Thoughts of a Raised Pinay

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. […] Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the ‘I’ to ‘be’, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive ‘be’ and the active ‘being’. — Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

It has been two years since RAISED PINAY premiered at the Philippine Consulate General and at NYU in New York City. (As of the publication of this post, a second iteration of Raised Pinay, featuring a new all-Pinay cast, premiered this year at St. John’s University in Queens and at MayDay Space in Brooklyn.)

I intended to write this post after the shows ended, as a reflection on the process leading up to that point. But then time passed and many things came up that kept me from writing about it. Coming back to this, I decided to discuss what has happened since Raised Pinay and how much I have changed. It is fitting to discuss Raised Pinay this way, not just from a performer’s standpoint, but from an actual “raised Pinay” standpoint; this was more than just a “show” but a necessary healing process and a turning point in my life.

Raised Pinay was a rite of passage into my womanhood, in the context of ‘the Filipino’.

How did I get involved? (2015)

The short story is that I was scrolling through social media and came across a post that called for submissions of original work–specifically for Pinay-identified persons that lived in the metropolitan area. I inquired with the people behind it and signed up to attend the creation workshop held at NYU. From there, I met with three of the Sisters that were the creators of Raised Pinay and whom I have come to regard as some of the greatest people to enter into my life. After submitting my piece, “The Three Dresses”, I attended many meetings and rehearsals with other Pinays that participated in the shows. For three months, I came to know these incredible people and felt a sense of belonging to a group that understood and welcomed me.

Raised Pinay came at a time when I was in the early stages of grief. My older brother passed away in October 2015, and in the following year, it was extremely difficult for my family and I to get by. The state I was in, at the time, was like finding myself in a wide, open field with no sight of civilization anywhere. I knew I had to move, but I could not bring myself to try and find my way. I kept asking myself, “Where do I go from here?” but feeling unsure if any of my decisions were the right ones to make.

The Sisterhood

PINAYFormation

Taken by JL, on a rooftop in Brooklyn.

It is always scary to meet new people. You may never know what they are like or how they might treat you. You also worry about first impressions and topics of interest. Meeting new people holds risk, but it is worth taking because how else do we go through this life without sharing with and helping out each other?

Meeting these wom*n, whom I have come to regard as my “Sisters”, was a blessing. Almost all of them are older than me (and they regard me as a “little sister” because of the age difference), and yet they held me with high respect and love… as you would expect with an older sibling.

This is not to say that my Sisters will ever replace my older brother–nobody or nothing can take my brother’s place in my life–but I am grateful to have people whom I can turn to for help, in ways that an older adult may not be able to do. As simple as venting my problems, talking about popular culture or current affairs without raising generational conflicts, or spending time doing leisure activities, I am happy to have people who live in this life, in this time, and allow others–including myself–to just live.

It took a few months to feel comfortable about opening up to them. But what made this a special process is that they gave me time to do so. In most groups, I have felt pressured to quickly open up, without having enough time to gather my thoughts or to collect myself in a proper manner. That had cost me to fumble a lot, and that was the impression many received, which is embarrassing to even admit… In those instances, I felt like I was only present in those spaces to fill a quota, to make noise, or to just look pretty… But with the Raised Pinay Sisters, I had come as I was, and they welcomed me with love and warmth I have not found in other spaces before.

My Sisters also taught me what it means to come into my personal power, as a Filipina and as a Woman, in and of this age. There is a difference between meeting adults who are older and more experienced than you, and meeting adults who have walked your path before. I believe my Sisters are the latter because, in our conversations together, they have experienced similar inner turmoil and outer conflicts, as we become more knowledgeable and aware of the nuances of our heritage and upbringing. There were times when I expressed disappointment and confusion about the things I was taught to believe, only to find that they did not match up with how I followed my heart. I turned to my Sisters for advice, trusting that they know how I feel; it was less about finding a solution and more about lending an ear and a shoulder, in my time of need.

Two years in, and I still feel their love and support. I may not get to see them as often as I want to (living outside of NYC, where transportation and schedules are sources of anguish), but I know that we are still connected through other means–virtually and spiritually–in hopes that one day we can gather together in person. Sisterhood is what helps us heal our wounds and lift up each other.

Post-Show Happenings (2016-2017)

The impact of Raised Pinay set me on a journey of learning to be centered in Self. Like all journeys, there are moments of triumph and of conflict.

The positive takeaway from Raised Pinay was becoming more spiritual, in connection to my Self and to my heritage. The rehearsals for the show also served as “healing circles” that allowed for us to open up about the things we have held on to for a long time, but never found the appropriate time and space to let them out. Through this process, I learned to unearth the thought patterns, behaviors, and attitudes that were imposed on me from a young age and adapted/practiced as normal ways of living. I learned about their destructive effects, both on myself and on others, and how I can make amends and un-learn those ways so that there can be a path to better living.

