Born in New Jersey to a Manileña mother and Pampagueño father, award-winning Filipino-American graphic artist Rich Tu has long been engaged with discourse about immigration. Through his podcast First Generation Burden, the 37-year-old – who is also the vice-president of digital design at MTV – discusses current events with fellow creatives who share a similar immigrant narrative or experience. No matter the subject, Tu’s goal with his podcast, which is now in its fourth season, is clear. “I want to showcase immigrant excellence,” he says.
And so for a collaboration with Nike in August, he decided to marry two of his passions – design and social activism – in a pair of limited-edition shoes dubbed the First Gen sneaker, an homage to immigrant life in the US. The drop was part of social platform We Are Cultivator’s initiative titled Nike By You, which tapped 28 creatives to put their marks on iconic Nike silhouettes as a way of telling compelling stories.
Tu’s brightly reimagined Nike Air Max 270 React was inspired by oxidized metals – the teal hue is the same shade that appears on the Statue of Liberty, which represents a torch-wielding welcome wagon for many US immigrants. Tu’s colorfully designed shoes were a sold-out hit.
With accolades such as the Young Guns award from the Art Directors Club in 2010, he has had a fulfilling career in design. Alongside this success, however, is a fierce commitment to social justice: Two days after the 2016 US presidential election, which led to questions about what it means to be a hyphenated American, Tu launched his podcast as a platform that celebrates the amazing contributions of immigrants in America. And now with immigration as a key talking point in the 2020 election, he plans to further impact the public discourse with more episodes, because “giving back and contributing to meaningful conversations are things I’ve always cared about”.