This past summer, I was recommend by someone to watch History Channel’s Top Shot that featured a Filipino-American contestant by the name of Simon “J.J.” Racaza. After watching an episode of Top Shot, it was obvious that this Fil-Am contestant was dominating and had a chance to make it far in the competition. Racaza also made history by representing Filipinos and the Asian community in a competition that did not involve dancing or singing, but on how well you can shoot. I recently got in contact with Racaza for an interview and having him share his experiences as a Filipino-American to everyone. You can also view my interview with J.J. Racaza here.
Please tell us who you are?
My name is J.J. Racaza. A lot of people ask me where “J.J” comes from. It’s a nickname that my father gave me because his name is Joseph and he wanted to call me Joseph Jr. because I was pretty much a daddy’s boy. So “J.J.” came about. I use it in the shooting world and not in my profession. I started shooting when I was eight or seven years old. As far as I can remember really, I started with a little air rifle liquor shot bolt action gun and from there it developed into me being able to handle the .45 1911. Since then it took off and it started out as a self defense for the house because my dad was always on call, he was a doctor in the Philippines. I was always the only one left at home so for me to be able to protect the house just in case. Both of my parents are from Cebu, Philippines and I was also born there. My first language/Philippine dialect is Cebuano. I attended Seton Hall University, New Jersey (The Pirates) and I graduated from there in 2002 with a B.S. in Business Management Information System.
How did you get into your chosen profession?
It started a while back. When I graduated from college, I was developing my shooting. I tried to manage the school work with my shooting practice and shooting tournaments. As soon as I was done, one person came up to me (an acquaintance then and a friend now) Mike and asked me if I was interested in instructing work with a company for DHS at that time around 2002/2003. He told me about the money and how much money I was going to make. I said that is an awesome gig for something that I love to do and I would do it for free, but if you pay me to do it I would be even happier. As soon as I know it that was my foot in the door. It wasn’t really yet open, but I shoved myself in there because eight years later here I am as one of their agents now.
How did you become a Top Shot contestant?
That started out with a simple message on facebook from friend Ronnie. He brought it up and said that this is something that you might be good and this something that you were born to do. I looked at it and from the description; every shooter will look at it and say this is for me. The three criteria they had was personality, great physical condition, and mind blowing shooting skills. For personality, I figured I always had a big personality and I knew my mouth got me in trouble. Second criteria in physical condition, I work for the government and I work out everyday constantly. Three, they say mind blowing shooting skills, but I wouldn’t call it mind blowing. However, I know I was fast and I’m one of the top tier shooters in pistol wise with speed and combat shooting all together out there right now. So I figured, I have a pretty good chance at it and I put in for it. Then I actually got called for the top sixteen.
What was your most memorable experience on that show?
It was making the friendships that I did not expect to make while I was on the show. I was on the show to obviously win the money. I told my parents before I left that I owe you this much and if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be here. Then I said that my present to them would be the prize money if I won Top Shot. That was my goal, but obviously it didn’t happen. I came there to compete and to win. When I went over there, all of a sudden you get to know these people and you have nothing to do but talk and learn from them. Instead of hating them, you want to learn from them at least that was my goal. There were there for a reason, they were good. I got to know each and every single one. Kelly, Pete, Danny, Adam who tried to vote me off and I learn from them and it goes on. Sixteen guys and you did not want them to leave. You did not want them to get voted off because you start to get along with them and it was like family at that point.
When you got on that show, did you feel you had a lot to prove possibly being the only Filipino to ever be on a reality show that doesn’t consist of break dancing or singing?
I tried to not look at it that way to not put any pressure on me. I knew that I was going to be representing the Filipino and Asian community by being on that show. I didn’t want to think of it as much anymore because I already knew I had the government on my shoulder and my sponsors. At least the USPSA that I shoot for was going to look at me as a representative and an ambassador. So I already had enough pressure and decided to enjoy the moment. Being Filipino is always something that I have been proud of and it’s nice to be finally recognized.
What does being Filipino-American mean to you and what are your experiences growing up as a Filipino in the states?
