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brown papaya

Volume I Summer 2018


Overview 03 Hello


Community Through Creativity





Brown Papaya Babes

Creative Crushes

Thank You Creative Credits Why the “x”?


84 Kate Dash been.milky 90 Chang Hella Strangers 96 ChiChai Empire in the Air 102 Steph Gancayco Hella Pinay

Copyright © 2018 by Isabel Bagsik of Brown Papaya. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database, without the prior written permission of the publisher. 2

Brown Papaya

Hello there, It’s been a long time coming, but Brown Papaya is finally born. This has been a whirlwind of planning, organizing, connecting, and designing. All thanks to your unwavering support and belief in this ‘lil idea I had while riding BART in the summer of 2017. One day while riding on the train from my internship, my mind was free to roam and ideas began to form. This need to create something was growing, and my hands were getting antsy to produce some type of project. It couldn’t just be a project for the sake of making something. I wanted to care about it wholeheartedly, otherwise the superficial sugar coating of colors and typography would seep through the surface. I had a background in community organizing within the Filipinx community in college, and the people I’ve worked with and learned from ultimately led me to Brown Papaya. Beauty expectations are drilled into children at a young age, especially within the Filipinx community, and more often for Filipina/x girls and womxn. Aside from body size, there is this added complexity of colonized thinking at play. The Philippines was colonized by a number of groups, most notably by Spain and America. With these colonizers come their values and ideals imposed on the Filipinx people, such as beauty expectations. The most common beauty ideals in the Philippines are light skin, straight hair, small nose, and tall, thin bodies. These eurocentric features are portrayed as valuable and attainable through skin lightening products and other problematic advertisements that are just as toxic. I wanted this project to deconstruct what beauty means for Filipinas/Filipinxs, first starting with its name: “brown papaya”. “Brown” to reclaim and embrace darker, brown sunkissed skin that is often portrayed as “dirty” or “unattractive”, and “papaya” as a play on the name of a common skin lightening product in the Philippines, papaya soap. In this digital magazine, you will get to know 37 Filipinas/Filipinxs through their photos and interviews, learn of 4 featured local Bay Area creative professionals and get an in depth look at their creative journey, and engage with over 20 pieces of art and writing from the local community. Brown Papaya is not just an individual project, it is a community effort. The participation and support of the community proves that there is a universal need to deconstruct beauty expectations in the Filipinx culture. Isabel Bagsik Editor in Chief Creative Director


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*Donations were used for travel fees, snacks for photoshoot participants, & design software 4

Brown Papaya

37 3 1 Models




Brown Papaya Babes


Brown Papaya

Brown Papaya showcases Filipina/Filipinx beauty in a way that mainstream media ignores or tries to hide. You will get to know 37 beautiful Filipina womxn in their various forms of gorgeousness, in different shades of brown, with different hair textures and colors, embodying different curves and body shapes, yet all experiencing the same beauty expectations imposed upon them. I hosted three photoshoots to include all 37 participants, and before their photos were taken, I wanted to engage them in open dialogues and critical thinking. At the start of each photoshoot, we would introduce ourselves. I would then have them individually answer 3 prompts, which I encourage you to answer for yourself: 1) What observations do you have of Filipinas in Philippines and/or American media? 2) What beauty expectations have you experienced growing up? 3) Name two things you love about yourself. After they’ve answered these prompts on their own, I had them pair up to share their answers to their partner. And then after that round, I gathered them to stand in a large circle and share what they discussed or learned to the large group. Some learned new things from their partners, but at all three photo meet ups many of the same struggles came up. There were a lot of sympathetic, knowing “oh yeah”s and “uh huh, yup”s , proving we have a shared experience. After this activity, I had all the womxn form a line standing side by side, holding hands. Their eyes were closed as I read through a list of prompts. If they could relate to the statement and it was a positive experience they would step forward. If it was a negative experience they could relate to, they would take a step back. But no matter how far apart they got, they were never to let go of each other’s hands. Some statements provided a predictable outcome, but to see it confirmed in a physical form was striking. For instance during one of the photoshoots, I said “Take a step back if you ever felt unsafe walking outside of your home because of how you were dressed”, and every single womxn in the group all took a step back. After this experience, it was time for group photoshoots, then individual photoshoots. Many felt that because of the activities, they embodied this knowledge and newfound sisterhood as they were getting their photos taken, feeling empowered and full of purpose. We are more than just how we present ourselves to the world. With this project, I hope you keep an open heart and mind as you read their stories and engage with their art. Let’s change the dialogue and move it towards empowering our womxn instead of putting them down or pitting them against each other. You can make a difference, one conversation at a time.




Brown Papaya

Brown Papaya

Name: Ahri Eullo Age: 18 Pronouns: she/her Location: Bay Area, California Education: High school Career: Dancer/Choreographer, Receptionist Social Media: @wxlfahri, What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? Before high school, I was never taught my Filipino culture. I was very white-washed, never taught to speak, never had Ifugao or Baro’t Saya outfits. It wasn’t until I enrolled myself into an Asian American class and became a part of Filipino Youth Association that I started to learn about my background and culture. I believed that being a part of another Filipino identity-based community, I would learn more about myself and others similar to me. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I honestly thought this would be a picture, then leave. I never expected to create such a close community; I might as well call them family. We talked, we bonded, we explored. We were all engaged with, not just the photoshoot, but the meaning of the photoshoot. Who we are and displaying that and projecting problems we face. We discovered others while discovering ourselves.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I was told to hate my dark skin. I was trained and conditioned to be lighter. I was told to be skinny and thin and tall. I genetically turned out to be a little thicker and shorter. This created a lot of insecurities. I lacked self confidence in my own looks at such a young age of seven years old. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? All the white-washing that I have been a part of is normal. All the experiences surrounding my background is something that many more people go through. But that doesn’t make it okay. We’re slowly losing where we came from. With the activities, we learned our similar paths and acknowledged our lack of core culture due to situations while growing up. From the activities, we connected more with our culture.




Brown Papaya

Name: Alyssa Age: 20 Pronouns: she/her Location: California, USA Education: Health Science, San Jose State University Instagram: @alyssapalis What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I thought we were all just going to be asked questions and take some pictures, but we actually did a lot of games. I had a lot of fun meeting new people and getting to know them through these activities. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that a lot of other Filipinas experienced similar situations as me. It was nice to know that we can relate to each other and feel the same way about certain things. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up I was told to not go out under the sun too much or else my skin will get darker. It made me believe that being light skinned meant that you were beautiful. I would get paranoid that I would get dark whenever I spent a long period of time under the sun and would use my mom’s papaya soap in attempts to make my skin lighter. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would tell my younger self to not believe in those so called “Filipina beauty standards”. Each and every person was born different and you’re beautiful just the way you are.




Brown Papaya

Name: Charisse Hulog Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Education: College student Instagram: @charissehulog What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? When I heard about the Brown Papaya project, I knew I had to be a part of this. It’s a great opportunity to inspire other girls to be confident with their beauty. I want to show every woman that they are beautiful and amazing. We come in all shapes and sizes, we should be happy the way we feel and show that we have confidence. I have insecurities, but that doesn’t stop me to be who I am. I shouldn’t care what people think or say of me, I’m happy of who I am today.

soap that make their skin white. It made me mad watching those commercials, not all people want their skin white. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? If I would tell my younger self about beauty expectations is don’t be insecure just be confident and happy the way you are. Also, don’t let anyone tell you to change who you are, no one is perfect in this world, and care about yourself. You should know that you’re surrounded by people who love you. There are going to be ups and downs, but you’ll get through it and you’re a strong person. What does your self-love journey look like? My self-love journey is to take care of myself. At times I should realize what I deserve and remind myself that I’m important. I need to prioritize what matters the most to me and where I put the energy in. I want to take care of my body, get some exercise and eat healthy. Just giving simple reminders to friends that they are special and know that you are always there for them. Lastly, I would also remove the negativity in my life and surround myself with things that make me happy.

What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? My expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot were making new friends and just having a good time. I was nervous at first, but it changed during the activities. I felt we became closer and had a few connections, it was a great experience to see that we weren’t alone. Throughout the photoshoot, I made new friends and got to know one another. There were a lot of happiness and laughter. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Beauty expectations I grew up with is that I had to use papaya soap. When I first heard about papaya soap, I didn’t know what it does, then I asked my mom. She told me that it makes my skin whiter. I thought to myself why do have to make my skin lighter? As seen on TFC, I see those commercials where Filipino actresses promote




Brown Papaya

Name: ChiChai Mateo Age: 26 Pronouns: she/her Education: M.A. International Studies, University of San Francisco Instagram: @chichai.empire What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? There’s a growing recognition that pinays are beautiful in all our shades. I saw Brown Papaya as celebrating that. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I wasn’t sure how engaged in the topic the photo-shoot would be. I’m happy to experience that Brown Papaya was more than a photo-shoot but an opportunity to reflect on each of our journeys as pinays and how we define what being a beautiful pinay is.

“Create that foundation of self-love now so that you can grow with no limitations in creativity.” How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I believe I actively deconstruct toxic Filipinx beauty expectations through my art. The women I paint come in different shades of brown, tend to have wide (as supposed to pointy) noses, and big hair. Because of the Filipinx desire for “silky straight” hair, my mom grew up hating (and still hating) her curly hair. If you see my artwork, hair often creates the scenery and can be depicted as the main subject. This is an ode to my mom and other Filipinx with similar hair to show them that they are beautiful. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Create your own standard! Don’t wait until college or older to feel free and confident in expressing who you are through your art and fashion. Create that foundation of self-love now so that you can grow with no limitations in creativity.




Brown Papaya

Name: Chelsea Ruiz Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: San Francisco, California Education: Dominican University of California Career: Future Nurse Social Media: @seaziur What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I related to the subject of the project and thought it would be a fun experience to meet some cool girls and make some friends. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? Coming into the project I expected just a regular photoshoot, but this all changed once we started the activities that helped me feel less alone. I loved meeting people that had similar experiences. We could cope together through the verbal abuse from our judgmental family members haha. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up I was told to be skinny and white. I used papaya soap on the daily and wondered how in the world could someone stay skinny if we eat three servings of

rice at every meal of the day! After getting fed up with the constant comments of being too fat, too skinny, too dark, too ugly I did what no Filipino would dare do to their parents: talk back. But the disrespect didn’t stop there, I stopped using the papaya soap, and drowned out my critics. Let me be me. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? “Put down the papaya soap and listen. Beauty expectations our culture sets up for us has made us believe that if we do not look or act a certain way, then we are not desirable. That is not only untrue but also insulting to who we are as a person. Grow up to be you, not some wannabe teleserye star. You’re amazing just the way you are.” —Older Chelsea to Younger Chelsea What does your self-love journey look like? My self love journey looks like a narrow winding road going up a treacherous mountain, through a deep, dark forest, and finally ending where it all started: with me. Such beauty expectations are drilled in my head. My whole life I wasn’t good enough so that led to shame which feeds depression, anger, and self hatred. To this day I’m insecure about my appearance. But every day I work a little harder to feel confident and happy about who I am. Subsequently, I’m better at being self aware and promoting my self care.




Brown Papaya

Name: Cheryll Del Rosario Age: 38 Pronouns: she/her Location: Daly City, California Career: Graphic Designer Instagram: @_cheryll Twitter: @cheryll What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? Asian Americans as a whole have so little representation in mass media and Filipinos even less, so the idea of being part of a project that puts us—in all our diverse glory—in the spotlight was really appealing. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I just figured I’d get some cool photos out of it, little did I know it would be so thought-provoking and fun! What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Older generations seem to fixate on two things: nose shape and skin tone. I vividly remember my mom pulling me into her lap when I was a child, pinching my nose, and chanting, “Grow... grow... grow...” in hopes that it would become more European-looking. Then there was the time I was in my cousin’s wedding in the Philippines and the make up artist 1) used a foundation at least 2 shades lighter than I really was and 2) contoured the heck out of my nose to make it look skinnier. I disavow any knowledge of those photos now.

How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? Simply existing and not apologizing for how I look/act, in my opinion, is the easiest way to show that beauty doesn’t fit into a one-size-fits-all mold. If you believe you are beautiful then you are. Period. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? You will never be a supermodel on the cover of a magazine, but that doesn’t make you any less beautiful or worthy of that kind of admiration. A world where everyone tries to fit into a “standard of beauty” is a very boring world. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? We get shit on enough via societal and media pressures on how to act, dress, and look a certain way and this isn’t even getting into bigger issues about how our bodies are politicized, glass ceilings in the workplace, and the overarching factor of being women of color. With all that in mind, ask yourself why add to that mess by being terrible to other women? What do you gain from that? What does your self-love journey look like? I think I’ve come to a point in my life where I can be unapologetic for who I am and what I look like. I’m almost 40—what you’re seeing is what you’re getting and I happen to like what I see quite a bit!




Brown Papaya

Name: Danielle Miguel Age: 22 Pronouns: she/her Location: Richmond, California Education: B.A. Public Health; Public Policy & Political Economy minors; UC Berkeley Career: Aspiring Physician Executive Instagram, Twitter, Wordpress: @daniellemiguelz

What does your self-love journey look like? My journey is complex. It consists of reminding myself that I am enough as I am, yet also telling myself that it’s okay to strive to becoming what makes me happy. It looks like putting my happiness and health at the forefront of my personal efforts, even if it means taking time off to focus on me and no one else. I’m starting to believe that I can’t be my best for others if I am not being my best for myself.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up, expectations of my femininity and beauty were influenced by how the media portrayed “successful” Filipinas—slim body, long straight hair, sharp long nose, light skin, and a submissive personality. While I was coveted for having straight long hair, I received a lot of comments on my bigger body, darker skin, and wider nose. I’d use packs of papaya soap, I skipped meals to lose weight, and would always think about getting a nose job. To this day, I still have trouble coping with these thoughts, but I am slowly learning how to accept who I am. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? Actions I’ve taken to deconstruct current Filipina beauty standards have varied across the years. I’ve had conversations with other womxn, facilitated workshops, and even took the topic into my education and professional settings. I took initiative to look into its connection to colonization and global markets through minoring in political economy, and actively stopped buying products such as papaya soap so that I could slowly reflect on how to better reclaim what it means to be beautiful while not submitting to commercial influences. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? YOU ARE ENOUGH. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? I prioritize three things when it comes uplifting other womxn: 1) Listen and always put intersectionality and experiences at the forefront of my thoughts, 2) Do my best not to compare, but to compliment and validate others, 3) Connect the narrative to the systems. These are significant to understanding how I can help individuals while also being reflective on ways of shifting culture and the systems that dictate the positions of womxn in society.


