Meet Cori Dioquino, Filipina-American Actress

Cori Dioquino. Photo courtesy of HepPics | Photography

I’ve had a lot of great interviews in the two year’s that I’ve been blogging and I’ve been able to connect with a lot of interesting Filipinos who are working hard to better represent the community.

For 2011, I made a promise that I would feature more Filipinas, who I felt would be great role models and go against the stereotypes that are prevalent in the media. I was very fortunate to have Filipina-American actress Cori Dioquino as my first interview for 2011. I realized while interviewing the Fil-Am actress that we had a lot in common like many of the Filipinos I’ve interviewed in the past.

A part that I enjoy in these interview segments that have become popular among readers is that we get to explore topics that  affect the community and how those experiences have shaped us into the people we are today. I really enjoyed my time interviewing Cori Dioquino because we had a lot to discuss and covered topics that Filipinos in our generation usually don’t really talk about. For those of you who are not familiar with Cori Dioquino, she is an up and coming actress, who recently finished first full length feature She’s in the Details.

Please tell us who you are?

Hi! My name is Cori Dioquino and I’m an actor currently living and working along the East Coast. For my formal training: I received my Associate of Art in Music Performance (voice) from Howard Community College and my Bachelor’s in Theater Studies with a focus on performance from Towson University. I studied piano as a child, also, like a lot of Filipino kids. Oh, and I hail from Pasay!

What inspired you to become an actress?

I’ve pretty much been performing since I was a kid. I took voice as a child in the Philippines at one point (though I don’t remember) and played piano throughout my childhood and most of high school. It’s basically been just second nature for me to perform in front of people. If I heard my favorite song anywhere, and I really mean anywhere, I would just start singing and dancing in front of anyone. When I was a kid, my mom and I were walking to a department store, where my favorite song by the Beach Boys was playing. That song was ‘Kokomo’ that made me jump up and dance on a mannequin stand. By the time the song had ended, I had a little audience that applauded me. And of course, in the grand tradition of Filipino families and parties, we were always sort of forced to perform as kids, though I always enjoyed as a child; now it’s a little embarrassing.

What are your latest projects?

I did my first full length feature this past summer which is currently in post-production. It’s called SHE’S IN THE DETAILS. We still have to finish ADR and I think there’s still a bit of editing left but we’ve already begun submitting to the indie film circuit for 2011. I have no idea when we’ll be able to release or screen it. But if you want all that information, it’s probably best to just visit the film’s official site:

Currently, I’m working on a few projects. Actually, one’s just been postponed till the summer so it’s status is on hold due to some technical difficulties, but I’m grateful to have some other projects that have already begun production. The first is LOVE AND ALYSHA and it’s my second full length feature. I play Maria, which is a supporting character and it’s directed by director Priya Jagadeesh (e-Preeti). That’s wrapping sometime in late February. My other project is a webseries called BEYOND CITY LIMITS. I play one of five teenagers who discover that they have extraordinary gifts. We just did an official promotional photoshoot to go on the website and that should be up and running in the next few days/weeks. That should also be wrapped by the end of February/early March. And another one that is still in pre-production mode is a short film called LOVE OR SOMETHING and that’s also going to be done with the writer/director of SHE’S IN THE DETAILS, Rob Hagans, and the production company so I’m looking forward to that. I did a promotional video for Dead Zero directed by John Carter. What was interesting about my role is that it’s based off a Filipina.

What does being Filipino-American mean to you?

I love being Filipino-American. Admittedly, when I was younger, I was very ignorant to that part of my heritage except for what was already evident in my life (food, language, songs, family, etc.). But as I got older, my fascination and appreciation for the Filipino culture grew more and more and now, as an adult, I have a lot of respect for that part of my upbringing. It’s so rich in history and I’m such a history geek, if you will, so there’s just a lot of intrigue in that for me.

I think also, growing up in a bi-cultural community and family in the States has such a huge effect on you as an adult. You don’t realize it growing up, but looking back it shapes you in a very specific way compared to other subcultures in America. At the very least, you are raised with a respect for other nationalities and I’ve always tried to have respect for immigrants in the work force (janitors, mail couriers, etc.). I know how hard it is to immigrate and how hard these people work to get their family this ‘better opportunity’ and so I try to be mindful of the pains that various people go through to achieve that.