Being anything other than American in the U.S. is a little tough when you come here from your country. You have to learn the culture and the transition phase was little tough. Speaking the language was hard and I didn’t understand much of what anyone was saying because they were saying it too fast and in slang. However, my parents brought us up well enough where we were able to adapt and gave us all that support. It became positive and we knew what we were here for which was a brighter future. You struggle a little bit, but once you get through that barrier it makes you a better person. Through the years, that pride grows in you and you realize that I’ve made it. In a sense I’ve made it. Luckily enough, for some ungodly reason I made it on TV and somehow I was portrayed pretty decently compared to other people. Now, I am the lead firearms instructor for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and it makes me proud to look back at my career. You know, a little Cebuano runs this firearm program.
What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how the world views us?
That’s a very touchy subject. I don’t want to tell everyone what they need to change or what we need to change. For one thing, I guess we need to open. We can’t close up ourselves to cliques of our own kind, but it is understandable that we are comfortable with our own people. However, we have to open our provisions and I think Filipinos are able to do that a lot more than others from my experiences. We’re very adaptable people and I think we can carry that chip on our shoulder that everyone is trying to challenge us. We have to accept them for what they are and adapt to certain situations. Look for the better thing out of it and try to make yourself better by trying to do something positive instead of retaliating.
This past August, Philippines received a lot of backlash on the hijacked tourist bus that resulted in 9 deaths (eight Hong Kong tourists and the ex-policeman who had seized the bus to demand his job back). What are your views on this incident and how can the country improve on their crisis situations?
I’m speaking from what I saw on TV from the criticisms that the Philippines has received. I wasn’t there and I have no firsthand experience. However, from what I saw it seemed to me that there was a lot of politics involved. Some of the people that they chose to do the mission were pretty much friends with the guy that ran amok and ended up killing eight HK tourists and himself. There was a lot of hesitation and friction going up to that moment. When someone turns to doing something evil, you can’t look at them as the same person anymore. You have to take care and deal with that person as he is at that moment. Being a part of the Department of Homeland Security, I took it personally especially since it was in the Philippines. I looked at it and I go I can help. My passion is teaching and I’m glad that I’m in the position where I get to live my dream. With my skills in shooting, I know I can share what I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years. Being able to explain and see things that a few can. I know by bringing the right group of people you can help. These guys seemed like they had a lack of training and definitely need the support from the Philippine government to get funded with the right tools. They were trying to break glass and they didn’t even have the right equipment. It’s easier said than done. A bus clearing an entry is a little easier than clearing a building or clearing a hallway. It was really embarrassing. A bus you need about six people and it wasn’t done right. They didn’t have the right tools or perimeter. They had cameras all over the place broadcasting everything. From what I hear, the hijacker had a TV on the bus so he saw everything going on from the outside. There were a lot of things that lead up to that disaster. It’s sad to see, but I doubt that’s going to happen again. Filipinos are resilient and I’m sure we’re trying to find ways a remedy of that situation.
When was the last time you visited the Philippines and do you have an interesting story about your trip?
Last time I visited the Philippines was about seven years ago. It’s really sad and it’s been a long time. I’ve always wanted to go back every three years. The lechon and pancit, it’s not the same when it’s over here and over there in the Philippines. It’s probably the way they prepare them. Seven years ago, after I received a big paycheck when my first initial contract instructing ended with DHS so I treated my entire immediate family to go to the Philippines with me and we were able to go. I can’t explain what is about going home or telling a specific story. All I know is, three days in I got sick because I ate everything that I could find. I had two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, two snacks, and two midnight dinners. So, three or four days into it I got sick and my body was not use to eating all that fat and all that good stuff and yum yum sauce. We were there for only ten days and I was able to manage to gain sixteen pounds.
A special message to everyone in Cebu:
Gusto ko ma kahibaw sila muuli ko karon December 3. Mo-atod ko. Mo suway ko visit sa Cebu Pistol and Rifle Association (CPRA), my home shooting club. One of my forefathers, Rogelio “Jingjing” Osmeña the president of CPRA namatay siya unfortunately. They are having an annual match held for him so I’d like to visit that and be a part of it, but I might not be able to shoot at it. I just wanted to say kumusta sila ng mga Pilipino akong familia. Tito Dalton, Tita Chinita, akong cousins, Tito Bebong, everyone there, and whoever cooks me muyong and the steamed fried rice. You know you’ll see me soon because I’m going to eat it.