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Name: Elleanor Pangilinan Pronouns: she/her Location: Richmond, California Education: B.S. Nutrition Science Career: Aspiring Professor & Biomedical Scientist What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? The topic & community! Colorism is something I have spoken on before and is something that can be subtle yet blatant in how it affects an individual’s view of selfworth. I value how this project focused on physically bringing folks together to reflect, call-in, and question it’s (colorism) pervasiveness in our own community through embracing personal truths. Another aspect that Brown Papaya contributes to is challenging & reclaiming what it is/feels/looks like to be a Filipina/x by not only centering these diverse experiences but making space for a visual platform where others (who could not physically participate) can also connect. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I thought that I would feel more awkward than usual having solo shots taken as i’m usually the person behind the camera but I was surprisingly more relaxed when it came to my turn. I didn’t expect to feel so much confidence radiating out of everyone! Seeing folks either come out of their shells or work TF out of whichever outfit they were wearing was reaffirming; that it was okay even if I did pull some awkward faces in front of Vianca (heh). It honestly felt like a chill day at the park with good friends.

creep in sometimes!) and having the patience and understanding of self throughout each step because sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to do. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? “Be about what you say you are”—for me, part of this means consistently cutting and calling in the crab mentality. The only person I’m in competition with is myself. I won’t hold others to the same assumptions/unrealistic expectations that have become common, beauty or class-related. Challenge—Continue to educate myself or support others through the process, or simply speak my truth (not just in closed conversations) in understanding how the damaging implications of colonization (the root of some of these expectations!) affect how we as Filipinx people respect one another. A reminder that I got from this project: How to think beyond the hierarchies that colorism (and other “-isms”, if you know what I mean *cough cough*) perpetuates and how embracing self-love is one step in how we can all re-establish the respect and values we wish to have reflected. It’s a reminder that there’s power in taking our conversations and thoughts outside of the comfort of our homes (or brains). Just as we shouldn’t feel afraid to question these things that make us uncomfortable, let’s all have the courage to act.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Smooth hair vs. my coarse strands, lighter skin & other Eurocentric features, basically, the ‘mestiza’ looks to my ‘morena’ were the unstated expectations. It looked like 8+ hour sessions to get my hair relaxed, but tying it up so no one could notice a difference. It took form in irrational acts like wearing jackets in the heat just to avoid papaya soap (lol). It felt like being uncomfortably at odds with myself—being privileged enough to make changes to how I looked but wanting to hide those changes out of the shame I felt from allowing them to happen. What does your self-love journey look like? Please see responses for the next question but ALSO it looks like letting go and having patience. Taking a step back to let go of negativity or self-doubt (because it will


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Name: Ermoan Astorga Pronouns: she/her Location: Union City, Bay Area, California Education: Nursing What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I was excited to be a part of a project to expose the many different beauties of Filipino women. We all come in different shapes and sizes, share similar features, and come in all different shades of color, yet we are still unique in our own way. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? My expectations were to see many beautiful girls who are confident in their own skin and proud to be Filipinas. My expectation did not change, in fact we even lifted each other and let everyone know you’re not alone with what you’re going through, that someone feels the way you do. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that some people are still insecure about themselves just as much as I am and that we are all learning to love ourselves. It was an amazing experience spreading love and positivity. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I was expected to have lighter skin and pointier nose. It made me believe that I was not as beautiful as the others, and it harmed my growth. I’d try to pinch my nose until it hurts and turn red, use soaps and other creams to make your skin lighter, but as I grew older, I stopped caring and enjoy my tan skin, because I realize in the end, I don’t want to be like white people, with their pale skin and pointy nose, I want to be me, I am proud to be brown, and I am beautiful. What does your self-love journey look like? My self-love journey is great, I’m much happier with my complexion and much more comfortable in my own skin. Ever since I stopped caring, I became much happier because in the end, my opinion about myself is the only thing that matters.


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Name: Eunice Antoinette Pangan Magat Age: 23 Pronouns: she/her Location: Milpitas, California Education: B.S. Genetics & Genomics, B.S. Psychology; Currently pursuing an M.S. in Psychology and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology Career: Paraeducator, Aspiring Clinical Psychologist, previously Behavioral Therapist Instagram: @emantoinette5 What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I wanted an opportunity to participate in a photoshoot. I wanted a chance to just dress up, wear make-up, look pretty, and take photos that would make me be happy with how I look. But I got more out of it. I gained much more awareness regarding the beauty standards and expectations forced upon the Filipina/Filipinx community. I met a group of individuals who have so much passion for themselves. And overall, the day of the photoshoot was just a fun, de-stressing day. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up under the impression that beauty consists of intelligence, being skinny, and being light. I studied a lot, and took school so seriously. As positive as it sounds, it was honestly stressful as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love school and learning. But sometimes, it would be so pressuring with the expectation to excel in all subjects. Being skinny was another issue. I couldn’t

help but constantly compare myself to other girls. Even to this day, I make daily comparisons and sometimes avoid the mirror. Being light? Bring out the Likas Papaya! >_> What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Beauty expectations will always be there. But something to learn and always keep in mind is that the most important voice and opinion towards your beauty is your own. Not the easiest thing to believe, but the process of learning to do so is one worth going through. What does your self-love journey look like? Long and far from reaching its end. But I want it to stay that way. I don’t want my self-love journey to ever stop nor do I want it to be static. I want it to always be changing. I don’t ever plan to stop learning and growing as an individual. Therefore, I’d love for my self-love journey to do so as well. What do you do to help yourself love yourself? Simple, I turn to my best friends. My best friends know me so well and have always supported and loved me for who I am. To be honest, they deserve much more credit than I give them. So, if they’re reading this, I just want to say thank you to all of you for your constant unconditional love, and for always reassuring me that I should never feel guilty for asking for your help in hyping myself up; you all know that just like you all have my back, I have all of yours’. Love you all!


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What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up getting bullied for my nose and skin type. I was a lot darker and had very uneven patches of skin color than most of the Filipinas I knew. My body type was also more curvy and my nose was larger, which made me grow very insecure. Many Filipinas are of lighter tones with smaller noses, and this is stereotyped as beautiful for Filipinas. How could you feel beautiful when you are opposite of the Filipina beauty standards?

Name: Faith M. Giron Age: 18 Pronouns: she/her Location: San Francisco, California Education: Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandise Career: Visual Merchandiser & Stylist Instagram & Twitter: @xfcmg Snapchat: @viafaithy

What does your self-love journey look like? It took me a while to fully love and appreciate who I am. Growing up in middle school and high school I was constantly brought down by many for the way I looked. I had crooked teeth, my nose was large, I had uneven skin and I was always a bit more curvy than most. I used to always let people get into my head and make me see myself the way I know I’m not. Like I said, at the end of the day it’s up to you how you see yourself. It takes a lot of strength for you to fully love the person you are. It took me until after high school to really figure out who I am as an individual. That was beautiful to me. I looked back at my past and realized that I have always been beautiful. I looked back at the hardships I managed to get through, all of the accomplishments I made and the goals I reached. I really began to fully love myself after appreciating how amazing and proud I am of myself. I’m becoming the successful and deserving woman that I am, and chasing my dreams along the way.

What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I came across the Brown Papaya Project through social media. What drew me to the project was the purpose served behind it, breaking Filipina beauty standards and creating a unified community through this. It’s as if being part of this project meant being part of a good cause. Every individual is beautiful and I want everyone to know that through this project. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that a sista always has your back. I came into this project feeling lonely, I didn’t grow up with many girlfriends, let alone anyone who felt real. The connections I made with my Brown Papaya sisters was unforgettable and unbreakable. I also learned that it really is up to you on how you see yourself. You shouldn’t depend on other opinions. At the end of the day, you are you and no one can change that.


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Name: Gabby Orteza Age: 23 Pronouns: she/her Location: Daly City, California Education: B.S. Biomedical Engineering, UC Davis Career: Biomedical Engineer, San Francisco VA Health Care System Instagram: @giftofgabbs What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I had never participated in a photoshoot before and I was intrigued by the vision of the project. Moreover, I saw it as a chance to form relationships with like-minded individuals. I enjoy watching my peers pursue their endeavors and I felt that showing interest and participating in this was the minimum I could do to support Isabel’s Brown Papaya project. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? My impression was that time spent together would merely consist of capturing photos of a specific theme. The photoshoot ended up being much more than that when I realized we would be having focused discussions and activities. The photoshoot was a chance to analyze, reflect, and dissect the beauty standards we live with everyday. All the while, we were forming strong bonds with the other group members by sharing our experiences and opinions.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? When I was younger, I had a strong desire to be thin. I was much heavier and taller than other girls growing up and it made me extremely self-conscious. I played sports all my life but nothing ever seemed to be enough. As of recently, I have come to realize that though I may not be petite, my body is strong and healthy. I continue to exercise and choose the right foods in order to maintain this. It has put me in a positive direction to accepting and appreciating who I am and what is best for my body. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Beauty does not start and stop at the surface level. Its about how you carry yourself, how you treat others, and your ability to focus on your personal wellbeing. What does your self-love journey look like? It has only just begun. I am slowly learning how to appreciate myself and take the time to focus on my personal goals and aspirations. Some changes I’ve implemented are: making decisions without the influence of others or fear of what others may think, trusting my instinct, embracing what makes me feel good, letting go of the things that do not, and allowing myself time to internally reflect. I plan on starting a journal this year to help me with these things. Lastly, surrounding myself with individuals who support me and can help me along this journey.


Jaimie 32

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Name: Jaimie Age: 24 Pronouns: she/her Education: B.A. Design, UC Davis Career: Graphic designer What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I’m always interested in learning more about myself and discussing issues within the FilAm community. I grew up in the Philippines surrounded by skin whitening products, its use further perpetuated by family members even to this day. I’ve broken myself out of this beauty expectation and it was inspiring to have a discussion with other Filipinxs celebrating their skin color. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I expected a small discussion before starting on the photoshooot. I was glad we went deeper into the activities because they kind of encouraged me to be vulnerable and share my insecurities and experiences with others. I came in thinking I would participate in the discussion, take photos and leave. I left with so much more insight and overwhelming support from the other participants. It was a very inspiring experience. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? The main beauty expectation that surrounded me was to have lighter skin. It’s on the billboards that are advertising products, within the family members encouraging the use of papaya soap, and on television where the fair skinned are revered and the darker complexions are the butt of the joke. It made me self conscious about my skin, because even after I moved to the U.S., the papaya soap was ever present. What does your self-love journey look like? My self love journey is about being kinder to myself. My favorite advice that I read online was about treating yourself the way you treat your friends. You support and uplift them, so why shouldn’t you do the same to yourself?


Jamie 34

Brown Papaya

Name: Jamie Mansalay (a.k.a. J.Ma) Age: 17 Pronouns: she/her Location: Bay Area Education: James Logan High School, Future Psychology major Career(s): Dancer, writer, photographer, civil rights activist, and a Jedi. Instagram & Twitter: @jaaaaaymeh Snapchat: @jaaaaaaymeh What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? When I first saw the advertisement, I was drawn to the title. “Brown” is something that has become a “negative” adjective amongst majority of minors, especially nowadays in this society. Pilipinos/Pilipinas/Pilipinxs are considered to be “yellow” or “brown” with no in between. For state and nationwide tests, there was no checkbox for “Filipino” until recently. The purpose of this project motivated me to step out of my comfort zone, alongside it being for those of my ethnicity. For someone usually behind the camera, this gave me a new sense of confidence to express myself in a unique way. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I had a lot of self-talk within my thoughts. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with anybody. I was running on Pilipino time, about a half an hour late, and the photoshoot was already underway. I became conscious about my outfit and how I looked because everyone looked so different and beautiful. As the photoshoot went along, my thoughts softened and I fell into a loving mindset, not only for everyone and their acknowledgement of me, but because I realized we were all different. This is what makes each of us unique in our own ways. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? The beauty expectations I’ve grown up with was back and forth. “You’re too fat” or “you’re too skinny” or “don’t get so dark.” Hearing that made me self conscious about how I looked and how my body type was. Overtime, however, my grandparents have learned to suppress the need to say something about my body shape and type and accept who I am as simply a person and their granddaughter. Body shaming is something that is common amongst unconscious people, however, we have created those thoughts and self-talk within ourselves. When it comes to us, we are our toughest critics.


Jannine 36

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Name: Jannine Saquiton Pronouns: she/her/siya Location: Union City, California Career: Pharmacy Technician Instagram, Twitter: @janniners What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I was intrigued by the idea of representing my culture. I had never done a photoshoot with a cause before, and this was one that I feel felt very strongly about. It was very humbling to see so many other Filipinx come together & build a community to support one another. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up in a Filipino community, and being more yellow-toned it was actually hard for me to fit in because some people would tell me I wasn’t dark enough to be Filipino and called me Chinese. As I became “dalaga” my Nanang would tell me how beautiful I was by saying I look like Kim Chiu, which is far from true, but always made me smile & feel more confident. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? As an aspiring model, I hope to represent Filipinos in a positive manner & inspire others to accept themselves as they are. Most families expect us to be somewhere in the medical field, but there are other options open to us & we should take advantage of the opportunities that fulfill our dreams.

What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Don’t get so caught up in looking like all these other girls, you’re already so cute & it only gets better from here. Stay true to your unique style & please wash your face. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? I always try to encourage my friends to strive for success in their field of passion. There is room for all of us to be successful, & there’s no need to compete! We can all be supportive & provide each other with resources to accomplish our goals. What does your self-love journey look like? What I am most proud of is how I’ve learned to handle/ overtake negative emotions. It’s taken me such a long time to reach this point, where I finally feel comfortable in my own skin. Ensuring myself that I am a wonderful person, no matter the assumptions or hurtful opinions. Regardless of not knowing where life will take me next, I’m positive that God is guiding me through this journey & I will end up happy.




Brown Papaya

Name: Jazmyn Pronouns: she/her Location: San Francisco and Vallejo, California Education: City College San Francisco Career: Health/Wellness Adviser, Yogini Instagram: @415pimpcess Tumblr: What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? My expectations with the Brown Papaya project were primarily just the business of getting down to the photo shoot part of it, but the vibes changed when I met all the other ladies and I loved how interactive, the sense of community to the female energies just being absorbed and re-gifted around all of each other. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? The beauty expectations I grew up with were the most cliche ones like being thin/petite, having light skin, having the straight glossy hair. Being hella quiet was also not what I was going to do. It absolutely affected my young self in thinking I had to fit into one category of being Filipina because that is super limiting, I never felt pretty or comfortable so loving myself was not a part of the process.

How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? How I would deconstruct Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations would be to just try to stop fighting myself, working with what I’ve already got. Although we are never in our final forms, always evolving and changing within our own beings to be the best versions of ourselves. Rebuilding what it means to be beautiful after you’ve been broken is to pick up all the pieces and analyze the ones that make you who you are while discarding the ones that no longer serve you. You’re building yourself up. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? What I would tell my younger self about beauty standards is don’t listen to them. You have enough girls out there online and on social media all trying to look the same, and willing to sacrifice almost anything to achieve a level of beauty they feel is necessary when beauty goes way deeper than the surface. Just be unapologetically yourself, don’t try to change yourself. You are bigger and better. What does your self-love journey look like? My self love journey consisted of a lot of me time, a lot of self exploration to figure out all the things I love to do. Just knowing that I am on this planet with a purpose there is no deservance because I am capable of experiencing the beautiful things life has to offer me as well as being capable to create that for myself. Also it was a lot of time letting old preserved feelings resonate with me, but also taking them to die with me so I can come out and flourish without them.




Brown Papaya

Name: Jennaliz Marie Age: 25 Pronouns: she/her Location: San Jose, California Education: B.A. Child & Adolescent Development, San Jose State University Careers: PreSchool/Pre-K Teacher, Dance Teacher, Assistant Coach—Santa Clara High School Dance Team Instagram: @princess_jennaliz What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? What drew me into the Brown Papaya project was the inspirational, beautiful, and talented Isabel B! I really loved what the project stood for. Filipinas are rarely portrayed in the media. I wanted to be apart of a wonderful project to change beauty standard norms. I want to represent our culture and embrace our beauty. All shades of brown are beautiful. Everyone is beautiful. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up I always saw that being super skinny, fair skinned, and having straight hair was portrayed as the ultimate beauty standard. This affected me because I felt the need to use papaya soap to lighten my skin when I would get darker over the summer. I was ashamed of my own body because I wasn’t naturally thin. I would struggle at family parties when family members would tell me I was fat, but would get mad if I tried not to eat as much. I have chemically Japanese straightened my hair multiple times because as I grew older my hair got more curly.

