This article appears in the Asians In America newsletter....
From Pizza Delivery Guy to Magazine Publisher
By Jennifer L. Johnson-Nam for AIA | April 2008
John Jarasa is not what most people think of when they hear the term model minority. On the path to becoming a founder and editor of Heavy Hitters Magazine, Jarasa has failed high school English, accumulated hundreds of dollars in speeding tickets, and meandered through a list of occupations too numerous to name. If the old Jarasa told today's Jarasa that he'd one day become a writer, he'd probably call him a liar.
"I definitely never expected to be where I am. I just kind of got swept up and became passionate about it," says Jarasa.
To many, Jarasa occupies a dream job. He sets his own hours, gets invited to exclusive Hollywood parties, and most importantly, gets to interview and talk about custom cars with those who know them best. If there are any doubts as to one's authenticity, he's not afraid to test them. Looking up at a 7'1 feet giant Shaquille O'Neal, he'd ask, "Can you actually drive this Ferrari? Do you actually fit inside?"
As a sort of car fashion hybrid, the premise of Heavy Hitters is "Lifestyles of the Rich and Not So Famous." Instead of Robin Leach taking us into the mansions of stuffy old women and their poodle companions, the magazine is like a more democratic, every-man's Robb Report. Flip through an issue and you'll see profiles of people ranging from that of the "regular-Joe" to owners of aerospace companies, artists and celebrities who, besides a professed love of cars, have nothing else in common. The magazine's reader, according to Jarasa, is someone who really knows cars and is well versed in audio, performance and customization.
Jarasa, who is Filipino and Chinese, traces his roots from Ontario Canada. He spent most of his adolescence in Silver Lake, a predominantly Mexican area outside of Hollywood, California. Here, Jarasa spent his days cutting class to attend drag races and fixing up his used Honda.
While learning to work on cars, Jarasa also made many brave attempts at generating income. He took classes at Cal State University Long Beach, passed a real estate agent exam, and worked as a shoe salesman, pizza-delivery man and chiropractor. The closest he ever got to the medical profession was his work as a respiratory therapist in which he "drained people's lungs."
"When you're Asian," states Jarasa, "there's a pretty good chance you're raised to think doctor lawyer, doctor lawyer. There was a period where all I ever heard was, 'You go to college and you be a doctor.' I was like shit, I can barely wake up!"
Jarasa's path to writing and later editing came serendipitously. He began by writing for a friend's local magazine in Southern California. With some writing experience under his belt, he was soon invited by Low Rider Magazine to work as a freelance writer. He then became the editor of the magazine and the new Heavy Hitters as well.
"I know people from the outside probably thought, 'Dude you're Asian! What are you doing working at Low Rider?' And I'd tell them, 'Yeah, but I grew up with Mexicans.' That's Silver Lake," says Jarasa. "It's what I know. It's more about the knowledge you bring to the table. If you have the skills, people are going to totally respect you."
As the editor, Jarasa believes his biggest challenge is to develop his magazine into something different. "You have to find a different angle," comments Jarasa. "In our stories, we try to go for the guys who aren't yet out in the public eye. That's not easy to get."
For those interested in developing their talents as an editor, Jarasa highlights three pieces of advice. He points out that one has to know what the market wants, learn to be good with people and last, how to manage the time well.
"You have to understand the target market, the people you interview, and how your people want to be portrayed," says Jarasa. "So many of the people you interview are just scared of how they might be portrayed. So they have to trust that they're not going to feel exploited. Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have some people who are not so afraid, and there, you'll have to worry for them."
For Asian Americans, Jarasa has one extra advice. "If there are kids who hear it from their parents who tell them 'you know, you gotta study that much harder cause you're not white': I'd say don't believe that. Look deep inside your soul and find out what fascinates you. Push the boundaries. That's how skateboarding and rap became cool," says Jarasa.