buts he entrusted me with a lot. This was a big film for her and for her to trust me, it was remarkable,” she added.

Del Castillo recalled getting the opportunity to work in the Philippines to do the archival research for the film, at the Philippine Film Archives sifting through hours and hours of footage. She fondly recalled texting Diaz when she found Imelda dancing with Khaddafi and Henry Kissinger.

Del Castillo makes it a point to visit her mother Rachel’s hometown in Isabela, Negros Occidental whenever she gets a chance. She was a nurse who took a chance and went to New York, eventually raising Anne as a single mother.

“I don’t get back as often as I’d like because my mom is here and it’s hard to get that kind of time off. Thank God for Facebook, that’s where I get to catch up with my cousins who I love dearly,” she said.   

Fil-Am boy launches, signs his books at Barnes & Noble

Alex and Ethel Quintos of Bloomfield, New Jersey are both proud and excited that their youngest son, 6-year-old Jan has published a book.

Jan Alexander Quintos

A book launch and an autograph signing session happened at Barnes & Noble in Clifton last April 28 for the book “I Am Jan Alexander,” written and illustrated by Jan, who is in kindergarten.

The book has three short stories with illustrations on every page which Jan himself had sketched.

Jan is the youngest among their three siblings, following Alexa, 13 and Josh, 7.

“It’s all about a day in school, going on a vacation and getting lost in a zoo,” Jan said as he talked about his book, adding that he likes both drawing and writing stories.

He fondly remembers the April 28 Barnes & Noble event. “So much people came and I signed their books,” Jan said.

Alex and Ethel with their son Jan 

Alex revealed that it was Alexa who has compiled about 45 pages of text and when he saw her writings, he asked her if she wanted to publish it so the family could have it as a souvenir.

“She said no right away. Jan heard it and said he has a lot of stories and drawings and he wanted to put them in a book,” Alex shared. “I didn’t take it seriously because he is only six years old.”

Alex soon realized how much Jan wanted it when his son would call him on his phone, ask when he’d be home, followed with a question on when will he have his book. Alex then asked around and found a publisher in Ex-Libris. He emailed the publishers, sent the manuscript and illustrations and got the book published.

“I’m very proud, hilig na niya talagang mag draw even before pa,” Jan’s mom Ethel said.

Aside from writing and drawing, Jan is also into basketball and playing drums and piano, which comprise his daily routine as a kid. He also wanted to do karate but Alex and Ethel said no because he already has too much on his plate.

There are more books being planned, including a sketch book and a coloring book. In fact, Jan’s second book is already in the works and this time, it’s called “Have You Seen Jacob?”

This book has three stories as well, about how to eat fruits and vegetables, all about gym and tablet, each one with a lesson for kids. 

“We’re very happy with the overwhelming support, specially at the Barnes & Noble signing. We had friends and family but we saw a lot of strangers as well,” Alex said.

As parents, the couple said they’re there for their kids to support and guide. “Whatever makes them happy, we’re here. Mahirap pilitin kapag hindi gusto,” Alex said.

Paulo Tirol’s ‘On This Side of the World’: From a school project to a full musical experience

Paulo Tirol started writing On This Side of the World in 2013, in his first year of his MFA in Musical Theatre Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. It was for a class that started with the simple instruction: choose a community of people that you are interested in, that can inspire a song cycle — i.e., a collection of songs — which you will build over two years.

“For my community, I chose the Filipino immigrant community in the US. It was a community I was a part of and familiar with, being a Filipino immigrant myself, and had many Filipino immigrants for friends,” Tirol shared. “And also because it was something unique to me—something only I could write.”

The cast of On This Side of the World: Michael Protacio, Jaygee Macapugay, Diane Phelan, Kevin Schuering, Joanne Javien, and Albert Guerzon. | Photo © Lia Chang

Between then and now, the project has evolved but the idea has remained the same: songs inspired by the Filipino immigrant experience in the US.

That idea has taken on so much more depth and breadth than when he started because in the beginning stages of the project, Tirol’s Filipino immigrant community comprised of fellow grad students, medical professionals, and artists in Boston, where he had spent a year before moving to New York for grad school.

Over the years since 2013, his community has expanded dramatically.

“I lead music every Sunday for a predominantly Filipino parish in Jersey City, which includes Filipinos of all backgrounds, professions, and ages, and who speak different Filipino dialects and come from all parts of the Philippines,” Tirol said.

Jersey City, where he lives, has a huge Filipino community, served by a Jollibee, Max’s Fried Chicken, Red Ribbon Bakeshop, and local businesses like Philippine Bread House, Fil-Stop grocery, and Fiesta Grill.