What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would tell my younger self not to worry so much. I would let her know how important it is to love yourself. Beauty comes in all forms, inside and out. There should be no ideal beauty standard to believe in. Beauty is being you. It’s not about finding a way to meet media expectations. Life is about creating your own type of beauty and becoming the person you strive to be. You can set expectations that’ll only reflect on what makes you personally happy and not based off of what everyone else believes. What does your self-love journey look like? My self-love journey has always been a challenge. I feel that I’m still creating who I want to be and understand the process of this journey will be worth it. I have surrounded myself with individuals who have similar goals, interest, hobbies, and don’t bring negativity. I am learning to find my voice and challenge myself when things get tough. I have been invested in my hobbies of traveling, fashion, and dance which have made me a happier person to spend time doing what I love to do. I try to eat better and workout more to live a healthier happier lifestyle. When times get tough I remember to pray or call my mom because I know there will be no judgement, just support. Two quotes that have motivated my self-love journey are “Find strength in your weakness, and beauty in your struggle.” And “Keep an open mind and a compassionate heart.” Being able to look back on how my struggles have made me into a more resilient person makes me grateful. I am blessed to have endured adverse life events and learn and grow from them. Being a naturally empathetic person I understand everyone’s going through some sort of struggle and kindness can give people the love they don’t ask for but need.


Jessy 42

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Name: Jessy Age: 19 Pronouns: she/her Location: Vallejo, California Careers: Artist, Art Instructor Website: Instagram: @jessydesu Twitter @jessydesuu What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up with the beauty expectations of always looking feminine, having expensive and flashy things; even of we couldn’t afford it, and to have fair, pale, clear skin. I was taught that my looks would get me ahead in life and I was to hold my beauty in great focus. It made me insecure about my identity and made me materialistic and vain.

“My self love routine is never ending, everyday I strive to help people and wake up with a learning attitude”

What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would teach myself patience and empathy, I would tell myself to find my worth, to remain true and authentic, to never rely on how other people may put expectations and labels and make me into a person that me or my culture may look to them, I would tell myself that material things do not make the quality of your life better, nor does it make you any more or less of a human than others not so fortunate or vice versa. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? With my business, I started making crochet clothing to cater to all sizes, creeds, and colors. I provide a platform to help and support womxn to build each other up and to set an example for myself of how I carry myself in hopes other womxn may want to follow suit and embrace everything that they are and can be. What does your self-love journey look like? My self love routine is never ending, everyday I strive to help people and wake up with a learning attitude, to have a positive perspective, and to act without the intent of getting anything in return and to always remain true to myself and to accept who I am and my wrong doings, to hold myself accountable and to always weigh in my time to find a balance between work and life.




Brown Papaya

Name: Karen What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? The thing that drew me to the Brown Papaya Project was the intention of bringing Pinays together to show diversity and to promote self love. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I did not have any expectations but abundant expectancy. I did not expect whether it will be good or bad; more of just being in the flow of things. I enjoyed meeting new people and learning more about their background, as well as their reasons why they wanted to be a part of this project. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that there are other people who felt the same way and experienced similar types of discrimination on not meeting the standards of society. Some things that I learned during the photoshoots, are to promote selflove and encourage one another about expressing their inner beauty. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up I was shamed for being too dark-skinned and being too thin. Having a constant reminder of how I look did not meet “society’s” standards made me want to continue searching for solutions on how I can change to satisfy other people’s expectations of me. However, I realized now that I shouldn’t try to change for other people to feel happy but instead, focus on what makes me happy. What does your self-love journey look like? I think a self-love journey looks like a mess turning to something so beautiful. You have to experience both the good and bad in order to figure out your worth.




Brown Papaya

Name: Katherine Nora Anne Lirio Ocampo Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: California Education: 3rd year at community college Career: Behavior Technician at Center for Autism & Related Disorders Website: What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I was drawn to the Brown Papaya Project because I felt like its goal aligned with my own—to show brownskinned Filipinx that we can own our sun-kissed skin and let go of the beauty standards that taught us to hate ourselves.

“ brown-skinned Filipinx that we can own our sun-kissed skin...”

After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? We all learned that we have many shared experiences and we weren’t alone in feeling under-represented as unconventionally beautiful individuals. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up being told not to play in the sun, not to go swimming, to lay sunblock on thick so that I would not “get too dark,” and to use papaya whitening soap. I grew up thinking I would be prettier if my skin was light, but now I embrace my complexion and hope others will too. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I will continue participating in the hashtag #magandangmorenx on social media and let everybody know that we should be proud to be brown! To me, being “beautiful” means exuding so much love and brightness that your skin glows from it, and even through difficult times you can smile and stay true to who you are. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would tell my younger self, “People will always have something to say about you, good or bad. It’s up to you to let their opinions affect you, or to listen to yourself first and find out what you love about yourself.”




Brown Papaya

How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? By becoming my true authentic self, without being so conscious about what others think about me. I will turn insults or criticisms into complements or areas of improvement.

Name: Kenzi Laceste Age: 22 Pronouns: she/her What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I wanted to join this project because I’ve never really participated in a project or work of advocacy in regards to my own culture. I am used to being an activist for other social justice movements, like immigration and feminism, but I never really took the time to reflect on my own culture, which has always been a huge part of my life. Being born in the Philippines, and knowing how to speak Tagalog has always reminded me of who I am. There are times where I don’t appreciate my culture enough, for example, because of the stigmas on beauty and Westernization. Through this project I wanted to have a chance to connect with my Filipino self again, instead being so accustomed to American culture.

What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would tell my younger self that you were made to be however God created you. Don’t push to be like everyone else so that they could like you more and you can fit in with everyone else. You are unique and beautiful in your own way. Don’t let anyone ever make you think that you’re less than what you think you are. Know your worth. What does your self-love journey look like? It took me a long time to realize what self love means to me. It is a tough journey, because as a woman of color, as an undocumented woman, as an individual who was born with identities that are mistreated and underserved, I was conditioned to think lowly of myself. But there came a time when I was broken so hard that I grew tired of putting myself in a hole. When I prioritized my happiness, when I started caring less about what others thought of me, when I focused on my success, when I learned to appreciate solitude—that’s when I finally learned to love myself. And in loving myself, I realized who I am, and reclaimed the power that I let people take from me.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up knowing that I was browner or darker than most Filipinos. I used to be self conscious and aware that among my other friends, I was the darkest, and my Filipino friends would actually joke around and call me names, which I never really took seriously, because I was so accustomed to being treated that way. My mom was also really into the papaya soap and it made me actually believe that that stuff can actually whiten my skin. Especially when I would go out for a swim and I would get two shades darker, I’d go home and take a shower with papaya soap. My body was also something that my family had to comment about. I was either getting fat or getting too skinny—neither of them were ever compliments to me and I never understood what a “normal” body is to them. There came a time when I finally looked at myself in the mirror and I was satisfied with what I looked like.


Kiersten 50

Brown Papaya

with papaya soap in our household (though I never used it), always being lectured to stay out of the sun because I’ll get too dark (“bahala ka mangingitim ka”), and the idea that a profession in the medical field is better than any other. It was really nice to relate to a group of girls who understood this generational, cultural gap between our first generation Filipino parents and us, as second generation Filipino Americans. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? By EMBRACING my Pinay features and inspiring other Pinays to do the same. I have one body and I’ll do more than just take care of it—I’ll love it and be proud of it. My long brown hair, tan skin, little curves, and thick thighs are equally as beautiful as women with opposite/different features. These differences are to be celebrated, not mocked or ridiculed.

Name: Kiersten Abueg Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: raised in LA, currently in SF Education: B.A. Media Studies, University of San Francisco Career: Hmm.. still figuring it all out, but I hope to end up working in the fashion industry, music industry, or both. Instagram: @_kierst Website:

One last thing: Brown Papaya is so important & what Isabel has created is more than a lookbook of beautiful pinays. It’s a safe space for us to talk about misrepresentation, unrealistic beauty standards, and toxic ideas advertised to us during our grown, we’re able to identify and critique these harmful messages.

What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? Everything. Filipinas are very underrated in our media, and Filipinas of all skin tones, shapes, & sizes should be celebrated. The Filipinxs chosen to represent us in the media are often the Pinays with Eurocentric features—it’s very misleading. Additionally, women are EXTREMELY underrepresented in the media, workplace, government, etc. How could I turn down this opportunity to connect with my culture and sisters in order to break down our falsified, misrepresented story advertised on mainstream media. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? There is a high level of misunderstanding between first generation and second generation parents. I grew up


Leen 52

Brown Papaya

Name: Leen Age: 22 Pronouns: she/her Career: Registered Nurse After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned how important it is to embrace the individuality that I possess and also acknowledge the parallels and similarities I have with Filipina/Filipinx womxn. We have ALL faced struggles trying to meet beauty standards and comparing our traits to others, in our OWN ways. After the group activity in which our eyes were closed as questions were asked, it made me realize how much beauty these womxn radiated and I didn’t even have to see it. Beauty isn’t a certain look. It goes beyond that and it is instead rooted in self-love, respect, confidence, and passion to name a few. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up where having a clear complexion, light skin, straight teeth and overall Eurocentric qualities took precedence. My family from the Philippines would send bars of papaya soap and we were discouraged to be in the sun for too long because we would get dark. It was difficult to keep up with beauty standards that I couldn’t fit in to and it greatly affected my self-esteem in middle and high school. I found myself constantly comparing myself to others and picked at my own flaws, which I eventually learned to embrace. By surrounding myself with womxn who revealed to me TRUE beauty, I discovered the beauty in myself that has been here all along.

What does your self-love journey look like? My experience with Brown Papaya has made me even more inspired to love myself as I do but also encourage others to do the same. My self-love journey has begun with simple steps and has grown exponentially. I praise my body and its flaws by accepting I can’t change certain things but I can change the way I view it. I treat my body with respect and as a result, I feel fantastic in and out because I am less concerned about fitting into a beauty standard. I begin my day with positive affirmations, wear my confidence like a smile, and create goals to continue this journey. Just by doing one nice thing for yourself, it creates a domino effect into how you treat yourself/others and plays a heavy role in your happiness, dreams and self-love. What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? There hasn’t been much coverage of Filipina/Filipinx womxn from the time I was a kid and up to now. The womxn that have influenced me encompassed various shades of brown and in comparison to the womxn I saw on American and Filipino TV/ movies, they look nothing alike. The attractive womxn were seen as skinny, tall with flawless skin, a symmetrical face, etc. When I heard about Isabel’s Brown Papaya Project, I couldn’t help but think “FINALLY!” To be welcomed to join a safe space where we can share our thoughts and experiences regarding beauty attracted my attention. More representation and communication like this is very much needed to expand the idea of beauty into several forms.

What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I wish I had someone with the self-love and confidence I have now to remind my younger self how beauty isn’t a fixed look or color. I could have been much happier and saved myself from the time spent worrying/analyzing my flaws. Not only that, I would have told younger Leen that beauty isn’t measured by materialism or physical traits. People will remember the time you listened to their problems, the time you complimented them on their intelligence, the time you inspired them to follow their dreams…that shows a person that you are genuine, smart, and compassionate to name a few. THAT right there is pretty darn beautiful and much more striking than a “perfect” face or body if you ask me.




Brown Papaya

Name: Liza Bustillo Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: Lathrop, California Education: Associates Degree Career: Child Care Provider What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I honestly thought it was going to be a “shoot and go” process. I didn’t expect to engage so deeply with these other amazing women that I met on our photoshoot day. I am grateful and thank myself for signing myself up. The support, encouragement, and love that sprouted from a simple project like this changed a lot of ways I see women and myself and life. It was truly heartwarming and inspiring. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that we are never alone, as cliche as it sounds. There are people there for you who know what you’re going through, which was something I struggled with coming into terms with my whole life. And in fact, I learned about other extreme “beauty norms” that I never experienced but someone else had, which educated me on how harsh society is towards its audience.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Needing to be skinny, light skinned, with nice and straight hair. This led me to having an eating disorder (briefly, thank God), being compulsive with flattening my naturally curly hair to the point of damaging it and using whitening products all while I went through severe anxiety because I felt I NEEDED these things to feel accepted. I also felt immense pressure dealing with “personality” expectations (submissive and quiet, “well behaved,” keep opinions to yourself, etc). For a while these kept me in my shell and I hid who I truly was and even hated her for a big chunk of my life. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? Fire with Fire just makes a bigger fire. We gotta just welcome them angry sistas with open arms until they realize that hate and fury will only burn THEM out in the end. We gotta understand that only they can end that journey of spreading negativity, so we must teach them by loving them despite the things they may say. Do you feel that attitudes towards these certain expectations may be able to fully dissolve? That’s something that goes through my head a lot. I sure hope, yet there is never a sure answer. Some people are still mindlessly teaching their kids that “boys need to be tough and girls need to be pretty” sort of ideal, so it’s hard to say if it can be a flaw that can fully heal. Just keep spreading the love and awareness and our future generations should be set with all they need :)




Brown Papaya

Name: Mar S. Age: 22 Pronouns: she/her Education: B.S. Biochemistry, Saint Mary’s College of California Career: Biochemist, Aspiring Clinical Laboratory Scientist What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? Upon hearing of the project and moving forward to the actual photoshoot, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. However, my expectations changed throughout the course of the day as I conversed and listened to others and their stories, I found myself in a very comfortable place in which I felt at ease to share my thoughts and experiences. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I grew up with the usual “don’t go outside or you’ll get too dark” thrown at me as well as some recommendations from family members to buy papaya soap and compliments sounding like “wow, you got lighter!!/oh you look better now because you lost weight”. Because of this, my self confidence was virtually nonexistent as a kid. I never thought much of myself, further validated by the fact that all of these Filipinx celebrities, MY PEOPLE, NEVER looked like me. I was brown, but all of the people in my mom’s teleseryes had light skin, small noses, and huge eyes? To say the least, I spent most of my childhood mostly confused. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I’d tell myself “COLORISM IS A THING!!! You are always beautiful despite the toxic standards put out by the media! Like, come on—being tan is lit cause you don’t get sunburned easily and you always look summatime fine n bronzy as hell. Also, a lot of the actresses/actors in the Filipino media are HALF FILIPINO SO THAT’S WHY YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE THEM. CAUSE YA CAN’T!!! Relax, you look good!!!” What are some future goals you have? Honestly just to make Filipino food as well as my mom does. Her kare-kare and arroz caldo are like next level.




Brown Papaya

Name: Maxine Angela Age: 24 Pronouns: she/her Location: San Francisco, Bay Area Education: B.A. Urban Studies and Planning, Masters Candidate in Counseling and Forensic Psychology Career: Juvenile Justice Counselor Website: Instagram: @maxangela What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up I was always told that I needed to be skinnier and I think that fed into my unhealthy relationship with food. I developed coping mechanisms of binge eating. When I was in high school I would try to starve myself by just bringing one pack of crackers to get me through the day, which ultimately caused me to gain more weight. Even until now I see the effect on my self esteem because I view myself as a “big” girl. Only now have I been embracing my height, thick thighs, and beautiful smile. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I think it’s essential to have conversations about what beauty means to each of us. I believe that oppression is a state of mind, so freeing our perceptions of beauty is the first step. Recognizing it in each other is another. Our interpersonal relationships are essential to recognizing beauty through connections and inspiration. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? I try to recognize anything and everything about the women I surround myself with. I celebrate their large and small accomplishments. I also do not hold my tongue if I feel like raising up a woman...even if she’s a stranger she is someone to celebrate. What does your self-love journey look like? My self love journey looks like learning to love my curves, my imperfections, my tattoos, my brown eyes, and my glowing brown skin. It looks like being as genuine as possible—even if that means being “nerdy”, “dorky”, or “unhip”... it means accepting my struggles as part of me without rushing to “win” all the time. Just enjoying the state that my body and mind are in right now is my self-love journey.