I want everyone to know that I will be going back home this December 3rd. I’m going to try to visit the Cebu Pistol and Rifle Association (CPRA), my home shooting club. One of my forefathers, Rogelio “Jingjing” Osmeña the president of CPRA passed away unfortunately. They are having an annual match held for him so I’d like to visit that and be a part of it, but I might not be able to shoot at it. I just wanted to say to say hello to all the Filipinos and my family. Tito Dalton, Tita Chinita, my cousins, Tito Bebong, everyone there, and whoever cooks me muyong and the steamed fried rice. You know you’ll see me soon because I’m going to eat it.
Who are your role models?
My number one role model is my father. If only I could have the same principles that he lived by. The good thing and bad thing about him is that he doesn’t veer from his principles. He has his own set of principles and he’s going to live by them. It don’t matter who you are, he is going to tell you that you are crossing the line. He doesn’t play politics, he’s just a straight up guy and there are a lot of jokes out there that I was trained hard by him. He’s an amazing father and he’s brought us (my family) to where we are. I know he did a good job with me I guess because even today people tell me and remind me. It’s awesome to hear that my father did a great job with me. My dad doesn’t take credit and blames it all on us.
The most recent person I look up to is Pacquiao. Every Filipino out there is idolizing Pacquiao. He just shows his heart. That true hardworking Filipino heart. You could see it in his face and expression that never back down, no die, no quitting attitude. I think that if Filipinos focus on that we can make a difference in the U.S. or wherever they may be. I would like for him to see me in Top Shot and be proud of me because that would be a true honor. For him to see that, apparently Top Shot is going to go to the Philippines and start broadcasting over there. I would really like Filipinos to see that and one of their own was able to finish and hold his own in the show.
There is also my mom. Mom puts a great balance to my dad’s hardcore attitude. She puts that nice soft touch to it. I’ve always been told that every great man has a great person behind them and that great person is my mom. My mom has backed my dad up thick or thin. They’ve been together about thirty years or more. They’re a good combination. I really hope to truly follow my father’s path and to just make him proud.
One question they asked me on Top Shot that shocked me was “what was your most memorable moment.” Usually my answer to that was winning the 2006 world championship and I won that for my dad. It was a dream of ours ever since I was ten years old. And I finally won it when I was twenty six years old. We had a big hug and I tear out like a little girl all the time. But my answer to the question was the look in my parents’ eyes and seeing that they were proud of me is one of my most memorable experiences and my proudest moment at any point in my life. I’m thirty years old so I’m getting old and I’ve lived life a little bit already.
What are your favorite Filipino dishes?
Oh my God, you want me to go? We can list a few. Muu Yong is by far my favorite. Next one would be dim sum, look for steam fried rice, empress roll, sweet and sour shrimp. I could go on for days. Then sinugba, lechon, pacit bihon, dinuguan, and all that. I don’t eat much dessert, but when it comes to Filipino dessert I go a little crazy. I don’t know what it is about ube or macapuno or buko shake. Put me in the Philippines and all I do is eat then within ten days I’ll be fifteen pounds heavier.
After the success of Top Shot, where can fans see you next?
I was recently in Las Vegas for the U.S. Nationals. I was second overall. I was there for the number one spot, but all you can do is to shoot your best because you can’t control anyone else’s. The guy that one just shot amazing and it was just a better day for him. He was my teammate and is also Filipino. So I cheered him, but I was hurting because I felt it was my year to win nationals. With the results, it puts me and him are going to be part of the U.S. Gold team to compete in the World Championship next year in Greece.
I’m working on my webpage to have people go directly to that for media contact. There have been a lot of people asking me to teach them. I’m focused more on law enforcement. However, I’m willing to branch out to instructing civilians who are into defending themselves. In about a month my website, jjracaza.com should be up and running. For now please go to Team J.J. on facebook.
Next tournament I’ll be joining will be in Rio Salado, Arizona fire range. I’ll be there the week of November 10, 11, and 12. Then that will be it for this year besides my appearance in Philippines at CPRA and in Manila in December.
Shout-out to Kate Agathon. Thanks a lot for contacting Kristian and letting him know about a little tiny Filipino guy on History Channel.