What were your experiences growing up as a Filipino in the states?

As a child, you grow up a bit ignorant I think to these experiences, or at least ignorant to how they truly effect you. You just sort of exist in those situations without much thought. But as you get older and you go through those essential parts of life, adolescence and young adulthood (etc.) you really are made aware of how being raised in a bi-cultural environment truly affects you. It can be both a negative and a positive.

I know as a child, I got bullied a lot, especially in the public school system right after immigrating. Those were not happy memories for me at all. And I think when you’re going through high school and college and you have American friends and boyfriends who have absolutely no appreciation for the multiple layers of American culture it becomes, at least I found, a bit stressful and exasperating to try and communicate that and share in those experiences. As an adult, I tend to sort of gravitate toward my extended Filipino family as well as my family and to friends that have a very, very broad scope of the world.

What advice do you have to offer to Filipino youths and minorities, who face racism and adversity in a foreign country?

Not much you can really say, except that it gets better. So many kids get bullied now a days. Looking back at my experience, I had a tendency to be very bitter and hold on to those bad emotions. Do your best to not hold on to those because bitterness will kill you. When you have those type of memories growing up, it’s hard to let go. But you have to have this kind of mindset that if you work hard and are passionate about something, then something’s got to give. You can accomplish anything. I recommend people should read The Alchemist because it’s an inspiring story.

As an actress, do you feel that you have sense of responsibility to go against roles that stereotype Asian women in the film industry?

It is frustrating from a performer’s perspective to find casting calls that specifically ask for “Caucasian, blond hair, blue-eyed” or “African-American” knowing that in any other circumstance you could play and would be interested in playing this character. And as an artist in general, I feel as if that part of who I am, while it does effect to a certain degree how I perceive the world around me and the people with whom I come in contact, it doesn’t define my entire being. It describes me, but my ethnicity is really such a small part of who I am. Most of the time when a character is specifically Asian, it is a stereotypical view on what it means to be Asian-American; it is the outsider’s perspective on what it means to be Asian. We need to change that.

I’m very excited to say that right now the productions that I am involved with are very ethnically diverse. Love and Alysha, written and directed by East Indian- Americans, the cast is incredibly diverse. Even Beyond City Limits, the director (Frank Jackson) said that in developing the idea for the webseries, they wanted a story about teenagers that was a-typical and that had a very multi-ethnic cast. The character I play in that, again, comes from a mixed-heritage family (she’s adopted). Personally, I’m making an effort to be involved with productions that encourage that outlook and that make an effort to be open-minded in that regard.

There’s a misconception that as an actor you have very little control over the direction in which your career goes, but I think it is a very misguided notion about acting. You CAN have a say in what roles you accept and pursue, especially very early on in your career when you don’t have an agent and are very much on your own in finding roles and auditions and projects to work on. I think if you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your career early on, it will very much shape the direction in which it will go. In my opinion, a lot of films shut themselves out to a larger audience by unnecessarily casting lead actors that fit a specific physical description that has nothing to do with the story. When I look at a film or a theater production, I am interested in the story that’s being told and how it’s being communicated. For me, unless it drives the story in a specific direction, it shouldn’t matter if the leading actor/actress is white, black, Mexican, Japanese, what have you.

Ethnicity is such a superficial attribute to look for in an actor and notice in an individual. Maybe I feel this way because I come from such a bicultural, multi-ethnic environment, but I feel its valid. I had this conversation with the director and producer of She’s in the Details recently. Micha (our producer) expressed that from a producer/casting standpoint, you close a lot of doors when you limit your casting in that way. People say that the issue of ethnicity is getting better in Hollywood, film and theater, but I say it could be better. We’ve made very small but significant strides in the industry since Bruce Lee entered mainstream, Western cinema and while what he did for the Asian American community, especially in Hollywood, was very significant and positive, we’ve fallen into this rut of Asians only getting leading roles in action, martial arts related films. I admire Bruce Lee for what he did with his career and for Asian-Americans in Hollywood as a whole, but we should be so much further along than that. The ethnic minority is still such a small percentage in the industry and we could be making, we should be striving to make, a bigger, more positive impact.

What do you feel needs to change with Filipinos and how can we better represent the community?