Melissa 60

Brown Papaya

Name: Melissa Age: 25 Pronouns: she/her Location: Fairfield, California Education: UC Davis graduate Career: Wedding & Banquet Sales Assistant at the Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa

“As a young girl, I was already being told ‘You’re too dark. You’re too big.’ Some of the worse comments I got were ‘No one will ever love you if you’re too big.’”

After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I liked that we all had a common understanding of what it feels like growing up with ridiculous Filipino beauty standards because it meant that I was not alone. Some participants shared personal stories, and I was so shocked. Every participant was so beautiful both inside and out and to hear anyone call them anything less than perfect was insane to me. However, that just showed me that if someone can call any of these ladies ugly, fat, or anything less, then they just do not know what beauty is, so I should not let their comments even affect me. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? As a young girl, I was already being told “You’re too dark.” “You’re too big.” Some of the worse comments I got were “No one will ever love you if you’re too big.” “You need to cut your hair because you look like a bruha (witch).” “Taba” (fat) was my nickname. Although it does not affect me as much now, words will always hurt. I still struggle with accepting compliments and feeling completely happy with myself. Since I grew up with the thought that I am not good enough, I struggle with my confidence today. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? First, I would give my younger self a big hug. I would tell her that everything they are saying is not true. It is just baby fat, and she will turn out better than expected. There are many people that will envy her beautiful tan skin, so she needs to own it. She has a unique nose that others will find adorable. Forget about the boys that think she is not good enough for them because they do not deserve her attention anyway. Finally, I would tell her she is beautiful now and forever.


Mellanie 62

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Name: Mellanie Age: 23 Pronouns: she/her Education: B.S. Human Development Career: Behavior Specialist What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? Not only was the project thought of by a good friend but the topic itself is a topic that needs to be brought to attention. I was interested in hearing others’ experiences of growing up as a Filipino/a-American with the expectations their family held towards them regarding beauty standards. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that the experiences I faced growing up such as pinching my nose so it wouldn’t get “fatter/bigger” or taming my thick hair so I wouldn’t look “bruha” was experienced by almost every person I met during the photo shoots. It was important to hear these from others who shared similar experiences because it solidified the fact that I’m not alone facing these ridiculous stigmas and expectations. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? With a grandma who was born in the world of beauty pageants, my family taught me “the lighter the skin, the more maganda (beautiful).” Despite being a lighter shade of brown, I was still told I was not “puti” enough and that I needed to use the infamous papaya soap. As a child the image of having fair skin, groomed hair, and a skinny nose was ingrained into my head as the definition of being beautiful. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I’ve found that deconstructing Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations starts with oneself. I’ve become a lot more comfortable in my skin by slowly learning how to accept myself as an individual. Soon after, I learned how to embrace my skin and my other “Filipino” features such as my flat, large nose and my thick, wavy hair. These features are not features to look down upon for they give us our one-of-a-kind, unique look. The more we accept the features our ancestors have conditioned us to frown upon, the easier it will be to rebuild what it means to be beautiful as a Filipina. Next, what it means to be beautiful will some day reflect our natural features.


Micaela 64

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Name: Micaela Bumanglag Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: San Jose, California Education: San Jose State University Career: Psychology Student, Future Therapist

“The stress from trying to change your body is not worth it.”

What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I didn’t really know what to expect because I’ve never participated in or heard of projects like Brown Papaya, so I thought it was just going to be a photoshoot without much interaction with the other girls. But Isabel surprised me with the activities, and it was very interesting to listen to other perspectives about brown skin, Filipina representation, etc. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? If I had any doubts about whether Spanish and American influence was still relevant today, especially on Filipinas in diaspora, they’re gone now. Specifically, the preference for white skin over brown. When I grew up, my grandmother would tell me not to stay out in the sun too long and get dark—something that countless Filipinas are told. It never really affected my view on brown skin, but I saw just how much it affects other girls. I’m thankful for this project to celebrate my culture and my brown skin, and I hope it was able to help other girls celebrate theirs too. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Honestly, don’t stress about it! Beauty expectations are changing all the time. What was attractive ten years ago isn’t the focus today, like being thin versus having curves, or being light-skinned versus tanned. White people will stay out in the sun for hours to get the same brown skin that we Filipinas are blessed with. The stress from trying to change your body is not worth it. What does your self-love journey look like? I have to remind myself everyday that I am loved, cared for, beautiful, wanted. It’s not a journey that happens in a day. It’s ongoing. We have to remember how much we are worth everyday, we shouldn’t forget it for a second. If sometimes we are in doubt, that’s okay. Self-love journeys are not meant to always be positive, that’s why it’s a journey. There are highs and lows but it’s most important to get back up, to not give up.




Brown Papaya

Name: Michelle Anne Santos Nelmida Age: 20 Pronouns: she/her Location: Union City, California Education: Health Sciences major, option in Community Health; California State University, East Bay Career: Health Advocate at Alameda Health System, Aspiring Registered Nurse, Musician Instagram & Twitter: @chellekilla Youtube: What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? When I first heard about the Brown Papaya Project, what immediately caught my interest was the idea of showcasing Filipinas and the diversity within the Bay Area: different sizes, ages, and shades of brown. From being involved within the Pilipinx American Student Association at my college, I’ve grown more love for my culture, the community, and making connections. I wanted to be a part of this project to spread the importance of selflove and to also stay involved with Fil-Am community projects outside of school. What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? At first, I honestly did not expect the Brown Papaya photoshoot to be as huge as it is. I just expected a photoshoot and an interview. However, I was able to create

bonds with other girls who I can relate to, hear their own experiences and struggles growing up with societal beauty expectations as a Filipina, and grow more love for myself as well. Coming together for the Brown Papaya project was more than just a photoshoot and was definitely a fulfilling and empowering experience. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? Through the activities in between photoshoots, it helped me reflect on my childhood. What is unique about Filipinx-Americans is that many of us were not aware of our identity and history. After being stripped apart from our culture, it can be difficult for some of us to find a sense of belonging. I learned that Pinay women all have similarities, and we’ve overcome these expectations to blossom into what we individually choose to be. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Growing up, I would hear certain things my family would tell me that I used to think was the norm, like using papaya soap or staying out of the sun so my skin doesn’t get darker. This caused me to use skin whitening methods and become really self-conscious about my skin color up until college when I finally learned to accept that my shade of brown is part of who I am.




Brown Papaya

Name: Nickole Age: 25 Pronouns: she Location: Bay Area, California Education: B.A. Art Studio, UC Davis Career: Office Manager, Artist Instagram: @nickaiart and @nickole_33 What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? In college, I had an amazing art professor that challenged us. He gave us a prompt to paint something embarrassing. I painted a time in my life that I felt ashamed of, for being embarrassed about. It was a scene where I used a skin whitener. That project only scratched the surface. When I heard of the Brown Papaya project, I thought “I wish I felt more proud of my brown skin growing up. Maybe doing this project can help heal old wounds and hopefully inspire and encourage others on their self-love journey.” After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I have great admiration and appreciation for the resilient women I got to share this experience with. I realized I wasn’t the only one going through these issues or feeling the pressure of needing to look or be a certain way. Sharing our personal experiences raised my awareness of all the BS society constantly tells us to believe. The BS being that we aren’t pretty enough, skinny enough, or “_” enough. Overall, I learned that people have the right to have opinions about me, but I have the right to not internalize those opinions.

“It takes courage to love yourself no matter your ‘flaws’ ”

How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? Although I come from a mixed heritage (I’m Mexican and Filipino), I’ve experienced similar themes in beauty expectations. A big part of deconstructing these ideals is recalling how they were impressed on me and realizing these ideas are dated and not my own. I rebuild everyday with consciousness, forgiveness, compassion, and love. Beauty runs deeper than the surface, but it’s also about self-acceptance. It takes courage to love yourself no matter your “flaws”. Everyday I’m becoming more courageous, but it’s not always easy. However, I make sure to surround myself with people that uplift my spirit and love me. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I’d say, “Nickole, you can have body goals, but you also must love the body and skin that you’re in now. Beauty comes in all shapes, textures, sizes, and skin tones. The idea of “perfect”, is just that, an idea. An idea that stemmed from the media, maybe even passed down generationally, but that doesn’t mean you have to adhere to those ideals. Challenge them and stand your ground. Love yourself wholeheartedly and unconditionally as you are because you are beautiful inside and out. Let your authentic light shine. That is true beauty.”




Brown Papaya

Name: Nja Zuniga Age: 17 Pronouns: she/her Location: Pleasanton, California Education: Entering college Career: Part time/freelance artist Instagram: @ world.alone and @tinybrownegg What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I was drawn to this project by the desire to challenge myself to have a discussion with others about this incredibly relevant and pressing issue. I’ve always been drawn to the minds of others, how their thoughts and conceptions can differ so greatly due to the environments we expose ourselves to, the things we love, the people we are surrounded by, and even things entirely out of our control. I wanted to meet others; I am very socially anxious and felt that if I were to engage myself in a cause, it might as well be one that I am passionate about, and I knew that this project would create meaningful impacts that make waves. One woman reaching out to many, and thus creating an endless cascade of change. Every individual involved has been impacted by this project and will impact others; the fervor that every person has for this project as well as the sheer beauty of the connections we have made will cause ripples—that will, hopefully, create waves. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I don’t think I will deconstruct so much as disregard these beauty expectations, in favor of appreciation instead. “Beauty expectations” in themselves are ridiculous—the definition of beauty is broad, personal to every individual, and it should stay that way. When we think something is beautiful, we shouldn’t be ashamed to express our adoration, but as a society we should learn to see beauty in more things, in simpler places, because beauty is there if we choose to open ourselves and look for it. No entity is more beautiful than any other, as

beauty (like most things) is not measured by scale— it is a spectrum that is unique to everyone. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? They really only exist if you let them. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? One thing I think is really important for anyone to remember is that you know something that everyone else doesn’t, and that is also true of everyone you meet. Remembering this fact makes it difficult to view things on a scale as we are taught to, as if anything can make someone better than anyone else. Thinking of our collective experiences, the pasts we carry and futures we strive for, it’s impossible to view oneself as better or worse than any other individual. Instead of comparing worth based on meaningless qualities, we must teach ourselves to think of how incredible it is that every person we pass by on the street has the capacity to teach us something, possibly something we will remember for the rest of our lives. Once we learn to awe instead of fear and replace envy with curiosity, we won’t unnecessarily view everything as a competition and instead give each other what we need for growth.


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Name: Ranna Ricci Age: 24 Pronouns: she/her Location: Pinole, California Education: B.S. Nutritional Science, B.A. South/Southeast Asian Studies; UC Berkeley Career: International Product Specialist, Pinterest Website: What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Born and raised in the Philippines for 13 years, it was easy to cultivate love and understanding for my culture. It was also easy to embody beauty expectations that this culture entails without further critical thinking and questioning. “Maputi, Malambot. Mahinhin” These words, they make you a “beautiful woman” (at least what I’ve been told growing up). Revisiting my memory lane, I was always told to put lotion on my hands. You see, I live in the province where the main livelihood are farming and fishing. I see women and sometimes girls my age (13 years old back then) working in the fields for hours under the burning beams of sunlight, plowing the muddy earth, fighting the thirst for water in order to provide a meal for their family. All these hard work, I see women did with bare hands. The “sacred beauty” that I was exposed to which media and society of the Philippines influenced a lot, was a reflection of false beauty that is defined by physical appearance, class and power. It is perceived that if one has a soft and white hand, she must be from a wealthy family. On the other hand, if one has a rough and dark hand, she must be coming from a house full of chores and demands. The inner beauty has been concealed and falsified for many generations. “Sacred beauty” should instead be characterized by the sweat of hard work and determination to reach for a better future, by the blood of unconditional love for God, family and friends, by the tears of joy for having even the simplest things in life, and for the pain of failing, but never ever giving up. This is “sacred beauty” at least for me.

the years. And these are felt within; not touched or seen, but permanently become a part of myself and my definition of “sacred beauty” What does your self-love journey look like? Like a baro’t saya, it is my laced-armour that defines my growth and self-love journey. Although the preservation of it’s core design, the alterations on this traditional sartorial ensemble parallels the changes on how I practice my knowledge, power and kindness overtime. It parallels the thick layering of garments that construct female seclusion and purity while growing up, but has now transformed as a statement of pride and self-understanding. The commodified baro’t saya has diverged away from the traditional thick layering of garments and the stringent practices of having uniform detailing, exact patterns and single-colored white fabric. Nowadays, there is freedom and flexibility in choices. And this is me today. I was challenged and transformed by this idea of women being just tradition bearers. Just like my growth, the baro’t saya creatively adapted it’s style, purpose and significance over the course of time, place and situations. This self-love journey Like the delicate embroidery sewn on the Piña fabric of my mama’s barong dress embedding through my skin and my strenghtened identity is a symbol of my own empowerment, my self-preservation.

Yes, lotion can make my hands soft and sometimes even whiter but the effects are temporary. The wrinkles and grooves mapping my palms, however, are permanent. These are the trademarks of my journey in life…evidence of struggles and success I’ve gone through over


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Name: Robielie/Omega Age: 25 Pronouns: she/her Location: Union City, California Education: Academy of Art University Career: Stock in Retail, Aspiring Illustrator Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Youtube: @ohxmega

“I grew to love and accept my skin color and natural hair, and accept my height because in the end, that’s who I am.”

What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? I wanted to be one of the voices against colorism and racism in asian beauty standards, and fight against unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. I feel that Brown Papaya is a beautiful message and a great way for people to hear us. After the activities that engaged in critical thinking and the photoshoots, what did you learn? I learned that others have their own issues and personal negative views within themselves and that we’re not alone. And even if we don’t share the same issues, we should build each other up through these issues and these issues are valid and real for a reason. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? As a child I thought that brown wasn’t beautiful, having the hair that I have was too strange, and being as tall as I am made me feel like a freak. And it took a lot of growth and really analyzing who I am physically and mentally to realize that this is who I am, and I accept who I am. I grew to love and accept my skin color and natural hair, and accept my height because in the end, that’s who I am. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? You are beautiful no matter what. Someone wants what you have, and you were born with it. You are not ugly, they are. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? Be there for each other, and listen to each other. Don’t belittle someone for their issues, and let them express themselves. It’s always important to have each others back when we need it. We all deserve to have confidence, and everyone deserves to feel loved.


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Name: Sophia Lucille Raymundo Age: 21 Pronouns: she/her Location: Milpitas, California Education: Attending college Career: Aspiring Elementary School Teacher Instagram & Twitter: @sopeeezy What were your expectations before attending the Brown Papaya photoshoot and how did those expectations change? I was expecting to meet different kinds of women from different walks of life to talk about their self journey to where they are now, I didn’t expect to have so many women struggle the same way as I am. What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? Being fat/chunky was always my problem. Growing up my family always wanted me to look a certain way which was to be skinny and tall. But sadly that’s not the case for me. I was bullied from family members because of my body shape. It affected me by starving myself and hating myself because I felt like I couldn’t do what my family wanted me to do.

“Being a plus size and truly loving my body shape is my kind of power to show that not everyone in this world can and will be skinny”

How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? Being a plus size and truly loving my body shape is my kind of power to show that not everyone in this world can and will be skinny. Everyone has a different body type, and I happen to love the way I feel and look. I truly am happy with myself. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? Sophie, I know you’re going through so much right now, but believe in yourself that you are beautiful. Don’t believe what everyone else around you is saying. You are your own person. And you are one hell of a beautiful and smart woman. One day you’ll do amazing things and experience so much. Do not worry about what other people say about you, because you are beautiful just the way you are. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? Always encourage other females out there. We should always stick together. I honestly do believe that this is our year to be as one. Instead of hating each other I think the best possible way is to just encourage one another so we can strive for greatness. Sophie what are your secrets to living a positive life? Well to me surrounding myself with people that always encourages me, supports me, loves me, and people that I can grow as a person with. Leave all that negative bullshit out the door, because you will hate yourself if you surround yourself with negativity. Always look on the bright side to things. You’re young, don’t dwell on such negative thoughts. Always have fun!! Live in the moment. Trust yourself!! And remember to never let anyone change who you are. You are beautiful just the way you are even though you are weird and loud.