It took me a long time to process all of the lessons from our “healing circles”, but those lessons blossomed at the most appropriate times, when I was ready to hear their messages.

Soon after the shows, I started getting into things related to spirituality, such as crystal healing and meditation. At first, it was a “strange obsession” that grew on me (based on the reactions of people who knew me personally), but it was like discovering magic for the first time in my life.

A month before the show, I was given a small stone by one of my Sisters, which was supposed to help with healing from grief. It was a truly thoughtful gift because someone listened to my story and thought of me in this way. This is probably what set me on the path of collecting stones and crystals, as they come from the earth and hold special meanings based on their (meta)physical properties. Some are kept in areas around my room, while others found new homes. The stone shown below is called Angelite, which I gave as a gift to my Sisters, so that we may be connected through the forces around and beyond us…

angelite

Angelite: promotes [sister]hood and peace

Inspired by our gatherings, I also began meditating as a way to check myself, emotionally and spiritually. I converted my nightstand, which had held stacks of books, into an altar space. Over the course of a year, it became occupied with: a folded table runner of purple and gold threads, from Zamboanga; acacia wood tray and plates from the Philippines (found at a local department store); a ceramic incense holder, from a local health food store; two small statues of Mother Mary; and crystals, stones, and candles that were placed in rotation, depending on what intentions I wanted to set for the day. Constructing and meditating at this altar space gave me a sense of calm and focus, helping me to learn more about myself as a person and to find ways of healing at my own pace.

As a way to connect with my Filipino heritage, at a more spiritual level, I delved into literature and research on pre-colonial Philippine history, culture, and practices. Some of the things I learned about during Raised Pinay were decolonization (refers to the process of reclaiming the Filipino identity by un-learning oppressive systems of thought and re-learning cultural traditions that were lost or forgotten under colonization), honoring Ancestors, and the Babaylan (refers to a healer in one’s tribe, treating ailments from the physical kind to the spiritual kind). These were not just concepts to be studied, but parts of identity that I needed to get in touch with, on my path as a ‘Raised (& Rising) Pinay’. I had aspired to take these lessons and apply them into my everyday living, as it will help me build confidence and pride in who I am.

As months passed, I missed my Sisters. I missed being with them and feeling community. Even though we have virtual means of staying in touch, it was their presence that I longed for. It was through crystals, meditation, and even journal-writing that brought me some form of comfort, to remember that I hold Sisterhood in my heart and in my mind. And as I focused more on my decolonization process, my perspective on the greater Filipino (American) community began to change…

Crisis of Spirit (~2017)

Gaining a new perspective meant recognizing the problematic behaviors and attitudes of other Filipinos who have not unearthed the ways of Kapwa (shared identity).

I had noticed this long before Raised Pinay happened, but kept my suspicions under wraps until I met other people who also made similar observations. Now that these were collectively confirmed, it became difficult to unsee the ways we treat(ed) each other and ourselves.

A concrete example: As a ‘raised Pinay’, I was told to “dress modestly”. I was told to not “talk back to my elders” (even if I knew they were wrong, in some sense). I was told to not cry in public because “I am making a scene”. I was told to not interact with boys because “I will be seen as a flirt”. I was taught many things by my parents, relatives, and older adults on how to act and behave like “a proper Filipina”.

In a sense, I learned how to carry myself in certain situations, with grace and respect. But the downside was learning to shrink myself, to silence my voice, and to self-police my actions and mannerisms. Not only that, but I had also judged other Filipinas on their behavior and actions, trying to place myself in a higher position because I was ‘following the rules’. At the cost of upholding a certain image that was acceptable to the majority of (older) Filipinos, while simultaneously “competing” with other Pinays by way of example, I nearly gave up my sense of true Self…

Raised Pinay taught me how to subvert those notions of what a “proper Filipina” is supposed to be, and to embrace my true (and best) Self, unapologetically.

Of course, that met with plenty of conflict…

Below is an excerpt of a journal entry I wrote, the day after the final performance:

I’m back to being told that my voice does not matter, in the most subtle, passive-aggressive ways. I’m back to being thrown into spaces that I know I do not belong in. I’m back to being dragged into the normal routine… where I am insignificant, that my impact has faded ripples, and I am no more than a faceless, voiceless being…

I hate feeling like I’m being blamed for any mistakes I’ve made and any inconveniences that occur and are beyond my control. I hate being interrupted and losing focus just because the other person felt that they should add more to their point that didn’t need further detail. I hate being told that someone “will be here if you want to talk” but never listens. And so I’m forced back into my small bubble, stay quiet and keep busy.

