The Faces Behind Hyphen: Lisa Wong Macabasco

August 20, 2010

Who are those hardcore souls who give so much of their MSG-laced sweat and hot sauce-induced tears to Hyphen magazine? This month, as part of Hyphen’s fundraising campaign, you’ll get to know some of these ass-kicking heroines and heroes who aren’t anyone’s sidekicks or comic relief, and who live beyond the final scenes. Way beyond....

Lisa Wong Macabasco (Hyphen's managing editor) will tell you the honest truth when you most need someone to do so, and in a way that is completely thoughtful, heartfelt and aware. Pair that with her smarts, funky style, and compelling experience and interests, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for that miniature conscience you wished sat on your shoulder all the time. Or, in the case of Hyphen, the one that hovers over the pages.

How and when were you first introduced to Hyphen?

I had always heard about Hyphen. I wanted to be a journalist since I was a kid, and I have [long] been a follower of Asian American media. At [University of California,] Berkeley, I worked on the publication Hard Boiled. In 2005, Hyphen published my masters work, which was a story about undocumented immigrants with HIV. In 2006, I took a fiction class at Kearny Street Workshop with some Hyphen staff, was invited to a meeting, and started as a contributor. I was working at AsianWeek, at the time. I became managing editor about a year and a half ago.

What do you think makes Hyphen so unique?

It’s a marriage of amazing design and artwork with provocative, funny, cutting-edge content. Not a lot of publications have been able to meet both of those criteria. Also, we are building a community at the same time -- a community of readers who come out to our events, who want to be more involved.

What kind of impact do you hope it has?

I hope that it shines a light on upcoming movers and shakers in our community, and captures trends, etc. We make readers think about issues in a different way -- we dig deeper and find unexpected issues that aren’t often discussed. We’re moving beyond knee-jerk reactions, and are not so much just about Asian Americans as a uniform culture and community.

How have you seen it change over time?

It’s more organized: we have actual positions and responsibilities for specific parts, like with editors being in charge of certain sections. In terms of stories, we have branched out beyond what we did in the beginning. Before, we were explicit about not having stories about fashion or having recipes -- things people felt were overdone with Asian Americans. We do those things now, but in a way that’s very Hyphen. We’ve talked about doing sports, fashion and TV sections.  

What/who have been some of your main influences, in terms of your work at Hyphen?

In mainstream media, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue (they have good feature stories). And Mother Jones -- they've managed to grow in this tough economy, so they have a good business model. In ethnic media, Hard Boiled -- it’s more renegade and rebellious than Hyphen. KoreAm has good stories, and is super comprehensive.

How has your relationship with/perspective of API issues changed over time?

I worked at AsianWeek for two years, with an overlap with Hyphen, so I’ve worked in Asian American media for a while. I think this has led to overexposure for me.  This is an issue that Hyphen struggles with, too.

Do you tend to crave sweet or savory food more?

I crave savory more often, but my cravings for sweet are more intense.

If you had to choose your last meal on earth, what would it be?

Nuomi Fan, Chinese sticky rice. 

What are you most nostalgic for from your childhood?

I read a lot when I was a kid. I used to have a light to read in the car. I’m nostalgic for reading as a pure joy, not as something to be done for a living.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

Fashion blogs, like the Sartorialist and Cherry Blossom Girl.

Did your parents make you go to language school?

No. My mom is Chinese and my dad is Filipino, so they didn’t want to make me learn two languages.

What are you listening to now, in terms of music?

The new Arcade Fire and the new Jay-Z. I’m actually going to see Jay-Z and Eminem in Detroit for my birthday.

Do you prefer to eat family-style or order individually?

Order individually. People interpret “share” differently, so I sometimes don’t get enough of what I want when we eat family-style.

What would your superhero alter ego be?

Growing up I loved She-Ra. She was like Wonder Woman. Kick ass in skimpy clothes.

What is your favorite nickname that other people have dubbed you?

Chicken Legs. People called me that in middle school, but I like my legs now, so I don’t care.

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Hi, Annie Hall! It's true, I do wish there was a mini version of Lisa, so I could carry her in my pocket and get her second opinion on most everything.