Brown Papaya

Name: Tessie Age: 23 Pronouns: she/her Location: Vallejo, California Career: Music Instagram: @tessiemystic_ Twitter: @tessiemystic

ture I can do to express the genuine love I have for my fellow women I do. Also being self-aware and not adding to the problem by falling into the false trap that we are in competition with one another. Knowing that feminine energy is infinitely stronger as a collective rather than divided.

What drew you to the Brown Papaya Project? The mission this project was after reeled me in! Seeing Filipinas come together who are aware of the toxicities that have been instilled within our culture and wanting to shine a light on the effects and how to better the situation was all the reason I needed to participate in this amazing project.

What does your self-love journey look like? A big part of my journey is learning how to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition. Also, having the confidence in myself to know what is best for my own well being and honoring myself by taking action towards whatever it is that will help me become the best version of myself. As well as practicing being present in the “now” and as much as possible being conscious of my thoughts and actions that are in return creating my reality.

What beauty expectations did you grow up with and how did/does that affect you? I’ve always been hassled about having a flat nose as a little girl. I remember older family members would pinch my nose to try and shape it, even tell me to put a clothes pin on my nose to make it pointier so that I’d be “maganda”. I would always get mad and tell them to leave me and my nose alone, that I liked it. I never saw the lack of beauty they saw in that particular feature of mine. I thought they were trippin. Yeah, a pointy nose is cute but that doesn’t take away any cuteness from my nose. We could all be cute. How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? I think the best way is to lead by example. I am a creative, so I hope that what I create whether it be music, modeling, videos etc. will inspire other Filipinas to embrace themselves for all that they are and love themselves unapologetically as I am learning how to do myself. I love reminding people that we are all the same, so if I can be beautiful so can you. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? True beauty lies in your heart. As long as you have a beautiful heart with loving intentions your beauty will shine outward. People will see your beauty but what matters the absolute most is that YOU see YOUR beauty inside and out. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? I do my best to show love whenever I can. Subtle compliments to supporting their ambitions in life, any ges-


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Name: Izoebella a.k.a. Zoe Pronouns: she/her Location: San Francisco and San Jose Education: San Francisco State University Instagram: @hella.izoebella How will you deconstruct toxic Filipina/Filipinx beauty expectations and rebuild what it means to be “beautiful”? Knocking toxic Filipinx beauty standards starts with rebuilding and healing myself. It’s conquering my internal battle and reversing the harmful ideologies imposed on me by the racist, patriarchal society we live in, then moving forward by embracing who I am in all aspects. It’s being kind to the body that houses me and recognizing that I am divine, magical, and just plain poppin’ on a daily basis. It’s recognizing that my worth isn’t based on my physical (or even my mental) features, but rather I have the power to define beauty in my complexities, my duality, and my self-expression. What would you tell your younger self about beauty expectations? I would tell the younger me that I’m beautiful just by being me. That beauty is manifested from within—but as a dark skinned Filipina, my melanin is nothing less than sacred and my brown skin radiates strength and resilience. That the length of my hair or the size/shape of my body doesn’t dictate my femininity. That there will be so many people who are uncomfortable with the way I am and that I don’t have to change for anyone but myself if

“I believe in hyping up all womxn, in all walks of life, even if we aren’t homegirls like that.”

I so please. That I will find the most confidence by being happy with my authentic self. How do you raise up and support other womxn in a society that pits womxn against each other? I support other womxn by encouraging them to live their best life! I believe in hyping up all womxn, in all walks of life, even if we aren’t homegirls like that. If she wants to opt out of school and be a stripper then I’m here for her. If she wants to focus on her own career and doesn’t want to get married then I’m here for her. We’re all beautiful, equally worthy beings who deserve the best energy not only from ourselves, but from other womxn as well. What does your self-love journey look like? My self-love journey has been a wondrous, affirmative process that has taught (and still is teaching) me how to appreciate myself more. Although, I won’t glamorize my growth as a Filipina woman because there is often a lot of ugly, a lot of darkness, and a lot of suffering that I still tend to fall back on from time to time. But rather than wallowing in my traumas and setbacks, I now use it to gage myself towards being a better me. My regard for my well being has not only been essential to my survival but also my liberation.


Creative Crushes


Brown Papaya

Creative careers are unheard of within the Filipinx culture. However, our four Creative Crushes defy all odds as they professionally pursue their unique art forms. Get to know their career journeys, hardships, favorite projects, and what inspires them to keep creating.


photographer: Jaymee Sumpter





Brown Papaya

models: Sajda of @pobrecita510 and Xrista of @xrista_radd

Name: Kate a.k.a Kate Buenconsejo a.k.a Kate Dash a.k.a @been.milky a.k.a bomb mom a.k.a mama a.k.a Queen Age: 27 Pronouns: she/her, MILF, Mama, Bitch Location: Bay Area, California (San Francisco/Oakland/Milpitas) Education: is what you make it. Career: Artist Hoe Instagram: @been.milky

“A bad ass MILF who is out here making shit happen.”

With the rapid development of technology, cellphone cameras are enabling more people to call themselves photographers. However, it takes a creative, intentional artist to capture raw emotion and create stories through the lens. Especially if there is no screen to preview the image. Kate is a photographer who primarily works with film, which is rare these days among amateur DSLR owners and iPhone “photographers”. Since a film camera does not have a screen to preview the photo, Kate practices true intentional work by taking time to pause, reflect, and envision the photo that she wants in her mind before pressing the button. I had the incredible opportunity to work with Kate as her photography assistant for a few months, witnessing her creative process from planning to photographing, to developing the film. Her colorful, enthusiastic, and bold personality matches her bright color palette found in her work. Aside from her photography, she is a proud mother of two and blends her personal life with her creative work on social media. Her openness to showcase her whole self to the public sets her apart from many superficial, filtered “Instagram photographers”. You not only get to connect with her work, but the artist as well. Are you ready to dive into her creative mind?


Describe what your career path looks like, and how it led you to what you are doing now. As an artist, it’s important to be honest, open and real with myself in order to create work that is truly me. Ultimately, that has led me to live a life where my creativity and happiness is paying the bills. Favorite project you’ve worked on and why? I don’t have a particular project I love more, but I do really enjoy scheming up a color palette for a particular person or people. You feature people through Bomb Mom Club @bombmomclub on Instagram and a mom group in real life, alongside your photography work. As a Bomb Mom yourself, could you share how this started? What is a “Bomb Mom”? This idea stemmed from my previous blog “Female Gone Rogue”. Instead of dope female creatives, it’s beautiful and creative moms. I love bringing folks together. I found myself feeling alone as a mom, but it baffled me because there’s so many moms in the world. To counter

that feeling, I brought to life, “Bomb Mom Club” as a way to build community. A bomb mom is someone who is there for herself and her family. Someone who explores the idea of what a mom is “supposed” to be and creates her own definition of motherhood. A bad ass MILF who is out here making shit happen. The grounding energy. You know you’re in the presence of a bomb mom when you ask yourself, “OH SHIT?! SHE’S A MOM?!” Social media is saturated with overly edited images. However, you use your platform to reveal your whole self, from talking about your creative process, skateboarding to work, working with artists, to caring for your children. Why is it important to share these facets of your life? One goal that I have for my social media is to showcase who I am unapologetically. It’s important for me because I don’t I have to be any different than what I’m showing online. Just being that example of someone who can truly communicate who I am as a mom, artist, partner, whatever I want to be, and be okay with that. I know not everyone is going to agree or even support me via the Internet. That’s why we have a choice to follow and unfollow.

model: Malaya Tuyay; client: Vida Vazquez; photography assistants: Isabel Bagsik, Carmela Gaspar


Brown Papaya


model: Mesiah of @wombinrising


Brown Papaya

model: Deandra of @deandruh415

model: Teisha Jenaie; stylist: Mariah Martinez; accessories: @babydollfindsxo

Top 5 items that inspire you/aid in your self-care? 1) My roots a.k.a family 2) Erykah Badu 3) “City of God” 4) Peers who are doing what it takes to make their dreams into reality 5) Colors

“As an artist, it’s important to be honest, open and real with myself in order to create work that is truly me.” How does the Filipino/a/x culture influence your work? There’s a lot to appreciate from what I’ve learned through the Filipino culture, but as I’m growing and learning more about myself and culture, I’m finding ways to shift generational paradigms. For example: clear, direct communication wasn’t/isn’t promoted in the Filipino culture. For me to be able to say what’s on my mind without the fear of getting in trouble or thinking I would get in trouble, is a huge accomplishment.

model: Kristel of @kristelasayel

How do you defy toxic Filipino/a/x beauty expectations in your work/daily life? The moment I realized that all these bitches on magazines and TV don’t look anything like me, I switched it up in my own head about what I think I need to look like. It’s not necessarily a look, it’s more of a feeling. As women, we go through so many physical changes, that accepting them puts me in a lot more ease than putting pressure on myself to look like the next bitch. Also, genuinely appreciating the next bitch for who she is, in all their glory is such an amazing feeling. It’s better than comparing your ass to a photo with the best angle and lighting. Seriously. Words of wisdom for those starting off their creative or entrepreneurial careers? Believe in yourself and every step of the process. Do not stop. Keep going. Make mistakes. Be comfortable with making mistakes. Learn. Be honest with yourself and your boundaries. Be mindful of others. Speak up. Get to know yourself, thoroughly. Listen to your gut and go INNNNNN!



photographer: Lakeela Smith; makeup & hair: Kayla LaBae/LaBae Artistry; stylist: JaeeFever




Brown Papaya

Name: Chang Age: 26 Pronouns: she/her Location: Union City, California Education: Communication major, Public Relations minor; University of San Francisco Career: Director, Writer, Producer, Head of Marketing, Accounts Payable, Actor of Hella Strangers; Marketing Producer at ITVS (Independent Television Service) Instagram: @bigchxngtheory

“If you’re trying to be a writer, just fucking write.”

The Filipinx culture is known to enjoy creative expression, such as dancing and singing. However, pursuing a creative career in a Filipinx household is usually unheard of or is a journey full of tension. Being a “creative” is seen as more of a hobby than a serious career. Chang defies all that, starting with her mother, who actually encouraged Chang to explore her creativity from an early age. Through a whirlwind of different careers and challenges along the way, Chang is here to validate and normalize a nonlinear career path.

“That go-getter attitude is so cisgender heterosexual male, so I had to learn how to claim a seat at the table, talk with the wolves, and negotiate deals.”

photographer: Lakeela Smith; (left to right) director, writer, lead actor: Chang; DP: Jay Kishi; lead actors: Sheila Bauzon, Jenai Chin


Describe what your career path looks like, and how it led you to what you are doing now. Every birthday, my mom made me write in a photo album of what I want to be when I grow up. I consistently wrote variations of “director”. My mom noticed that and encouraged me to explore my creativity. She told me to enter the school’s storytelling contest and I won second place. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop writing. When it came time to apply for college, I wanted to go to NYU for journalism and got a full scholarship, but at the time they were doing major budget cuts to art programs. I had to think of a back up plan, so the closest environment to New York was San Francisco. I went to USF and met the greatest mentors. In 2010, right before college, I started a blog on tumblr where I wrote for myself, not for an assignment. This was right before Prop 8, when it was not okay to be openly gay online yet. I like to say I was one of the first few people who wrote about being openly gay. I wrote about my girlfriends, crushes, heartbreak, and moments I was bullied. After 6 months of writing I went from 10 to 25,000 followers. Despite the encouraging following online, the world felt small. I needed to move out, so I applied to the Disney college program in Orlando, Florida. However, my mom was devastated because my parents were going through a rough patch. In the Filipino culture I would have been expected to take care of the household as the Ate, or oldest sister. When you’re growing up, your parents give you everything in the world, and when you grow up you are expected to give back to your parents. But where do you draw the line to start giving back to yourself? Is there a timeline for that? I realized, there isn’t. I told my mom that I needed to move out, but not forever. It was a 6 month program and promised to come back. The program wasn’t even related to journalism, it was to be a dancer. I’ve been a dancer my whole life and I didn’t want that part of me to die. If it didn’t work out, then at least I tried. I was a dancer for a year at Disney World. My mom said she’s never seen me so happy so she supported me extending my contract. When my contract ended, I went back home and got an email from MTV. They were doing a documentary on the “It Gets Better” project. It was a huge campaign that started as a blog forum for LGBT people who were feeling suicidal, like an online support system. MTV found my tumblr and really liked my story. They interviewed me on Skype, and a month later, I see my face on TV. Ever since then, I realized I have a story to tell, so I was gonna keep telling my story. That’s when I decided to pick up a camera. 92

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MTV was like my one hit wonder, and I thought I had to find something more sustainable. I wanted to apply for an editorial internship, so I took a huge risk and applied to Conde Nast, a publishing company for magazines such as Vogue, Teen Vogue, GQ. I was chosen during the last year that Teen Vogue had internships. I went to New York for three months, and flew back and forth between my internship and school. One of the cool things I got to work on was choosing the editorial spread for Teen Vogue’s feature with ASAP Rocky. This experience led me to think, what combines writing, editing, video, but was a realistic career? Oh shit, marketing, duh. The first job I got was at Google, and I thought I was set for life.

“But where do you draw the line to start giving back to yourself?” I got a marketing position for the Google Shopping Express project. However, it just launched and they had no idea what they were doing. I ended up in their pack and ship, which made a lot of money, but I didn’t want to tell anyone. I injured my hand during packing, and since you wouldn’t typically get a hand injury from a marketing job, I had no choice but to tell the truth. I bawled to my friends, and said that I either keep working there or quit. I realized I couldn’t do that anymore, so I quit. It was the darkest time of my life. I was unemployed for a really long time and I was in a toxic relationship where my partner depended on the money I was making at Google. When I left my job, it was like our relationship meant nothing to her anymore. Not only was I unemployed, I was going through a breakup. I ended up going to the hospital for overdosing on sleeping pills. When I think about that day, I wasn’t trying to commit suicide, I was crying for help. I didn’t want to die, but I wanted to let people know that I was in a bad place in my life but I didn’t know how else to communicate. When I was in the hospital, my mom came and asked what was going on. I told her I don’t want to work at a big tech company, I don’t care how much I’m making. All I want to do is write and tell stories. She said, “I never told you to work at Google. Yes I was proud, but I never said that’s what you needed to do. If you told me you were going to work at the church or somewhere else, and you were happy, I’d be fine.” That was the biggest validation I needed to hear. During that time of unemployment, I made an online magazine and curated people’s stories similar to Brown Papaya. People thought it was cool, and with ad placements I started getting a little bit of

photographer: Lakeela Smith

photographer: Lakeela Smith

money. I started freelancing, and got my momentum going again. This is when I learned about the freelance culture, and became hungry. It was okay to be hungry. Especially as an Asian American queer woman, you have to. That go-getter attitude is so cisgender heterosexual male, so I had to learn how to claim a seat at the table, talk with the wolves, and negotiate deals. I never forgot this guy was trying to get this job with me for a freelance gig, looked at me and was like “dang, aren’t Asian chicks supposed to be quiet and shit?” Because I would not stop talking during the interview, and I will never forget that. I will remember him for every single interview I go into and be the loud person, because I was never meant to be quiet. Filipino culture teaches us about humility and stepping back, but there’s nothing wrong with knowing your greatness, knowing your strengths. That’s when I got an Instagram and put myself, my art and writing, out there. I have over 4,000 followers from people genuinely curious about the content I put out.

grade, I fantasized I was a cool kid in the Bay Area with all these friends, and what that meant. Originally, I wanted it to be a graphic novel, because I also like to doodle. I didn’t know how to handle a camera, so it would have looked like trash at the time. I wanted it to look cinematic, so I planned to create a graphic novel and hoped a filmmaker would pick it up and see potential to make it a film. I told a friend who was an illustrator to help me, but he was money hungry. After many frustrated back-and-forths, he mailed it to me, and it was a book with blank pages and pencil sketches. I was shocked. I took this as a sign from the universe that I have to do this all on my own, and not settle for a vision of a graphic novel since my end goal was to make a film. The next morning, I get a call from ITVS for a job interview (where I work now). I went in, thinking I trashed my interview, but two hours after crying to my mom that I didn’t get the job, I got a job offer. They also gave me a salary 10k higher than what I asked. My current boss said they saw something in me, but that I needed to work my ass off. And I definitely did. I got promoted twice, all from teaching myself and learning from my mentors there. That helped me make what Hella Strangers is now.

