As is true for many immigrants, Paola Mardo saw moving to America as a dream. She had already been all over the globe, to boot; Mardo was born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Manila and Kuala Lumpur before she turned 15. Upon that age, this Filipino-American joined her family in the San Francisco Bay Area. Situations were more complicated than she had hoped.
“The biggest challenge was the culture shock,” Mardo, now a journalist and producer, tells Overseas Filipino. “I was 15 years old, and I already had a group of friends and a life established in the Philippines. When my family moved to the States, I had to start all over again.
“Living in different countries gave me what I think is a more global perspective,” she adds. “It was tough to move around and change schools at pivotal moments in my life, but I learned a lot from those experiences.”
Meanwhile, storytelling had already piqued young Mardo’s interest. A wide reader, she loved Nancy Drew books, and even tried her hand at writing short stories. Eventually, Mardo took to theater and the performing arts.
“As an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, I studied film and I wrote and directed plays for my school’s Pilipino Cultural Night, which is an annual variety show many Filipino clubs at U.S. colleges put together. I later worked in the film industry for several years until I started F This Weekly, a podcast about women of color in the arts and entertainment,” she recalls.
With her limited resources, Mardo had, and continues, to use journalistic scrappiness to buoy her work. “I was editing in Garage Band and using cheap USB mics at the time, but I learned so much about making podcasts and knew I wanted to do more of this. The rest, as they say, is history.”
In 2016, Mardo began work on an audio project on Los Angeles’ Filipinotown. Discoveries here would awaken a deeper calling for this storyteller. “After extensive interviews and research, and through my work as a journalist, I saw a great need to tell thoughtful, well-reported audio stories about my community,” notes Mardo. “That’s how Long Distance got started.”
Launched last October, Long Distance is a narrative podcast exlporing seldom-told stories of Filipinos in America. Mardo is the show’s creator, host, writer, and producer. Through accounts of loss and history, the show set out to move beyond “typical immigrant narratives.”
In its first two episodes, the podcast takes an investigative turn. Traveling to Stockton, California, Mardo and co-producer Patrick Epino inquire about an alleged 2017 hate crime; unidentified individuals had vandalized a community center. The incident had occurred in October, which is celebrated in the United States as Filipino-American History Month.
The United States of America is home to the largest population of Pinoys outside the Philippines.
“People are talking about race and identity more openly and in deeper, more meaningful ways,” Mardo avers. “I think that’s important especially given our current social and political climate.”
Consequently, the show needed to be a podcast.
“I love the intimacy and depth you can take stories to in the audio medium,” the audio producer says. “People have to really listen and, in many cases, imagine the scenes and interviews they’re listening to. I think that’s powerful. I also wanted people to be able to tell their own stories, to have Filipino voices truly heard, in all their beautiful accents and languages.”
These stories, she adds, are important parts of American history and Filipino history. The journalist notes: “It’s important for people to know that because the past influences the present.”
It is difficult to disagree.
Listen to episodes of Long Distance here:
Read more about Mardo’s work at longdistanceradio.com. Long Distance is streamable through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, and Google Podcasts. Reach out to her by email through [email protected]
Images courtesy of @paolamardo on Instagram.