For some reason, this is a difficult question for me to really answer. My experience being Filipino is very much connected to my Americanized upbringing. I am not just Filipino; I am Filipino-American and that is very important to me. I struggle with that daily; I think a lot of people do and more so than they care to admit. Growing up as a child of Filipino parents in an American community, there is a dichotomy that grows within the individual. Itʼs hard enough to pay your family the respect that they demand and deserve without adding inevitable cultural differences. Even though most Filipino families immigrated to the U.S. to provide for their children a better opportunity, they fail to realize that they are raising their children in a completely different environment. Most of my arguments growing up with my parents (and even now) stemmed from that conflict. And the question is how do you embrace both sides of your heritage, the Filipino AND American sides, without completely shaming your family or creating some kind of a spiritual void?

I don’t blame my family, my parents, or anyone for wanting to hold on to whatʼs familiar to them. Itʼs what most people try to do. But no one should hold it against another individual, most especially their children, if their definition of ʻfamiliarʼ is so dramatically altered from their own personal perspective. Simply because I do not share the same values or ideas or perspectives that my older family members (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) hold doesnʼt mean that I am attempting to show them dishonor or am living a life that is diminished or depraved; itʼs just different because I am different. I would very much like to see the younger generation of Filipinos really embrace this dual heritage. We are the best of both worlds, or at least we could be. And isn’t that the basis for the American experience? The one thing that everyone has in common is that we all came from somewhere else. Our Filipino background shouldn’t be embraced as a unique quality that separates us from the rest of the outside community but as a quality that helps us relate to others. Yes, I think itʼs important to make an effort to learn about the history of the Philippines (Revolution against the Spanish, the Katipunan, Lapu Lapu, The Filipino Resistance against the Japanese, The Japanese Sympathizers of WWII or “Makapili”, etc.) but learn about these things to better your future. Understand where you came from so that you can fully embrace who you will become.

To quote Jose Rizal again “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” (He who does not look back to where he came from will never get to his destination.)

I think if we can encourage the younger generation to do that, to embrace and appreciate both of these cultures and really strive to find the positive qualities in both, we can better represent our community. It becomes less ostracizing, I think, to realize that our differences are actually what bind us together.

Who are your role models that helped shape you into the woman and actress you are today.?

As far as my acting career goes, I believe every Filipina looks up to Lea Salonga because I wanted to be her when I got older. Then I realized I hate music. However, she was an inspiration because the first musical I saw was Miss Saigon and is just a talented performer. I have this whole thing about how I hate that all Asian are always portrayed as martial artists, but Jackie Chan is another role model of mine. I was just amazed how he didn’t have any formal education and once he became successful he wanted to give back to the community. He sets a good example of success and talent.

Well, my favorite Filipino historical figure (and historical figure in general) is Jose Rizal. I respect him a great deal as an individual in history, being as educated and as intelligent as he was and turning into the reluctant leader the way that he did. And all he really did was write, if you think about it. He refused to accept the abuse from the Spanish and basically wrote these two satirical books as almost a love letter to his country with the hopes that it would open his countrymen’s eyes to their political and socio-economical situation and ultimately he died because of that. It’s a such a great gesture of love, I think.

Personally, I have a lot of respect for my parents. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on a lot of topics, but they have sacrificed a lot to support me, both as a child and adult. They sent me to school and paid for my college education (which I could never put a price on) and continue to lend me support and wisdom as I pursue my dreams as an actor, which is not at all easy for any of us, especially financially. At any moment they could tell me to just give it up and move on and refuse to help me but they don’t. I hope they realize how grateful I am for that and one day I aim to repay them; take care of them as much as they have me.

What are your favorite Filipino dishes?

All of them!

I love aroscaldo and my mom’s sinigang. My lola makes amazing food as well. I love her veggie lumpia and my lolo’s casava cake is good too. Oh and I loved my mom’s recipe for spare ribs… when I still ate pork. Now, that I’m thinking about it I might have to give in and ask her to make me some sometime!

For more on Cori Dioquino, please visit her official website, LIKE her facebook page, and you can follow her on twitter. Cori Dioquino’s head-shots are courtesy of HepPics | Photography. The following is footage containing some of Cori’s work.

Some of the footage may not be suitable for younger audiences due to language and content. Viewer discretion is advised.

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