(personal journal entry from 4/4/16)

The sentiments expressed here would remain the same during my decolonization process. It was startling to realize the reality I was living in, prior to Raised Pinay. I did not realize how much my voice mattered until conflicts of interest suggested that I stay quiet unless spoken to. Or how much I valued myself until I was called “selfish” or “maarte” (dramatic) when expressing discomfort or disagreement. Back in my hometown bubble, away from the city where many like-minded people provided me with the emotional support I needed at the time, I was reminded of “my place”.

Soon, it became noticeable in other spaces I thought I had belonged to. The realization came to me that I was merely a cog in a machine that could easily be replaced when removed.

There were a few times where I hung out with people I knew from high school. My relationship with these folks was casual; neither great nor bad terms. However, I found myself unable to enter into a conversation… It had less to do with my quiet disposition (I was known to be the quiet one, unless I had something to add to the discussion) and more to do with my changing mentality. More or less, the others indulged in gossip about other people we knew and making comments about them. I felt uncomfortable listening to this type of conversation because, under my new lens, I did not want to speak or think ill of other people I barely knew–we were all going through things that may be difficult to understand without nuance.

I also felt out-of-place because of my circumstances. People I knew were either traveling, working, living on their own, being in relationships, and doing other adulthood-related activities–while I was still living under the same conditions from high school. I was still living at home with my parents, unemployed, single, and broke. Add on to the fact that I was coping with a personal loss, which caused mental and psychological distress, I was not fit to even function in society…

With all of these things seemingly tearing at my eyes–just as I was learning to open them–I began to distance myself from other people, unable to differentiate who was actually toxic and who I thought was no good in my life. The fear of having no one else to turn to surfaced from time to time; I would forget about the ones who were already present in my life mainly because of technicalities (i.e., distance, scheduling conflicts, level of acquaintance). Despite having learned the different methods of spiritual practice that could have kept me in check, I fell deeper into destructive thought patterns…

I coveted other people’s lives. I snuffed too much self-pity to find gratitude. I expressed regret over my choices in life: “If I had done this one thing, maybe I wouldn’t end up like this…” I became reluctant to even reach out to my Sisters or anyone else in my close circle for help because I felt like I was either a burden or going to spread negative karma into their lives. The more I kept things bottled up, the weaker my heart and soul became as I allowed envy, jealousy, anger, and despair to take over…

Maria Clara Speaks (~2018)

But then I learned to check myself.

“What makes me a ‘Raised Pinay’?” was the question I needed to ask myself, again and again. Is it the things that were embedded into my being prior to decolonization? Is it the things that were beyond my control, before I was born, that defined who I am as a Filipina? Is it all the negative things that I am trying to defy with my present Self?

The answers to this question are nuanced, complicated, and different for every Filipina-identified person… and that is okay.

Coming back to Spirit–or, re-learning how to actively apply what I have learned two years ago into my daily routine–meant remembering why I made that choice to join Raised Pinay and what lessons I took away from the experience.

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means accepting the “ugly” parts of my upbringing, such as upholding the ways of the “Dalagang Pilipina” in certain situations, as a means to maintain ties with my elders. It means acknowledging the colonial mentality and legacy that persists to this day among the Filipino community, here in the United States and in the Philippines. It means being grateful to my parents for sacrificing a lot for my older brother and I, so that we could have a sufficient livelihood and believe that anything we aspire to be is possible. It means honoring my ancestors in my work and my life, knowing that they have survived for generations so that I would end up as one of their descendants who could break these cycles of oppression. It means being a part of the grander narrative of ‘the Filipino experience’ by writing my own narrative.

Barbara Jane Reyes explains it best, when we talk about Pinay-centered narratives.

BarbaraJaneReyes

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means speaking up for myself, but knowing how and when to use my voice. It is not just for amplifying my own story, but also for bringing up others who are still finding their courage and strength to speak their truths.

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means finding ways to contribute to the community, for uplift and enlightenment. Even as I am focusing on my own decolonization process, I am figuring out how to proactively help others in starting or deepening their own journeys.

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means accepting other Pinays in their own versions of identity. Comparisons and competition will only keep us divided; to truly rise into power, we Pinays must learn to love ourselves and each other, as {Sisterhood holds us strong}.

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means always willing to learn how to mature. My own narrative includes my mistakes, faults, grievances, disappointments, and embarrassing moments–and how I have learned or am still learning to see them as “lessons”.