“My husband, a high school science teacher, has Filipino colleagues and lots of first-generation Filipino students. And most recently, I’ve met and worked and become friends with a number Filipino-American actors, including some who have performed on Broadway, national tours, and at major regional theatres,” Tirol said.

As his community of Filipino immigrants has expanded, so has the array of stories and characters that have gripped, intrigued and inspired him.

“But my perspective and inspiration has not only shifted in terms of breadth, but in terms of depth as well. I now have a sense of mission, both for the theatre community and for the Filipino community at large,” he said.

Since the reading of On This Side of the World at Access Theatre last February, the theatre community has welcomed this piece with an excitement that Tirol said he honestly didn’t expect.

From Filipino-American actors who are excited to share their own culture and heritage, to tell their communities’ own stories, to play characters from their own lives to Asian-American actors who are excited for new roles, new stories, and opportunities to perform outside of Miss Saigon, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song.

The broader theatre community is excited for work that is about and created by an underrepresented minority.

“I am thrilled that for the production of On This Side of the World this month, we have a cast, production team, and design team from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and it is wonderful to be able to tell these stories all together,” Tirol said proudly.

And for the Filipino community at large, his mission is to share the community’s stories with pride, honesty and love.

For a long time, he was reluctant to really put this piece out there—which is why it took so long to finish—thinking that these were stories no one was really interested in hearing.

That was his thinking, until his collaborator, director Noam Shapiro—who isn’t Filipino—believed in it so much and pushed him to finish it and helped him present it.

The reaction he has been getting are all positive, convincing him that this is a piece worth sharing.

“The Filipino immigrant story is one of courage, sacrifice, searching for identity, struggling to belong, and ultimately, redefining home—and come to think of it, isn’t that every person’s story?—and I am happy to be telling it,” he said.

Next Step

It is Tirol’s dream for On This Side of the World to be seen by more people. The production at Access Theater in May is a next step—a big next step—but not an end-point.

“I would love for the show to have a future life in New York City’s theatre scene—and I feel it fits with many not-for-profit theatres’ mission of diversity and representation—and also for it to get produced in theaters around the country, particularly in places with large Filipino communities, like California (both San Francisco and Los Angeles), Las Vegas, Texas, and Hawaii. I would also love for the show to eventually be produced in the Philippines,” he shared.

At a recent reading, Tirol received feedback from a diverse group of audience who went to see it.

Asked about how he feels when someone tells him that he made them laugh or cry with his songs, Tirol said he feels relieved that his joke landed, and his tearjerker lines worked!

“Seriously, that is the greatest reward I can have as a writer—not to know that the audience laughed or cried, per se, but to know that your writing connected with and touched a listener in a very real, very deep way. My most fulfilling moments have not been being applauded or praised, but being told that my writing was uplifting, cathartic, inspiring, the answer to a prayer,” he said.

He remembers a professor who once told him that the problem with his writing was that it was too earnest. For a while, he decided to veer away from such earnestness, thinking that it was what it meant to be a dramatist in New York City—but it just wasn’t fulfilling.

“With On This Side of the World, I’ve decided to embrace this earnestness—but still keeping an eye on craft—and I like the artist I’ve become, and I’m grateful to have found artists to work with who view theatre the same way,” he admitted.

As a writer, Tirol loves being able to help people laugh at themselves and their circumstances, and in a way, help people feel less alone in their sadness, help people give words and sound to their thoughts and feelings, and help people feel seen and validated—which is why he is so grateful that he is able to do that through his writing.

Tirol’s Journey

Tirol was a corporate professional, liturgical musician, and super-fan of western musical theatre until he moved to Boston in 2012 to study at Berklee College of Music. A year later, he moved to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, when he was offered a full tuition scholarship to attend the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program as a composer, which he completed in 2015.

Tirol finished his two years at NYU as a composer, and met his husband-to-be Jeremy while he was there. He moved to Jersey City, where Jeremy lived, and in May 2015, his parents flew in from Manila to see him graduate from NYU and to be at their wedding.

Tirol says he is so grateful to be working with his director Noam Chomsky.

Though he isn’t Filipino, he’s the son of an immigrant, which Tirol believes, gives him some insight into the immigrant experience; but more than that, he has a genuine interest in and respect for the stories, and such a care for and understanding of the human experience at large, that enable them to make these stories meaningful and accessible to all people regardless of their immigrant and cultural backgrounds.

“Further, through Noam’s help, we’ve assembled a multicultural cast, production team, and design team, and I just feel so honored that we’re coming together to tell these stories through such a multinational lens, bringing them to the broadest audience we can,” he shared.

