PD reporter Mya Constantino: Journalism is in my blood
“Behind the Byline” introduces you to those who write stories, shoot photos, design pages and edit the content we deliver in our print editions and on pressdemocrat.com. We’re more than journalists. As you’ll see, we’re also your neighbors with unique backgrounds and experiences who proudly call Sonoma County home.
Today, we introduce you to Mya Constantino, one of our features and breaking news reporters.
I grew up to the click-clacking of my grandma’s black Olympia typewriter.
As a kid, I fell asleep hearing her typing and then woke up to it the next morning. As the sun rose, there she sat at the same wooden desk, beneath a single lamp, typing away.
I’m a features and breaking news reporter for The Press Democrat.
I cover arts, entertainment and culture and spotlight captivating people who have important stories to share with our community.
That image of my grandmother is forever ingrained in me.
Her name was Amelia. She was an entertainment journalist in the 1970s for “Bulaklak” (flowers, in Tagalog), a newspaper based in Manila.
When she was 55, my grandma left the paper and the Philippines and immigrated to the U.S. to join me and my family of five in Portland.
Then in 2003, we traded pine trees for neon signs. My family and I headed south and landed in a city in the Mojave Desert — Las Vegas.
There, my grandma started “Las Vegas Star.” It was an entertainment magazine that featured entertainment reviews and stories on Filipino artists’ latest movies and TV shows.
From our home, she’d call writers in the Philippines for the latest news and artists for interviews.
Then, she’d tap away on her typewriter. Once her stories were finished, she’d send them out for print and then drop the magazines off to display at Filipino markets and restaurants in the city.
She’d also share random stories about life in the Philippines.
She recalled riding in a crowded jeepney (public bus) with other reporters to meet with talkative actors for lunch, which included fresh crab and shrimp wrapped in banana leaves.
Once, for a story, she took a long boat ride to a movie shoot taking place at Pagsanjan Falls in southeast Manila. Once there, she told an old story from Filipino folklore about the origin of the 300-foot waterfalls.
It went something like this:
Before the waterfalls existed, two brothers, Balubad and Magdapio, lived quietly on the land when suddenly disaster struck — leaving the area in a horrific drought. The brothers prayed to the gods for water. Balubad died of thirst. Magdapio then, enraged, banged his cane onto a rock and out sprouted a spring.
My grandma told the story better than I ever could.
She knew how to talk to just about anyone. I was amazed at her ability to go beyond what was in front of her and uncover the most interesting details of a person’s life.
Hanging out with her was my favorite thing in the world.
For the majority of my childhood, though, I didn’t understand what my grandma did.
It wasn’t until she died in 2013 that I realized how important storytelling was to her.
And, that it would become a big part of my life.
For her funeral, I decided I’d create a photo slideshow that honored her life’s story — a 16-year-old girl, one of seven kids, who grew up near a horse ranch in Manila and got her start folding newspapers for a local publication.
She was a hardworking mom of three kids. And, as mentioned earlier when she was 55, she immigrated to the U.S. to reunite with her daughter — my mom.
One day, my mom pulled out a stack of dusty blue albums filled with photos of my grandma. In many of the photos, she was standing proudly beside actors she wrote about. Cutouts of her stories were glued onto random pages.
As I looked through those albums, something clicked inside of me.
I, too, wanted to help tell people’s stories.
Five years later, I enrolled in my first journalism class at a Las Vegas community college.
Truth is, I didn’t know what journalism meant to me and realized I’d need to find my own meaning in the craft.
After a year at the community college, I continued at the University of Nevada Las Vegas as a journalism and media studies major while juggling random jobs.
At the time, I worked as a barista at a quaint French café, often going home with coffee and quiche stains.
In that tiny shop, I saw all the interesting people that passed through the door.
There was Armando, an inquisitive full-time magician who lived and breathed science. And Tath, a writer who once worked for a circus.
I was captivated by their stories. They were healing.
I clung to them when I felt lost and remembered bits and pieces of their stories when I felt alone.
I started documenting it all in a notebook. Then, I started a blog and wrote about all the fascinating people I met in that café.
Those stories, in the same way my grandma shared them, were comforting.
They reminded me of my own humanity.
I eventually picked up a music journalism internship chasing busy musicians at concerts and music festivals.
Then, I joined my school’s newspaper in 2018 covering student government, campus culture and the community.
In 2020, I landed a news reporting internship at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, graduating that same year.
I’ve been with The Press Democrat since May.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about journalism so far, it’s this:
Sometimes, if we’re paying attention, we can see ourselves in the stories people share with us.
We can learn or find inspiration in them. Other times, they challenge us to question the roles we play in life and in our communities.
I’m a new journalist and still have so much to learn, but I’m dedicated to telling stories that heal, challenge and evoke curiosity in Sonoma County in the best way possible.
There’s not a day I don’t miss my grandma. I never got the chance to thank her for planting that “journalism seed” all those years ago.
Hopefully, this column is enough of a thank you.
You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at 707-521-5220 or email@example.com. @searchingformya on Twitter.