Being a ‘Raised Pinay’ means always learning how to love myself, without the shame or guilt of narcissism, after many years of having institutions try to teach me why I should hate myself. I have learned to recognize my ‘Brown’, my ‘Island Womxn roots’, my ‘Bicolana ties’, and show my pride as a ‘Raised & Rising Pinay’.

RaisedPinay_amenaje05

Crochet medallion by Tiffany Freeman of ConsciousCenters


When A Modern Pinay Ages

When we are separated from a support group for a long time, that vicious cycle of negative thinking returns: “I’m not good enough“, “I am hopeless“, “There is nothing left for me to live for“, “No one cares if I am still around“, “My life doesn’t matter to anyone“–and it swirls around constantly, preventing us from remembering that we do in fact have so much to live for, that we have people in our lives who value and love us (for who we are), that our lives matter.

That is why we need sisterhood, especially Pinays.

Sisterhood is sacred and safe. It is true beauty, true healing, and true power.

It is a space where we don’t have to hide or pretend or act/behave in “appropriate” ways. We have had to do that our whole lives, as a matter of survival. When we gather, that is the only safe space where we can show our true selves with others.

We have been raised to compete with each other, in beauty, brains, talents, etc. But in Sisterhood, we don’t compete or insult; we lift up each other, encourage, empower, and more importantly–what we rarely have in other spaces–listen to each other.

I cannot tell you how many times I felt dragged into (Filipino) circles where I was nothing more than a spectacle: I was told I was beautiful, pretty, even “sexy” (which is inappropriate to regard a young child)–but that was all superficial. My value was in my looks and my potential to be a bride. I was often asked if I have a boyfriend (no, to this day) and that I should have one because I am pretty… (It is also damaging to teach young boys and girls that “being pretty” is the only value a girl has to feel worthy of attention and love.) And I bet you that every Pinay has been through this, probably even tired of this shit, as we recognize our own worth and know we are more than what has been implicated on us for years (centuries, if we go all the way back to the times of Spanish colonization).

It took me a long time to crawl out of this pit of despair. There were people I thought would walk with me, only to have them shove me down and kick dirt into the pit. There were times of rain that caused me to slip further, no matter how many times or how much force I tried to climb my way out. And there were long periods of resignation to be buried in the mud because being alive felt unbearable…

But I am grateful to those who reached out and gave me something to hold on to, as I ascended. The most important thing was being reminded that I still have the strength to get up and go. I finally made it out and learning how to walk again.

RaisedPinay_amenaje08a

Taken by Gigi Bio, as cast photo for Raised Pinay 2016

I am forever in deep gratitude to my Sisters:

JL Umipig (a true Babaylan of our time)

Justine Ang Fonte (the Most Boss Ate™!)

Rachelle Ocampo-Hom (Miss-I-Got-This and -I-Own-It + happy marriage!)

Maria Rubio (Power Mom-nurse-artist-wom*n all around)

Aurerose Piaña (Fierce Pinay with a golden heart and sharp claws)

Twinkle Ferraren (Weaver of Sisterhood in the Motherland)

Gigi & Grace Bio (Golden Sun Sisters who breathe life into art and vice-versa)

Kristina Bustos (Cultural-bearer and -educator Supreme)

Zarah Cabañas (Warrior Queen of Soul-Sounds)

Karen Joy Pangantihon (Siren-Songstress who commands the tides)

Krissy Reyes (Angel made of stardust and strobe-lights)

Manang Joanne (the most admirable Pinay who holds wisdom and love)

And I am proud of the new Sisters of Raised Pinay at SJU for coming up and into your power by sharing your stories, and may your post-show journeys be full of wonder, light, (self)love, and healing:

Triz Ann Dearoz

Maria Marquez

Sabrina Abesamis

Gaby Luz Roque

Brittany Tunac

Lizandei Bernardo

Lauren Ruiz

RaisedPinay_amenaje09

Shirt from Raised Pinay 2018 at SJU


Special thanks to Michael Marbella for reading an earlier draft of this essay.

(I must note here that I am brave enough to share parts of my personal (written) thoughts, since they are the roots of this post and this blog. I may not share everything, but only what I feel is relevant and necessary to include in a discussion. It is in my hope that, should you read any of what I post in this space, you respect my freedom to express myself. My intentions for this space is to craft and to control my own personal narrative, without fear of judgment or ridicule, since I have been told that voices and stories like mine do not matter.)

(However, if I am in the wrong, in any way, you may check me on it–but please do so, in a respectful manner. That entails sending a private message or speaking in person. I want to maintain this safe space for myself and for my readers; to spread negative messages is something I do not condone, especially for the author of any such messages who fails to address their own behavior and how it affects themselves and others.)

 

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