“I don’t care how much I’m making. All I want to do is write and tell stories.” I was getting antsy about creating my own content. After a previous girlfriend’s film premiere, I told myself I’m gonna make one of my own. That’s when Hella Strangers was born. I’ve actually been writing about it since I was a little kid. I always fantasized what it would be like if I was cool and popular in the Bay Area. I was never that, I was the kid that used to eat glue in art class and spit it back out, then make something really interesting. In sixth

HS will be a web series, successfully raised $26,000 on Kickstarter in 60 days. Everybody asks how I did that. I owe it all to the mentors and studying the craft. We finished season 1, and I’ve been at ITVS for over a year now, the longest job I’ve ever had. Favorite project you’ve worked on and why? Aside from HS, I have a spoken word piece titled Chicken Adobo. This was one of the first pieces I ever did that got a standing ovation. That validated me as a writer. I thought if a publication paid me for my work, that’s when I know


I made it as a writer. But when I did this and heard the crowd, and people lined up to meet me after, I knew I was a writer and could make a career out of it. That piece was on how I may not know how to cook, but I can feed you. I can feed you with my words. Through sharing food, I’m sharing a piece of my culture with that person, this notion of what it means to nourish someone. Top 5 items that inspire you/aid in your self-care? 1) Hella Strangers group chat 2) Crossfit 3) Lavender oil in my hair 4) Brockhampton 5) Petting my dog How does the Filipino/a/x culture influence your work? The concept of family in Filipino culture is so big to me. My business model when I work with anyone is that you’re not my friend or business partner, you are family. Filipinos are all about the chisme and hold grudges, but at the end of the day we’re thick like blood. The moment the HS cast knew they could be vulnerable with me and each other, that’s where the respect and trust came in. I talk to my friends and family everyday. This constant need to be in conversation with someone. This has really helped in

interviews or business meetings. If it wasn’t for listening to my aunties and uncles at Filipino parties, I wouldn’t have learned how to not just talk, but also listen. How do you defy toxic Filipino/a/x beauty expectations in your work/daily life? I have eczema, so growing up I had a lot of scars on my face. My doctor prescribed me a lightening cream for the scars. I got 3-4 pigments lighter and noticed I got more respect from family. My siblings are darker than me, and my mom is “chinita” and was a city girl. When I got lighter skin, my family would touch my face at family parties and call me chinita, and I felt validated but my siblings felt awkward. When my scars disappeared, I remember going to the doctor because I “needed” more of it. I got asked for more photoshoots. A non-Asian photographer said I had the Kpop look, and I ate that up. That mentality comes from this colonized way of thinking. All of a sudden people gave me a reality check on colorism and how toxic it is. Why can’t I be comfortable in my own skin? I’m getting my color back now though. People could tell I was Filipino based on how big my nose was. At 23 I told my

photographer: Misacat; creative director: Iman Benet; makeup: Mercedes Gramajo


Brown Papaya

“Do you quit or keep going? If you know this is your career path, you’re gonna find a way to keep going.”

mom I wanted to get a nose job when I have the money for it, and she supported it. It wasn’t just the color of my skin, but the shape of my body. As a nonbinary person, there are days where I think “do I wanna look femme today? Or like a boy?” There’s a lot of insecurities with that, but also what does it mean to be femme, what does that look like? What does a boy look like? It all goes back to colonial European beauty standards that I need to deconstruct and unpack. When you look up Filipino beauty, it’s very heavy on European standards. With HS, we are all QPOC (queer people of color), primarily brown. When people see that on all their media, they’re gonna realize they need more of that on TV because these people are so beautiful. Now, we’re in this tide where people notice if there aren’t any people of color in marketing or media. People are starting to realize that this European way of thinking isn’t okay anymore. Words of wisdom for those starting off their creative or entrepreneurial careers? If you’re trying to be a writer, just fucking write. It doesn’t matter if it’s just three words a day, a haiku, I just wanna know you’re writing. That’s what the industry is looking for. Quantity is still a thing. Stay hungry, whether it’s writing or making a film. If you want to be a director, I’m not telling you to make a movie tomorrow. Pick up your iPhone and go on your Instagram story and record yourself, because there is an art in that too. There is a creative way to tell me how your day is going in thirty seconds, and I wanna see how you do that. Use your resources, don’t tell me money is an issue because being creative is knowing how to work around that. Do you quit or keep going? If you know this is your career path, you’re gonna find a way to keep going. If you’re into film or multimedia, if you want to make movies, you need to keep watching movies. At least you’re still getting inspired. Those visuals will get ingrained in your brain and you’ll look at the world differently because of the media you’re consuming. Also know your work doesn’t have to be posted on the Internet. The mentality today is if you’re not posting your work, you’re not an artist. Art can still be very much sacred and private. You can save your best work to be posted. Challenge yourself in different ways, everyday.


photographer: Christopher Nguyen



art director


Brown Papaya

Name: Francesca “ChiChai” Mateo Age: 26 Pronouns: she/her Location: Bay Area Education: M.A. International Studies, University of San Francisco Career: Art Director, Empire in the Air; U.S. Director of Operations, Project PEARLS Website:

“That’s why I chose to major in global studies in college, because how could I save the world if I don’t know anything about it?”

Streetwear can be thought of as one-note, surface-level, and elitist. However, Francesca “ChiChai” Mateo takes on the notion of streetwear and breaks down conventional barriers, from the heart of her brand to who she intentionally chooses as her models. ChiChai infuses her whole self throughout her work, whether that is seen through Empire in the Air (her streetwear brand), her involvement as Director of Operations for Project PEARLS (her mother’s nonprofit organization), or her own personal illustrations. Her different facets—cultural identity as a Filipina American, creative identity, and philanthropy— are evident in all areas of her life. With such an impressive background and involvement with her community both in the Bay Area and back in the Philippines, I was excited when ChiChai reached out to me with interest in participating in the Brown Papaya Project. After the photoshoot, I had the chance to chat with ChiChai again to learn more about her background as a creative and community leader.


Describe what your career path looks like, and how it led you to what you are doing now. In high school I knew I wanted to combine my love for art and fashion with writing and community. That’s when I thought of Empire in the Air (EA), a clothing brand to give back. Bobby Hundreds is someone I admire. As a founder of a big streetwear brand, he really utilizes his blog, which gives him a lot of credibility. I relate to that because I love writing too. From that point on, I based everything I did on those three points: art, writing, and community-giving. That’s why I chose to major in global studies in college, because how could I save the world if I don’t know anything about it? I also have a minor in journalism due to my love for writing. As for fashion and art, that was self-taught. I was always proactive in learning about and engaging with streetwear. In building a brand, it came down to networking and being a good person. You really just have to be nice to people. What’s unfortunate with streetwear brands is that they come off very stand-offish. That’s one thing I never want with my brand. A welcoming presence was such a priority for me. College is where my networking started, and those friends

from school are who I work with on fundraisers, such as with Project PEARLS. I also did graphic design for a newspaper for a few years, enhancing my design skills.

“In building a brand, it came down to networking and being a good person.” Favorite project you’ve worked on and why? The most recent project is The Art of Us (2017). We collaborated with The Company to host a huge showcase and had an immersion trip to the Philippines with Project PEARLS, tying it with EA. Seeing those two worlds combine was fulfilling. It gave teaching and learning opportunities to Filipino Americans. The second project is an art show called Growth (2016), a showcase dedicated to the Bay Area. All the artwork followed the theme of the Bay Area and local artists performed. About 200 people attended, and had just good vibes all around. We made sure artists came from all walks of life and different communities.

members (from left to right): Raymond Baltazar, Christopher Nguyen, ChiChai, Samantha Manklang, Mia Guevarra, Aiko Tanzawa, Jelyn Gapal


Brown Papaya

Top 5 items that inspire you/aid in your self-care? 1) Comic books 2) MissBish 3) Nature 4) Other (women of color) artists 5) My mom (if she read this she would hair flip) What is Project PEARLS? How does it interact with Empire in the Air? Project PEARLS (PP) is a nonprofit founded by my mom. We work with impoverished communities in the Philippines and aim to alleviate children in poverty through education and health. We have several programs, such as our scholarship program, where we sponsor kids to go to school. They still need to buy their uniforms and books, despite it being a public school. We also provide breakfast everyday so they can start their days off healthy. I want people to know that PP is really working. Through our programs we were able to send a dozen students to college, who grew up digging through garbage to find things they can sell. Not to cliche it, but it’s literally changing lives. EA is about inspiring others to strive for their own empires. I think a lot of that inspo comes from the resilience from the community we work with through PP. Every year we have 1-2 events dedicated for PP, such as our 5K in November to raise money to feed 40 families for Christmas. EA’s demographic is majority the Filipino community, so with PP we’re building that bridge for Filipino Americans (FilAms). Can you share a rundown of the freelance life? It’s rough girl, it’s rough! As artists, we really put our hearts on our sleeves. I don’t know about you, but I’m hella sensitive as an artist. Through EA I’m grateful I’m able to share part of me, but it also leaves me kind of vulnerable. You don’t want to sacrifice your style, but you also want to appease the communities and the people you’re reaching out to. There’s always that push and pull of finding that balance. Along with making a creative lifestyle, I have reasons to network with other creatives, such as this interview. I consider this meeting as me representing EA. It’s me meeting with another artist who is creating something to push the envelope within the community. An average day begins with breakfast and answering hella emails. I like to do all my admin work in the beginning. There’s a misconception that all I do is design stuff, but I’m overlooking everyone and the whole brand. I need to make sure all the event planners’ deadlines are met, the media team is making enough content for this month, so on and so forth. Then I can finally start doing the things that’s more fun! Like writing for

the blog, designing new things, drafting up ideas. Since most of EA’s team members have full or part time day jobs outside of EA responsibilities, our meetings are usually held in the evening.

“As artists, we really put our hearts on our sleeves.” How is EA sustaining you? EA itself is self-sustaining, but not sustaining us just yet. It has enough cushion to build that foundation to support us (the team). Luckily Christopher does our finances and is great at budgeting and seeing trends in our sales, which also helped our growth. PP and EA are both my full time jobs, so I get my income from PP and freelancing. Words of wisdom for those starting off their creative or entrepreneurial careers? Do your research. Build a team. Make a plan (so giving up is not an option). What I notice a lot of the time when people start clothing brands is that they last only about a year. They come out with a few tees, but there isn’t a game plan. Building a team helps to hold each other accountable to keep going. For research, I would study other people’s business models. For instance Bobby Hundreds comes out with a collection 2 months before every season actually starts, and has content everyday. See how you can make something work out for you. And this doesn’t have to be just clothing brands, but for other types of businesses in general. How does the Filipino/a/x culture influence your work? There’s not a lot of recognition being a Filipina in general. We are often in the background. That’s why I really look up to Miss Lawn from HLZBLZ, a FilAm from California and a streetwear woman pioneer. I would say she is super unapologetic about it, and that’s how I want to be too. I had posted on Instagram about an experience when someone asked me “how come you never have white models?” For Brown Papaya, you started it because there are so many people telling you what a Pinay should be, what they should look like. If anything, the mindset of saying “fuck no, this is how i’mma be” made our generation stronger. That type of attitude is how I handle EA. I will do what I am passionate about. A few people had asked me why I don’t have any white models, and ooh I went off. It was a very innocent question without intentional ill-will, but why wouldn’t I want to represent my people when we are not represented whatsoever, except for being a maid on TV or some shit. I get super defensive about the need for representation, so yeah i’mma push it. I don’t want EA to seem exclusive for FilAms, but we



Brown Papaya

need our safe spaces too. On another note, my mom has really curly hair. She used to get made fun of it, and still does. With European standards, you need silky straight hair. If you notice, in all of my artwork, hair is a really big subject, kind of like an ode to my mom. Big hair is beautiful too. How do you defy toxic Filipino/a/x beauty expectations in your work/daily life? By shutting down those type of comments in everyday conversation. When I’m in the Philippines, a lot of my friends in the Philippines get surprised when I’m dressed while visiting over there. There’s a simple standard: very modest, and plain. When I’m there, I wonder why we are so used to conditioning ourselves one way? I’m going to express myself. Not just through everyday conversation, but through my clothing too. My fashion isn’t the most feminine (I’m wearing all boys’ clothes right now!) In the Philippines, they expect women to always be feminine, but that’s not my steez. They get surprised to see that there are creative options with your style. It’s nice to know I’m breaking standards just through my clothes. Any last parting words of advice? I think one last thing I’d like to say: the world is wide enough. Words from Lin-Manuel Miranda from Hamilton. It’s a Hamilton song! With social media, it’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others. Especially in the world of creativity, you kind of have to look at what others are working on. Instead of being quick to compare yourself, remember that the world is wide enough for your work too. Focus on building collaborations and community, not competition.

Top image: concept sketches based on meetings with Jelyn Gapal and Mia Guevarra Bottom image: photographer: Christopher Nguyen; models: Tiffany Dawn, Celestine Urbano, Dani Muelens



photographer & digital artist: Jodinand Aguillon; hair: Leslie Ferrer Espinosa; makeup: Xyrille Yves Zaide and Ara Ambrosio for KAPWA Studio



editor in chief & fashion designer

Brown Papaya

Name: Stephanie Gancayco Age: 33 Pronouns: she/her, they/them Location: San Jose, California Education: California College of the Arts Career: Founder & Editor in Chief, Hella Pinay; Designer, HALIYA; Merchandise & Social Media, Undiscovered SF Instagram: @hella_pinay |

For the go-getters and hustlers out there, burn out can take a toll on your overall health. If you don’t take a step back to care for your body, mind, and spirit, your goals may not come to fruition to the quality you expect. Stephanie Gancayco had a life-changing moment when she was diagnosed with cancer, making her rethink her late nights of work and busy New York lifestyle. Reconnecting with herself led her to Hella Pinay, which opened the doors to projects and collaborations she never would have imagined.

Website: |

“If you have nothing inside yourself, you have nothing to give anyone.”


(from left to right): Leopoldo “Paino” Cabellero (master of chanting

Stephanie Gancayco and Nanay Fatima, mother of the late Tarog Ati

and tribal chieftain for Garangan, Masaroy, and Agcalaga),

tribal chief Joseph in Guimaras

Stephanie Gancayco, Kim Requesto

Describe what your career path looks like, and how it led you to what you are doing now. I studied fashion in college and worked in the fashion industry for over 10 years. I moved to New York a few years after college and worked with runway brands, then moved into corporate. It was sucking my soul out, and two years ago I ended up getting cancer. That really pushed me to do what I’m doing now. I started researching stuff for HALIYA the year prior and went to the Philippines for my first research trip. I stayed with the Panay Bukidnon people that I work with now, right before I was diagnosed with cancer. During the time I was preparing for treatment I was preparing for the FANHS (Filipino American National Historical Society) fashion show in New York in 2016. I also started to work on Hella Pinay. I ended up leaving my job. I said “fuck it”, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve been floating, freelancing, and picking up gigs since then. I’d pick up short, temporary fashion gigs, freelanced in styling, worked in restaurants, stuff to pay the bills!