To cap the interview, we asked Tirol if there was anything else he wanted to share?

“Just that I’m really grateful. A lot of people ask if I’m proud of myself, or nervous, or excited,” he said. “I am all of those, but more than any of those, I’m grateful to have arrived at this point, for the gift of being able to write and share On This Side of the World, and for all the people I know who have been part of this journey and who will continue to be on this journey.”

Aliens of Manila invade New York

Make this weekend a full Filipino weekend in the East Village with your families and friends starting with brunch and a round of drinks, then walk a couple of blocks away to Pintô International’s headquarters on 431 East 12th Street to see “Aliens of Manila: New York Colony,” which was recently unveiled as part of the organization’s new regularly programmed global exhibitions and event series. 

Pintô’s New York HQ is a few blocks away from Filipino restaurants Jeepney, Maharlika, and Ugly Kitchen on 1st Avenue and about a block from Mama Fina’s on Avenue A. That’s right, after feeding your stomachs with sumptuous Filipino cuisine, walk the calories off on your way to feeding your soul with art.

Aliens of Manila: New York Colony is an ongoing immersive installation by artist and designer Leeroy New. The exhibition will run until the end of May; it is open to the public during the weekend from noon to 6:00 pm and by appointment during the weekdays. 

Contemporary artist and designer Leeroy New stayed at Pintô for a two-week artist residency in February. During this time, he created an immersive, site-specific installation of psychedelic extraterrestrials responding to the structure of the space: a fifthfloor walkup loft in Alphabet City.

The Aliens of Manila is part of the gallery’s new quarterly exhibitions program and curated by Pintô International Co-Founder and Director Luca Parolari.

“Leeroy New is a multi disciplinary artist who works between installation, sculpture and fashion. He has been working on Aliens of Manila for the past several years and he has taken it around the world but this is the first time that the show is done in New York,” Parolari told the Asian Journal.

The final output is a warping, psychedelic sculpture constructed from food covers, flexible conduit, fiberglass strips, cable ties, and other materials that clings to the architecture of Pintô’s East Village loft.

“The goal, the aim of this body of work is to shed light on a number of themes including immigration and struggle for integration in particular for overseas Filipino workers,” Parolari explained. “The nature of these aliens is that they’re struggling to fit in in a context that is alien to them.”

Luca Parolari, co-founder and director of Pinto International. 

The series speaks to the wider experience of cultural displacement but is profoundly informed by the artist’s own familial experience with the phenomenon of what he refers to as “OFW” — Overseas Filipino Workers. These Aliens of Manila made public appearances in New York City throughout the week of the exhibition opening earlier this month.

New also presented a series of wearable sculptures — an extension of his design projects in interdisciplinary design and architecture — for this ongoing Aliens of Manila project.

The sculptures care made of familiar materials from recycling centers, surplus shops, dollar stores, and industrial market districts local to New York. The artist used sponges, fly swatters, funnels, strainers, feather dusters, among others.

“It is also about repurposing materials which have been used in other projects before and this is in line with the philosophy of making do with what you have, typical of many who are in the lower income situation,” Parolari explained.

For the project, the artist, his friends, and local collaborators don the costumes in public as a kind of “material conduit” between the artist and the environment. This “staged displacement” creates a literal and visual duality between the native and the “alien.”

There are also wearables which some artists wore during the week of the launch. Some made it to a laundromat in Queens and others went to the New York Armory Show. | Photos courtesy of artist Leeroy New and Pintô International

Pintô International is the global foundation and the international arm of Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, Rizal. It takes care of programming and exhibition of Philippine contemporary art in New York. The organization was born in 2017 and in collaboration with the Asian Cultural Council, came up with benefit shows.

“We are quite literally opening our doors, our pinto, of our private homes for the public to enjoy contemporary art and culture, similar to what we did before at Boston Gallery and Pinto Art Museum in the Philippines,”he added. “We were founded on the principle that art plays a diplomatic role in bridging distinctive nationalities, worldviews, and communities.” 

The organization hopes to come up with quarterly shows throughout the year, along with regular Pinto Sessions, which they envision to be a series of monthly receptions and special programs where they invite different speakers and performers for a multidisciplinary dialogue. They also hope to open doors for Filipino artists to showcase them for the New York market through exhibitions coinciding with international art fairs, biennials, and other global arts initiatives that would further foster its mission of cultural diplomacy.

Pintô Art Museum is an exhibition space and contemporary museum located in the Philippines’ historic pilgrimage city of Antipolo outside of Manila.  The museum was founded in 2010 to publicly exhibit the art collection of Filipino neurologist and patron of the arts, Dr. Joven Cuanang.  

