KN: Kevin Nguyen
AM: Ashley Morrow
CB: Cathleen Balid
MB: Mary Balid
KN and AM: Hello! Our names are Kevin Nguyen and Ashley Morrow, and we are webmasters for the youth-led organization Asian American Progressive Student Union. We recently had the opportunity to interview Cathleen Balid and Mary Balid, the founders of HaluHalo Journal. HaluHalo Journal is a digital literary magazine highlighting the works and creativity of Southeast Asian writers, artists and storytellers, and is published on a quarterly basis.
AM: First, can you tell us about your backgrounds in creative writing?
CB: "This is so cliche, but I think I’ve written for as long as I can remember! I was always a deep bookworm, so whenever I got school assignments on creative writing I would pounce on the opportunity. I did, however, discover the teen literary community pretty late; I think I only began submitting to competitions and literary magazines at the end of my sophomore year. Nowadays, I (obviously) work in HaluHalo Journal, edit for other youth literary magazines, and participate in writing programs like the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program and Iowa Young Writers’ Studio."
MB: "Like Cathleen, I’ve always been, and always will be, a reader. Though I don’t publish nearly as much, I really enjoy participating in creative writing workshops. In fact, one of my favorite workshops was a program through an intergenerational non-profit organization in New York; the workshop involved creating a collaborative piece with elderly adults, and it really opened up my perspective."
KN: How have your creative writing passions helped shape who you are as individuals?
CB: "I think it’s the foundation of who I am! As a person, I value expression, creativity, and communication above all else — and I think these are values that creative writing deepens and reflects."
MB: "I could not have said it better myself!"
AM: What was the impetus that led you both to start HaluHalo Journal?
MB: "We both recognized that there was a lack of Southeast Asian representation in the popular media we were seeing, especially in TV shows, novels, and art, and we grew increasingly frustrated that the beauty of our cultures went largely unnoticed. It wasn’t until we found ethnicity-driven magazines, like Sine Theta Magazine and Afro Literary Magazine, that we realized that we could create a platform that took a step forward in representation, despite the fact that we were high schoolers."
AM: What are some of the topics and themes related to Southeast Asian culture that your publication seeks to explore and portray?
MB: "We love work that focuses on ethnicity just as much as we love work that doesn’t. To us, HaluHalo Journal is a platform to highlight the works of Southeast Asian artists, where they can express their ideas without restraint."
AM: What are the factors that you typically look for in a literary piece?
MB: "This may sound cliche, but it really varies from piece to piece. Some factors we like to think about are the structure and strength of the author’s language, the uniqueness of their voice, and the cohesiveness of the literary piece as a whole. We have a very soft spot in our hearts for language–– especially language that makes us react, think, and wonder."
CB: "I have a big appreciation for honesty. It is so hard to reject a piece that brims with sincerity, and I find myself drawn to raw, unbridled emotions. There is obviously a technical aspect involved, but I’m more interested in seeing how interesting language transforms and reflects different emotions."
AM: Has your experience running HaluHalo impacted the techniques that you use in your own creative writing, or how you craft your own prose?
MB: "Ooh, I love this question! At HaluHalo Journal, we give specific commentary for each and every piece (including line edits, commentary on strengths and weaknesses, etc.). I think that this aspect, in and of itself, has given me a new appreciation for language usage and self-expression. Now, more than ever before, I notice the why in literary pieces."
CB: "Oh, absolutely! I think it’s sharpened my analytical skills, because we read each piece so carefully, and taught me to tighten my language. I actually learn a lot from our own editors, who are so experienced and give out such thoughtful criticism (though I’m not biased at all!)."
KN: If given the chance, what advice would you give to people interested in creative writing?
CB: "Read, read, read! Read everything from short stories, plays, novels, and develop an appreciation for plot and language. Most of all, know that creative writing, especially in the teen literary community, is an expression and an exchange. Each writer has their own beautiful, unique voice, so don’t try to write like other writers or feel pressured by someone else’s achievements :)"
KN: What major goals do you have for HaluHalo’s impact in the future?
CB: "We would love to create the very first Southeast Asian youth anthology, in print, but we are still working out the logistics. We are also planning to hold more interviews to get an insight into the artists / writers we publish!"
KN: How does your background or heritage influence your work and what do you hope to accomplish as the Editor-in-Chiefs of HaluHalo Journal with regards to increasing intersectionality in the literary community?
MB: "I think I can speak for both of us when I say that our background and heritage is the reason why we do what we do. As a literary journal, we love reading work that glitters with language, that makes us think (of course we do). At our very core, however, our platform is built for Southeast Asian youth. I think the name of our journal, HaluHalo Journal, really says it all. Just as “HaluHalo” means “mix-mix” in Tagalog, we hope to mix the works of young Southeast Asians with the existing literary and arts sphere. We proudly display the beauty that Southeast Asians — specifically young Southeast Asians, who may initially lack support — can produce."