“I started researching and found a lot of info on pre-colonial Filipino culture.” Favorite project you’ve worked on and why? I would say this milestone in creating original content. A year ago in the Philippines I did the 9 Muses photoshoot 104

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that’s now on Hella Pinay’s website. That was the first time I did original content, and was able to collaborate with Jodinand Aguillon, the creative director for HATAW, a modern folk dance group in Toronto. When they were getting popular, that’s when I was also growing a following. Working together was amazing because we could really get each other’s aesthetic. We worked on this series where we interviewed 9 women, and he made these amazing tarot goddess cards out of it. We called them “diwata cards”, based on new Filipino mythology of some kind. It was based on a sculpture he saw at the University of the Philippines, which was called “9 Muses”. This was the traditional 9 muses of art (scultpure, theater, etc.) so instead, we had muses of “bondage”, “dance”, and more. I hosted the interviews. After speaking with the women in the Philippines, I noticed we had a lot of the same concerns, same stories, such as struggles with beauty standards and colonization. That was a really amazing experience. It happened fairly early, where Hella Pinay had only been out for 2 months. For him to want to work with me was incredible. Top 5 items that inspire you/aid in your self-care? 1) Meditation & prayer 2) Being in the ocean/nature 3) Bad bitch anthems 4) Knitting 5) Anime What is Hella Pinay, how did it start, and where do you see it in the future? About a year before I was diagnosed, I had been really sick already for about a year and a half. My body was telling me some shit was happening. I started to get into spirituality

and went to sister circles. In NY a lot of my friends were Afro Latina, Puerto Rican, and Dominican. They were connected to their own cultural spirituality, and I kind of connected in a way, but I knew that wasn’t my shit, my culture, you know? What is Filipino spirituality? There’s Catholicism but I never connected with it. I thought I wasn’t spiritual or religious, even though as a kid I had a lot of spiritual encounters. I started researching and found a lot of info on pre-colonial Filipino culture. I went to art school, so I didn’t get a chance to take ethnic studies or take part in any Filipino clubs, but I grew up with hella Filipinos, so I never thought I had to look into my culture. In NY a lot of people asked me “what are you?” There is a Filipino community there but I feel like NY is more segregated than it is here in the Bay Area. A lot of people stayed in their communities, or their own neighborhoods which were grouped by ethnicity. I felt I had to explain it a lot. I realized, maybe I didn’t really know what that meant. What does it mean to be Filipino? Also, after conversations with other women and Filipinas, they wished they had a place we could talk about this stuff. They then said, why don’t you start it? But I felt like I wasn’t the person to do that, because I’m mixed, I didn’t feel like I was the person to talk about Filipina women’s experiences. But fuck that, I have experiences as well, and we all have different experiences that are all valid. In my research, I found all these Filipinas doing cool stuff, but there wasn’t one place for everyone to find each other outside of academia, but I just wasn’t part of that background. I used to write a lot growing up, but I’m not a journalist. It’s all been about going into things and figuring it out on my own. I had a lot of support with people volunteering to help. Where it’s going: Since the beginning I’ve wanted to create more community and do events, like sister circles where we can have an unpacking space to talk about shit, a small gathering for people to come together, talk and cry together. I did one in the Philippines and it was really dope. I also want to finally open an online store with products from some of the Hella Pinay contributors and do pop ups. Can you share a rundown of the freelance life? I don’t know yet, because I don’t really know either! But in all realness, a lot of emails! Now that I’m in California and not caught up in the NY craziness, I take care of myself more. Even if I have hella work, I don’t stay up to work until 5 am. Even though I could or should be, I don’t do that shit. I go to bed at 12 am and wake up at 8 am. I try to work out, eat healthy. It’s a lot of emails, calls, meetings. But it’s hella fun though, because I’m connecting with really dope people and the projects I’m working on are hella exciting. In terms of HALIYA, I do the design, but that’s a small part

of it. I can design a collection really quickly, but it’s mostly about the execution, planning, sending things off to people. Lately I’ve been able to do a lot of styling work, and somehow it’s all Filipino shit, which is so funny and cool! I have a client where I’m assisting Filipino food styling shoots, which has been super fun and totally different. I’m also doing someone’s lookbook. It’s all about being creative, but it’s also a lot of figuring things out with people. Words of wisdom for those starting off their creative or entrepreneurial careers? I don’t know, if they figure it out let me know! Actually, I’m still figuring out the monetization of everything, but I can say focus on supporting yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually, that’s a big important part of it. Don’t fucking overwork yourself to the point where you have no creativity. That’s what I did for ten years: work work work, never sleep, and if you have nothing inside yourself, you have nothing to give anyone.

“A lot of it is not taking advantage of the privileges I have as a lightskinned, mixed Filipina.” How does the Filipino/a/x culture influence your work? Everything. It’s so wild! Growing up, I didn’t think about being Filipino or what that meant. Of course there are those discussions with your friends, like why do they always comment on your skin? You talk about the issues, but I never thought I would find a career or passion in this. Everything I do is a lot of work, but it’s super interesting. It’s connecting with people all the time and I’m learning a lot. I think Filipino cultures are super inspiring. The inspiration is endless beccause there’s so much we don’t know. There’s so many books to read, and so many people to meet that are so connected with their culture, but aren’t recorded in books. How do you defy toxic Filipino/a/x beauty expectations in your work/daily life? In my work, one of the main purposes of Hella Pinay was to show how diverse Filipino people are. Some may say “oh you don’t look Filipino” to a light-skinned Filipino, Black Filipino, Muslim Filipino or what have you, but we’re named the “Philippines” because we were colonized. We’re hella different languages and cultures. In terms of beauty standards, it’s important for me to highlight people


that wouldn’t be highlighted in mainstream media. I also wanted to be able to tell our own stories and show off different body types. It’s all about showing people who they are, their work and what they’re contributing to the community, how they are making a difference. In terms of personal, it’s kind of hard. I’ve had a different experience. I would never claim to be a brown person, beccause I’m not. I’ve never faced that type of discrimination or daily microaggression of being a brown person in America or the Philippines or whereever. A lot of it is not taking advantage of the privileges I have as a light-skinned, mixed Filipina. Yeah I do get treated better, I recognize that. When I went to Mindinao months ago with a big group of Filipinos, many people went up to me and asked “oh, can I take a picture with you?” It’s really intense and complicated. It’s always a reminder of colonization when people say things like that. I don’t get mad at them, it’s not really their fault. They feel like they are complimenting me, but I feel hella bad. For instance, I was told, “oh, my cousin wants to talk to you but he’s hella dark, he’s ashamed.” It shows how people are conditioned to feel bad about themselves. Hella Pinay is not the center of my narrative, but showcasing others narratives. Any last parting words of advice? Just do it. For so many years, I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t start my projects until I was 31 years old. Just go for it, and if people respond, put in that work to keep it going.

photographer: Gigi Bio; models: Teresa Endoso (top left & right) and Elyssa Marie Rivera (top left & bottom left); creative direction & design: Stephanie Gancayco; stylist: Rap Sarmiento


Brown Papaya


Community Through Creativity


Brown Papaya

Despite the struggles that come with existing in our various intersecting identities, there is a sense of empowerment and community when we can share our vulnerabilities, stories, and love through creativity. Whatever that might look like to you, whether through painting, writing, music, dance, community organizing—stand in your truth and pass on your story. Several people joined the Brown Papaya Community by sharing

their stories on how beauty expectations within the Filipinx/Filipinx American culture has affected their experiences. May their truths reach your hearts, and inspire you to express your own stories.




Brown Papaya

Bay Area Photo Project Redefines Beauty Standards Kenzi Laceste Pronouns: she/her

“Ever since I was a kid my mom always told me to pull my nose and use papaya soap”

Imagine being a young teen, 16 years old. Soft black hair, dark brown eyes, with rich, brown skin. Your mother tells you to get out of the sun, or you’ll get dark. She smothers you with sunblock, not because you don’t want to get sunburnt (which is the main purpose of putting on sunblock anyway). You’ve never had a sunburn in your life—your natural skin tone has always protected you from that, and it’s a blessing that has been overlooked because you’re more worried about the sunrays toasting you until you’re a deep, chocolate color. Growing up, it has always been this way for me. The idea that brown skin was not attractive was deeply rooted in me since I was very young. I’d feel disgusted every time I came out of the pool on a summer day and saw my tan lines, shocked at how I’ve gotten about two shades darker. Then I’d go home, take a shower, and use the papaya soap relatives have sent to my family from the Philippines. The soap was meant to whiten my skin, though I never really reached that beautiful, pale skin tone that all the mixed-race Filipina actresses had. When my younger brother was born, the first thing my parents boasted about was his light skin. He had rosy cheeks and sweet pink lips. “He looks so American!” my father said. But I wonder, did they ever gush about my skin color the same way they did to my brother? For every woman, regardless of culture or ethnicity, there are beauty standards that are pressured upon all of us. The most common one is weight and having the perfect body. For Filipinas, the beauty expectations that have been engrained in our culture was to look nothing like our ancestors who typically had curly hair, brown skin, and flat noses. This was why Isabel Bagsik, a 24-year-old Filipina design graduate, decided to post a tweet calling out to all Filipinas in the Bay Area to collaborate for a photoshoot aimed at breaking down toxic Filipino beauty standards. The tweet was posted on October 11, which fell on Filipino American History Month. “The end goal is to compile all photos, and possibly interviews, in a digital lookbook magazine to loudly declare that Pinays are beautiful in all sizes, skin tones, heights, gender and sexual identities, fashion styles, etcetera,” Bagsik’s Twitter post stated. She named the project Brown Papaya—an ironic reframing of the infamous whitening soap.


The tweet immediately blew up and gained over 500 likes and 200 retweets. Bagsik’s Twitter was flooded with messages full of Filipinas interested in participating—including myself. “I didn’t expect that many,” Bagsik said, beaming over the unexpected fame of her idea. She explained that originally, the photoshoot was just going to be among her friends, but then realized that this wouldn’t fairly represent the diversity of Filipina Americans. There were around 80 women that messaged their interest to Bagsik, and after scheduling and finalizing the dates of the photoshoots, 37 Filipinas were photographed for the Brown Papaya project. Three photographers and a makeup artist offered their services for free. Bagsik’s longtime friend, Lee-Ron Chan, also volunteered to be her production assistant. “I love everything that Isabel does,” Chan said. “I think she has a really strong voice, and she uses it for a good purpose.” Despite being born with a lighter skin tone, Bagsik told stories of how Filipinos have always differentiated her because of her skin. “I’ve always been aware that I was lighter skinned—sometimes they would bring it up and point that out,” Bagsik said. “But I never saw dark skin as bad either and it always bothered me.” Growing up watching The Filipino Channel, Bagsik pointed out how all the Filipina celebrities were “one note”—they had white skin, straight hair, skinny bodies, and most of them weren’t even full Filipino. Those who had darker skin were usually comedians. Bagsik involved herself in six different Pilipinx organizations in UC Davis to gain a better understanding of her culture. She attended conferences and workshops that discussed issues like colorism. It was a culmination of these experiences that made Bagsik want to take the initiative to create the Brown Papaya project. “I didn’t want this to just be a photoshoot,” Bagsik explained. “I really wanted to push further, not just by visually showing the diverse range of what a Filipina looks like, but also by having the participants be more critical about what this project is about and why they’re a part of it.”


Brown Papaya

It was supposed to rain on the day of the last photoshoot on November 19, but the weather luckily changed. Bagsik claimed that it was our Filipino ancestors who blessed us with the sunny skies. A cluster of women, all dressed in different shades of brown, were already gathered in a small circle when I had arrived, chatting as if they’ve already known each other. Before starting the photoshoot, Bagsik gathered all the participants in a circle to introduce themselves, then led a few activities to discuss their experiences growing up as Filipino Americans. Each of the participants shared the common frustrations they had with being told to alter their nose, curly hair, skin tone, or body weight by their own family members. “Ever since I was a kid my mom always told me to pull my nose and use papaya soap,” Chelsea Ruiz, one of the participants, said. “When I was a baby they were telling me that they would always pull my nose up and if they didn’t, I would have a nose like my sister’s.” The Philippines was colonized for over 300 years under Spanish rule, and was then colonized by the United States until 1946. Although this happened decades ago, Filipinos still hold the same ideals that were taught under Spanish and American colonization: that European features—such as a thin nose—are more beautiful than their own inherited features. According to a study on second-generation Filipino Americans, colonial mentality has been deeply rooted in first-generation immigrant parents. Western culture is glorified over Filipino culture; thus, many young Filipinos were taught by their parents to assimilate to American society, putting their own native background in second place. “I feel like our generation with being Filipino American, there’s a lot that we go through that our parents can’t relate to because they didn’t grow up in this culture,” Kiersten Abueg, another participant, said. After the group activities, there was the group photoshoot, then everyone branched off into their individual photoshoots. Danielle Miguel, a recent graduate from UC Berkeley, was the first person lined up to do the in

dividual photoshoot. The photographer had her pose by the trees, close her eyes, and bask in the sun. Her face glowed a beautiful, golden brown. “It was like many other photoshoots that I’ve done before,” Miguel said after finishing her shoot. “But the thing that was very different was keeping in mind the intent—the mission of the whole project. I kept that in mind throughout my whole photoshoot.” At the end of the day, all the girls said their goodbyes and took their last Instagram pictures with the hashtag, #BrownIsBeautiful. “You planted a seed,” one of the girls said to Isabel Bagsik, as everyone thanked her for creating such a meaningful project for the Filipino community. With that, all the photoshoots are finished, and now onto the process of creating the digital magazine. Bagsik hopes to finish the final product by December. Aside from the photos, Bagsik will also include a written aspect in the look book. “I wanted to show their stories and experiences as well so that people can read about the diversity of our stories and experiences, but also how universal certain frustrations and struggles are,” she said. It is a common struggle for Filipino Americans to find a source of education on Filipino history and culture. In CSU East Bay, the Pilipinx American Student Association (PASA) aims to bridge this gap, by linking Filipino students to their sense of cultural awareness. PASA frequently hosts workshops to help their members find their voice in the community, and learn more about the historical and political aspects of Filipino culture.

The issue of colorism, however, isn’t a unique problem— it is a widely-known issue that not only affects Filipinos, but also other ethnicities that are impacted by the ideals of whiteness. Janice Tanemura, Ethnic Studies lecturer at CSUEB, teaches the history of colorism and how it has stemmed from European culture’s association with whiteness as “purity, innocence, and the good,” while blackness was associated with “evil, danger, and slavery.” In the United States, colorism played a role in laws and prohibited all non-white persons from enjoying the privileges of citizenship and political inclusivity. Since the time of slavery, blackness was legally defined as a subordinate racial group. “It is important to keep in mind that whiteness is more than just a skin color—it is a political identity,” Tanemura said. In the courts, Asian Americans struggled to identify themselves and pushed to define themselves as white, because at the time, black people were prohibited from testifying against white people, and “black” was defined as all non-white persons. Tanemura further explained that the intention behind the usage of whitening products, such as papaya soap, is to gain access to privileges that come with whitenes—whether it be beauty, economic opportunity, or political power.