“For over three decades, it has been my unwavering vocation to undertake the promotion and support of contemporary Philippine art in my home of Manila. As Pintô builds its global constituency, we are looking to New York’s uniquely cosmopolitan, progressive arts community to join us in building a dialogue around and a platform for the contributions of living Filipino artists,” Dr. Cuanang said.

Fil Am choreographer’s latest work inspired by family’s journey

A new dance for Ballet Hispánico called Homebound/Alaala, created by Bennyroyce Royon, a Filipino American director, choreographer and dancer will premiere at The Joyce Theater from March 26 to 31.

Royon describes Homebound/Alaala as “a deeply personal work rooted” in who he is as a Filipino American and “explores the intersection of the Latinx and Asian cultures through ideas including the spirit of communal unity (bayanihan), the resilience of women, overcoming hardship, and the quest for home.” 

Bennyroyce Royon teaching his movement to dancers at a recent audition for his project-based company Bennyroyce Dance. | Photo by Laura Fuchs

The show’s music is by Perfecto De Castro, Pilita Corrales, Nora Aunor, Grace Nono, and Pinikpikan and the costumes will feature woven scrap fabrics that were provided by ANTHILL Fabric Gallery, a social and cultural enterprise in the Philippines working to preserve local weaves through contemporary and zero waste design to sustain livelihood.

Royon is proud to honor the rich weaving traditions of the Philippines and to connect his cultural heritage by integrating these woven scrap fabrics into the costume design.

Fabrics include Stripe Kantarines, Binakol, Tiniri, Tiniri Stripe, and Plain Kantarines woven by women artisans of Mang Abel Ti Abra; Native Ethnic Design woven in Benguet; and Ramit woven in Mindoro by the Mangyan tribe.

He worked closely with costume designer Amanda Gladu to represent the rich history of the Philippines, including some strong influences from Spain and the United States.

Royon’s Journey

Royon was born in San Pedro, Laguna in the Philippines. He moved to Auburn in Washington when he was 12 years old.

Bennyroyce says “Homebound/Alaala” is special for him because it is a deeply personal work rooted in who he is as a Filipino American. The show also explores the intersection of the Latinx and Asian cultures through ideas including the spirit of communal unity (bayanihan), the resilience of women, overcoming hardship, and the quest for home. | Photo by Kuo-Heng Huang

“My mom was putting herself through nursing school and my dad was a truck driver at the time,” Royon recalled.

At the age of 16, he discovered ballet and became obsessed with dance ever since. But before that, he remembers that his first introduction to movement was through learning Filipino folk dances when he was in grade school back in the Philippines.

Royon got accepted to attend The Juilliard School at the age of 18, after only training for 2 years. After Juilliard, he joined The Metropolitan Opera Ballet for a season and danced for numerous dance companies touring the US, Canada, and Europe. 

In early 2018, Eduardo Vilaro invited Royon to be part of Ballet Hispánico’s Instituto Coreográfico, a choreography institute for Latino artists, to create culturally specific work in a nurturing learning laboratory of dance. Vilaro opened the institute to Asian choreographers like Edwaard Liang and Royon.

“I’m really inspired by my family and the experiences we’ve gone through to get to where we are now. So I wanted to create a work that told our journey,” Royon shared. “I see a lot of myself in this work, but this story is not just my story. It’s our story as a human race reorienting, loving, healing, celebrating, and moving forward together amidst any obstacles.”

Royon thought a lot about his roots and where he came from during the process of creating this work.

“I became inundated by feelings and memories from my childhood in the Philippines. The word “homebound” came to mind and made a lot of sense,” he shared.

Then Mr. Vilaro asked him to also consider finding an alternative title in Tagalog.

Royon really liked the word “alaala” which means “remembrance” or “souvenir” so he decided to just use both as a title to represent the two worlds that he comes from. 

If money were not an issue, Royon’s dream project is a fully produced evening of his choreographic work in a major theater like Brooklyn Academy Music.

For now, he looks forward to showcasing his latest work and he hopes the community comes out to support him.

Getting to Know Hydra Mendoza: NYC Department of Education Deputy Chancellor

“My first name is Greek, my last name is Spanish but I am a proud Pinay,” declared Hydra Mendoza, Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications at the Department of Education in New York City.

The event was the Filipina Women’s Network’s Disrupt 3.0 book launch at the Philippine Center and it was in one way, Mendoza’s introduction to the Filipino American community in the northeast.

Hydra Mendoza, NYC DOE’s Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships and Communications

Her father served in the military for 28 years and brought his wife and three older sisters to the States in 1964. Hydra and her younger brother were born and raised here.

