7 Questions about 7 Things: Q&A with Nicole Castro

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Photo: Nicole Castro

7 Questions about 7 Things: Q&A with Nicole Castro
By Raven Yamamoto

When senior Nicole Castro created a book with seven things she loves about the Philippines, she never imagined it would turn into an opportunity to feed its starving families. 7 Things, a coffee-table book that started as a creative quarantine project for Castro, quickly became much larger than a simple, heartfelt ode to her country when her boyfriend posted photos of it online. After receiving an overwhelming amount of interest from people seeking their own copy of the book, she decided to sell it and donate 100% of the proceeds to the Food Not Fear Initiative. The project, put forth by Communities Organized for Resource Allocation’s (CORA) and Fund the Forest, works to provide care packages of nutritious food to those who are unemployed due to the pandemic and can no longer earn money to feed themselves and their families. 

Beyond the support of her fellow Lions and the LMU community, Castro’s work has garnered the attention of The Manila Bulletin, a prominent newspaper in the Philippines. AGENCY had the opportunity to chat with Castro in-depth about 7 Things and learn more about the book’s evolution from a passion project to a full-blown fundraiser.

Raven Yamamoto (RY): I would love to get straight into the numbers. How much money have you raised so far and how many books have you sold?

Nicole Castro (NC): The last time I checked, it was around over 70 books and I've raised enough to feed around 70 families as well. The price of the book is $21 and the company takes $11, whereas I make a profit of only $10. In Philippines pesos that’s 500 pesos. The organization that I donate all the money to, a standard family package of 500 pesos provides a family [with] vegetables. I believe it's 12 cups of rice, they include a bunch of vegetables, like okra, calabasa, which is pumpkin in English, and they actually get those vegetables from local Filipino farmers. So, it's nice because they also support local Filipino farmers through that.

RY: So, basically one book feeds one family.

NC: Yeah, pretty much, so I've raised around like 34,000 pesos.

RY: Who have you been selling books to the most?  Is it mostly LMU people or are there people outside that have been buying it as well? 

NC: It's actually mostly Filipinos who grew up in LA and aren't really in touch with their Filipino culture. Originally, this book was just supposed to be for family members and some LMU friends who didn't really know about my culture, or our culture. I wanted to share that, but my boyfriend was like, “Oh, I'm going to post this on—” Wait, do you know Subtle Filipino Traits?

RY: Yes!

NC: Yeah, so he posted it on that, which I didn't even know he was going to do. In the span of two or three days, I made around 40 to 50 sales just from that post and [got] a bunch of comments from people saying “I don't know anything about my Filipino culture, I'll purchase this right now.” I noticed that those are the type of people—with that background—that were the ones to purchase it. 

Photo: Nicole Castro

RY: Something I really loved about the book is that it communicates the beauty of the Philippines. Why was communicating the beauty, specifically, so important when creating the book? Why not a book illustrating or informing folks about its struggles?

NC: Because there's already so much shit going on. It's funny because I saw someone [make a] post the other day of this random person messaging her saying like, “I don't get it. Why is the Philippines so terrible? You guys have all these problems going on, like the anti-terror bill and the president and people going hungry.”

That's what people, that's what outsiders, non-Filipinos, that's what they perceive. That's what they automatically think when they hear that name or that country. I didn't really want that to be that first image that they get. I really wanted to pay homage to its beauty apart from just its problems that everyone already knows about.

RY: Are there any particular memories of yours from growing up in the Philippines that have influenced the content of the book?

NC: Yeah, so I was born there but I actually grew up in Orange County and then I moved back there for high school. I've been kind of back and forth, but there were just a lot of things that I didn't really know. My parents are very Filipino, but I think that even though you're living with people who are very Filipino, you don't know as much unless you're really submerged into the culture.

There's seven different topics that I talked about [in the book] and my favorite one is definitely food. I didn't really grow up eating a lot of Filipino food. I only started doing that when I was [in the Philippines] for high school and I loved it. At first, I wasn't really used to it, but only now am I like, “Wow, this is so different.” Like my tongue has been blessed. I feel like the reason why is also because sometimes there's this negative perception from people outside of the culture who think that Asian food— Filipino food— sounds so disgusting.

Like “That's so bad for you, blah, blah, blah-” you know, which is true. But, I think they also need to know that food isn't just about sustenance. It's about being together. That's kind of what brings families together, just eating. I've been to dinners and I've been to events where the main purpose is to eat. We were going to have dinner, but I think we probably spent three or four hours just talking. That's the main way of getting to know each other or catching up. I think that's what people don't know. 

Photo: Nicole Castro

RY: So, the book is called 7 Things, as in seven different parts. I was wondering what the significance of including seven things in particular. 

NC: I have so many things that I like about this country and this culture, but I don't want to overwhelm the reader or just have too much information in one book. So with the number seven, the Philippines has over 7,000 islands in total. There's probably more that we don't know about. Seven is also considered to be a lucky number there and there's also seven wonders of the world and there are seven natural wonders in the Philippines. So I was like, “You know, seven is a pretty significant number. I'll just use that.”

RY: Do you have a personal favorite part of the book? If you had to pick one part or page, which one would it be?

NC: The last page of the book. It just talks about how though I've continuously talked about the beauty of the Philippines in the book, we should really take into account, apart from its beauty, the needs of the people and how we can help. How we can make a difference is to continue that beauty and make it real.

RY: How long were you going to continue selling your book and donating? Is it going to be continuous?

NC: I definitely plan to continue donating to the organization. Hopefully, they keep that going. I've been in contact with both founders of the organizations who started the initiative. The whole purpose of that is to feed families who aren't able to work during the pandemic because of the enhanced quarantine. They've been a big help to a lot of Filipino families so I'll continue supporting them and donating to their cause, until whenever they stop. Even after, I'll continue donating that money somewhere that'll feed families. That's something [that's] important to me. I love food. I love eating. Everyone should be able to eat.

RY: In addition to buying your book, how else can people show up for the Philippines right now? 

NC: So many things are going on but apart from that, I think like, definitely like a big, a lot of people are just hungry. I think that's what [people] don't understand. Like everyone here is scared of getting coronavirus, but they're scared to starve. I think we don't understand sometimes how privileged we are and I think that's what I was also trying to communicate to the LMU families and people who are here as well.

Photo: Nicole Castro

Softcover copies of 7 Things are available for purchase on Blurb.

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