“You can just imagine we grew up in a dynamic household of siblings who were able to speak their home language and have a true appreciation for their heritage and culture versus their American born siblings who didn’t understand the sacrifices that were made by them and our parents,” Mendoza shared.

Growing up, her dream was either to become a news sportscaster or a professional team lawyer because she was outgoing and always loved sports.

She ended up working in real estate and finance after college but she realized later that her passion was somewhere else.

Hydra stumbled into education by taking a brain development class after giving birth to her daughter 23 years ago. She fell in love with early childhood development and found her way in turning education into a career of passion.

That led to three years of being a pre-school teacher, acting director, and parent president of the Miraloma Cooperative Nursery School in San Francisco, where she was responsible for the operations of the school, including developing curriculum and conducting outreach.

Hydra Mendoza, Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships and Communications at the New York Department of Education, community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis and Marily Mondejar, FWN founder and CEO (all seated) are joined by some of the authors who contributed to “DISRUPT 3.0. Filipina Women: RISING”, FWN’s 3rd book in its Filipina Leadership Series. 

She is a founding member and former executive director of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco, an organization focused on engaging parents and community members around key issues in public education.

Mendoza also served as Senior Advisor for Education to San Francisco Mayor (and now California Governor) Gavin Newson from 2005-2011 and then with the late Mayor Ed Lee the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Education and Equity.

“While serving mayors Newsom and Lee for 13 years, I ran for office three times, with a lot of encouragement and support and became the first elected Filipina in the city and county of San Francisco,” she said.

Mendoza was the first and only Filipina elected to office in San Francisco. In 2006, 2010, and 2014, she successfully won a city-wide bid and re-election for a seat on the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education.

“To this day there is still not a Filipina that has been elected in San Francisco, which makes me really sad,” she said.

Then came the offer last year to join NYC’s Department of Education as Deputy Chancellor for Community Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications.

The New York City Department of Education is the department of the government of New York City that manages the city’s public school system, the largest school system in the United States, with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,800 schools. 

In this newly created role, Mendoza oversees the divisions of Family and Community Empowerment, communications, external affairs, intergovernmental affairs, and translation and interpretation services, and lead the DOE’s work to empower families and communities, while increasing awareness of and support for key policy issues.  

Indeed, as FWN founder and CEO Marily Mondejar said, “San Francisco’s loss is New York City’s gain.”

Move to New York

“Hydra is one of the staunchest allies for public school families that you’ll ever find,” said Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza in announcing Mendoza’s appointment. “I saw Hydra’s innate ability to connect with students and parents firsthand during my time in San Francisco, as she galvanized neighborhoods and communities to strive towards equity for all students. With her unmatched passion for our children, I have no doubt that Hydra will serve as a key resource for our families across the City.”     

Chancellor Carranza sent Mendoza the job description and said he needed somebody who will pay attention to how the DOE will engage parents and community so they’d be more interested in public schools.

Carranza was formerly the superintendent in San Francisco before moving to New York during the time that Mendoza was a member of the Board of Education.

“I was his boss and now he is my boss,” she said at the leadership chat with Loida Nicolas Lewis during the FWN book launch. “I think that speaks volumes about the amount of respect and trust that we have in each other.”

Mendoza has spent her career empowering communities to fight for equity in education and in her new role, she looks forward to partnering with school communities across New York City to ensure every single child is receiving the education they deserve.

 “I have often been asked to serve instead of having to ask if I can,” she said. “And I share this with you not to impress you but to impress upon you that the roads we travel are many and our commitment to fulfill our passion while keeping our integrity intact is critical.”

Mrs. Lewis also asked Mendoza to talk about a difficult challenge in her personal life and how she dealt with.

Mendoza began by saying that they were very close to San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee and how they were affected by his sudden death at the age of 65, then three months later, Mendoza’s mom died of cancer.

“It was six months of twirling around, trying to figure out how I managed. I was president of the school board at that time, I was still serving as deputy chief of staff for the mayor,” she shared.

For the first time in 25 years, she took three months off.

“It was the best way for me to recoup,” Mendoza said. “Except on my trip back from the Philippines, I was getting recruited for this New York job.”

Her husband Eric McDonnell works for a national organization and Mendoza said “he could be anywhere”. Both their kids are young adults.

“It was a good time to pick up our lives and do a new routine. Everything for us here in New York is brand new. Every weekend you will never find us because we are off doing something in a new neighborhood eating something delicious and listening to great music,” she said. “Who gets to do that? In your mid 50s and you pick up your life, go to the east coast and you meet amazing, wonderful new friends.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to rebuild my community here on the east coast and to start with the Filipino community. I am really blessed and honored to be here,” she added.