Kamille De Guzman, 4th year Communications student, led these workshops last year as the Political Community Affairs Chair. Now, she is the Kapatid Director, where she is responsible for leading the brother/sister program in PASA. “Our main idea is to build community but also to teach these values to our members, because it’s a common struggle for Filipinos, or even other ethnicities, to have their culture lost because of what’s being taught in the education system,” De Guzman said. “A lot of Filipino Americans don’t realize that we do have a history here in America.”


Sino ka? Jasmine Aiza Obiacoro

Cow Brains Lurk in Her Lipstick Natalie Pardo Labang Pronouns: she/her


Brown Papaya

Ako ay isang Filipina Malambing, maganda, malakas Kuminsan asiwa, pero di naman sinasidya Ako din ay isang Ilocana, “Naimbag nga aldaw” Haha at yan ang extento nang ilocano ko Morenx, malandi, matakao Sa unang hugot mo sa kulay ko Sa unang kapit mo sa bighani ko Sa unang kita mo kung paano akong kumaiin Lahat ay na sa akin Walang kulang sa akin Buo ang akin pagiisip, pagmamahal, at pansin sa aking kapaligiran Lahat ito ay resulta nang aking landas bilang isang anak, ading, kaibigan, at kasuyo

As she puts on moisturizer to keep her skin soft and supple, countless snails weep for their kind— those dehydrated with sodium chloride to ooze out the serum to smoothen her shell. Sharks’ blood drip in the sunscreens and lotions that touch her skin and cow brains lurk in her lipstick. To make sure she is safe from toxicity, her greasepaints are sampled to mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits— all of them slayed after every test run.

To Hate and Misconceptions Jaime Barrairo Pronouns: they/them

I’m human. I walk on two legs, I breathe through my lungs, my heart beats to the rhythm of a drum. I’m human. I go through the motions: sleep, eat, learn about life. Every day filled with emotion, whether it’s good or bad, I still live my life. I’m human. I wake up every morning or afternoon confused about what to do today. What do I do? I ask myself “where to?” I’m human Whether I show my emotions or hide them behind a mask I’m still human Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean I don’t cry. It doesn’t mean I don’t bury my face in a pillow and scream out because of this pain in my heart. I’ll hide in that corner, crystal tears shining in the dark. I’m still human. Even when I’m broken, I’ll continue getting up. I’m still human. But all my life I’ve been categorized just because I’m Asian. You think I’m smarter than others, call my skin yellow; you group the 48 countries that make up the continent of Asia into one category labeled “Asian.” You think we’re all the same yet clearly we aren’t. Each culture is unique in it’s own way, but these stigmas against colors other than white make us turn away. And with each generation, our cultures, they fade away. I’m still human. Yes, biologically I’m a girl but that’s just another label. I don’t have to be feminine. I can be masculine if I want dress how I want cut my hair as short as I want because it is MY life, NOT yours and I won’t let you control me. I. Am. Still. Human. Just because I love the same sex doesn’t mean my love isn’t true. My love is valid and this is long overdue. I’m still human. I’m speaking the truth. If you can’t handle it, then you are unfit to be in this community that loves like no other. I’m only human, just like everyone here. And we’re gonna continue, we’ll live with no fear. We are who we are, your laws ain’t gonna change that. We are human and We won’t let your hate bring us to ruin.


FLIP Danielle Miguel Pronouns: she/her Instagram: @daniellemiguelz

f l i p. That’s what they called me but I flipped the script. Too Filipina to be American. Too American to be Filipina. With a name too Spanish to make me Asian, but looks too Asian to make me Latina. Half blooded Ilokana, Half blooded Bisaya. Half of what? Because I am whole. Beyond that, I am more. Too friendly. Too reserved. Too passionate. Too indifferent. And where does it end? Not anywhere in sight. Peace seeking mission, never ending fight. I flipped the script by plastering the labels in places that hold my heart because I am told to stay rooted but move forward. Asian America is calling me, to claim something that was formed out of the very politics that brought my ancestors here to the land of the “free” to the home of the “brave” but it only became that way because those who came who saw who conquered could not handle the resilience of the Brown, Yellow, Black, and Red. Because we are not settling for less. Because we are here. Because we can flip the script and turn a story about an individual into a story about communities.


Brown Papaya

ISANG BAGSAK Izzie V Pronouns: she/her/they/them

I t’s hard to identify as Filipinx/o/a because it’s S o much easier to A ssimilate to what AmeriKKKa N eeds me to be and not G et into messy conversations around identity B ut lately my full name has been circulating so A ssumptions are automatically assigned and I have no choice but to G reet people with a smile as they S ay, “Ah you’re Filipina right?” A nd I’m proud but I’m also confused because 1. you assumed my ethnicity based off my last name 2. you assumed my ethnicity matching my last name to my face and 3. you assumed my gender but I’m also tired of having to correct people so K nowing all of this, I stay quiet. I ntroduced the unity clap for the first time S aying the hxstory rolled off my tongue so easily A nd I felt proud of my heritage and ancestors N ot thinking about how I might be tokenizing myself G ranting permissions for questions about a culture I know little to nothing about B ecause sometimes I think I’m the weakest link A nd I will be the one falling that makes all fall G rowing at a rate that’s not fast enough, trying so hard to learn the memories I never made, S peaking words of a language I never learned but A lways feelng guilt & shame because I don’t K now where I come from.


Fooled Sarah Mac Pronouns: she/her Instgram, Twitter: @itssmac Youtube: macshortee28


Brown Papaya

billboards and magazines filled with cropped figures human-like displays self esteem so low my real complexion hidden among layers and layers not white nor off white more like manila paper no pun to my nationality but ironic cause in Manila they condone whiteness not imperialism but skin color products sold to lighten our skin the lighter the better complexion like a ghost key word: invisibility Fuck that identified as an outlier than lie to myself rare to see confidence portrayed within The industry Careless, controlling, conniving as long as their pay checks filled with my low self-esteem trapped in a barbie world Judged by looks not intelligence Pity those who need to bury themselves I don ’ t blame them others blinded by the fake facade fooled

Untitled Caleb F. Pronouns: he/him

I am terrifying. Cuts from paper trails drop blood onto mountains of dead, split ends Brown ends And an end to my brownness. Documents don’t define me, I repeat And repeat Onto pages of scandals and lies And genocide. I am terrified. On my back clings my child A beast of burden And the burden is soft... The burden breathes into me memories of my islands The islands that might as well have forgotten about me Umbilical cords have been sliced open and apart veins boil in a pot of chili and lime Vocal cords shrivel and crack No love remains I am terrified. Weaving a rug is simpler than this. My rug is woven with rapists’ skin with deep-rooted lies with open trade wounds with scalding shame and with Jesus. To raise me within an implied culture And to sever my lifeline to the ancestors Because 1. “You are also white” 2. “You don’t look Filipino” 3. “It’s not the place you want it to be” 4. “There is one true way.” Self-identification is sacred And my only means of survival In a world that tore me from knowledge and filled wombs with acid. It is terrifying. Yet, my soul sparks Shines like our skies and our mountains and our peoples My hair is a river My skin is salty and brown My body is history, not the genocide you’ve taught me. Welcome to the land of bone, teeth, and blood I’ll only grow stronger So that I may bring kalachuchi to your scum of a deathbed. And I sure as hell hope that you are terrified of me.


Alyson Noele Sagala Pronouns: she/her Instagram: @alysonnoele


Brown Papaya

brown girl magic I am made out of magic, & stories quite tragic, Composed by the cosmos, The stars and the static A brown skinned girl With an American tongue Still somehow confused by what it means to be young I’m a girl whose grown into The child that I was The same dreams and passions Still deep in my blood Where have I been, & where am I going? The trick is to keep moving Without ever knowing, I have cried at the beauty of being whole on my own, Discovered what strength is by being alone, Built my own home from the boughs of my bones, While still learning to carry the weight of my soul.

the threads of brown identity For more than half my life I have been confused about where I am from. I once wrote “FILIPINO” as my nationality on a student visa application form, and had my mother hurriedly correct it before I turned it into the embassy official. I have memorized how to recount, “My family’s from the Philippines, but I was born in Texas,” to every inquiring stranger since I was a child.

“...this humble work ethic can also be seen as learned docility, a toxic reframing of our willingness to work in a system of unfair power dynamics.”

I do not speak my “mother tongue”, and have been asked on more than one occasion to justify this. I experience a myriad of pride and distaste, when strangers try to connect the dots for me about my own history. I am inherently upset by the same corruption, poverty, and religious zealotry that probably drove my parents from their home country decades ago. But I latch fervently to my inheritance of unbridled hospitality, familial loyalty, and a universal perseverance to retain culture no matter how far we are spread around the world. In the face of constant struggle, Filipinos exert light-hearted humor and improbable optimism, an ability to laugh at life’s hardest moments. I see this inherently in my own family, and in the smiles of uprooted Filipinos I have met all over the world. My time spent abroad has taught me the duality of self-perception against global understanding. Being identified openly by my race was something I became more familiar with once outside the comfortable bubble of the Bay Area. In many ways I have taken back the perception of who I am on the outside with the ink I’ve engraved onto my body, with the tone of voice I use when I speak. But I have found myself asking, what is it makes me Filipino? And what is it that makes me overwhelmingly more American? I read somewhere that the best part of a country is also what makes it the worst. In the case of Filipinos and the Philippines, an ability to retain happiness in the face of adversity has also normalized suffering. Like those in


heavily corrupted developing countries, Filipinos will retain the status quo that gets them by rather than upending the system, perpetuating immoral societal structures that exacerbate gaps between the wealthy and poor; they remain frustratingly attached to Western influences, the twisted vestiges left behind from centuries of colonial occupation. Maybe in a lot of ways, my own identity crisis mirrors that of my collective kinfolk. There is a consensus in popular culture about the selfless demeanor of Filipinos; hardworking people whose natural tendency to give care has developed into an expansive diaspora of Filipinos abroad. Popularly, many Filipinos working abroad raise other peoples’ children, take care of their elderly, tend to patients in crowded hospitals. Just as with all of reality’s dual perceptions, this humble work ethic can also be seen as learned docility, a toxic reframing of our willingness to work in a system of unfair power dynamics. I have seen how twisted cultural norms degrade a country I’ve hardly spent any time in. I have met many women and men who left everyone they knew to do backbreaking work, away from their families in order to support them. When I lived in Paris, I stayed briefly with a distant aunt who I fought with constantly over the course of a year. Time has given me the power of forgiveness, because I finally recognized what caused the sharp edge of resentment in her voice whenever she looked at me. Bitterness from years of dealing with an alcoholic husband, of not having been able to raise her own children, from doing the emotional labor for a rich family that did not value her. I rediscover new appreciation for my roots everyday. Yet I also find myself finding new reasons to be outraged, to bristle at the fact that an entire people has spent so much time under the vice of colonialism that assimilation now comes second nature. A rejection of indigenous roots, animist traditions that date back further than the tide of Spanish control. And I am unapologetically exasperated at an inability to see institutional Catholicism as nothing but a historical consequence of colonization. My adolescence took me on a strange journey of acceptance, as I constantly rearranged the way I prioritized my ethnic identity. I have reconciled my hang ups over the years, while simultaneously realizing there are some 122

Brown Papaya

things I may never make peace with. This especially applies to my perception and understanding of myself as a first world American citizen. I can’t help but balk at every backpacker that drawls on about the beauty of Philippines, their love for a tropical paradise that I never really felt authentically extended to the people living there. But I digress since this can be said of any exotic country westerners choose to find refuge in. I am quick to accuse myself of the same behavior when I think of my attachment to countries outside the US I’ve sought refuge in. What has fascinated me about life, especially in recent years, is the resurfacing of themes from my childhood that have manifested again in more nuanced and complex ways. My desire for purpose. My connection to my family. My power as a woman. The origins of my history. Part of growth is realizing you cannot make homes inside of other people. The obvious secret one forgets is that you never have to feel homesick for the inside of your own skin. Despite our culture’s pernicious reverence for white skin, I have learned to love the darkness of my melanin, how it allows me to soak in as much light from the sun as I please. I have learned to celebrate my smallness, and to venerate that my beginnings trace to a time and a place out of reach from my realm of perception. I may never truly know “what” makes me Filipino. I do know what it is that makes me my mother’s daughter. That I have inherited my father’s good nature. That I have my grandfather’s calloused hands, my grandmother’s enduring spirit. Even if, at the end of the day, I do not speak the language of my ancestors, I have found a deep sense of harmony between the identity I was born into and the one I’ve chosen to create. And maybe, at the end of the day, this is enough.

Tonight I Hear My Ancestors Chriseah Pronouns: she/her tonight I can hear my ancestors breathing breathing for a life they’ve passed onto their children and their children’s children tonight I can hear my ancestors breathing breathing so that I can breathe Because something as simple as breathing is hard but an act of revolution. when a world constantly works against you, your family, your community a quilted blanket of love mixed with browness, blackness love and fear violence and hope and breaths I can still hear their breathing through generations of fighting fighting against words from oppressors mouths saying monkey savage alien little brown brother incapable Filipino tonight I can hear my ancestors breathing breathing as an act of resistance I can hear their breaths during the Delano Grape Strike, on the fields demanding fair wages and better working conditions the I-Hotel, protesting against eviction and their rights to the city Martial Law in the Philippines, fighting against blood shed and strategies of occupation through military and police tonight I can hear my ancestors breathing breathing in and out a warrior spirit I can feel in my heart, skin to bones, soul I am not what my oppressors say I am

and I choose to breathe with them because I choose to live life and breathe as an act of revolution

I am Filipino I am proud of who I am I am my ancestors and my ancestors are in me I am from a lineage of resistance, rich culture beautiful skin, thriving communities rooted in genuine compassion so tonight I hear my ancestors breathing


me, a brown papaya Jazmyn Reyes Pronouns: she/her Instagram: @415pimpcess


Brown Papaya

brown and unbothered, didn’t learn it from my mother or my father, this feeling’s been uncovered thru the act of self-discovery figuring out what it’s like to be me. was always a little chubby, when my family was wishing i was petite. me never thinking i was pretty, so i was internalizing my unworthiness. everytime a chance of love came knocking i didn’t think i deserved it. i was comfortable with being inspired of not being desired by any. too many shades too dark, sparked an idea i was not a work of art. but i had to leave that concept on the BART train taking it away for a ride to the last stop on the line. but what i found at the end was nothing less of a brown skinned masterpiece.

Women Empowerment Structure Celin Corpuz Pronouns: she/her

Maekayla: My skin is enriched with beautiful brown and carved from my indigenous roots

Intro (video of performance): Time: 49:30 - 54:40

Danica: I know what I am capable of and I do not have to prove anything to you - I will not be phased by the way men are constantly put before women

Danica: Why are we constantly put down by men in society?

Edna: But thanks to your beliefs, I am more empowered and educated about who I am as a woman and what I am capable of

Kiara: Men and women work the same job, but women get paid differently than men?

Ate Elaine: I stand with pride and ignore your words because catcalling is not the same as giving a compliment.

Cynthia: Why are we taught to view men as superior?

Jaelyn: I am not your maid, sex tool, or your property. - I am not shaped by a man, I am shaped by my own self.

Edna: Do you really think it is morally correct to act superior just because you are a man? - I know the definition of hard work and overcoming struggles being raised by a single mother

Celin: And although you see our flaws more than our beauty, there’s so much more than what you haven’t seen, so sit down and let us tell you what we mean...

Celin: Where do I stand as I am belittled by the scene of patriarchy?

Kimberly, Kiara, Mae, Christina, Celin, Ate Hannah: We are more than what you call beautiful and pretty

Maekayla: What are with these dividing gender barriers?

Harrah, Danica, Edna, Cynthia, Jaelyn, Ate Elaine: We are more than what you see as intelligent and knowledgeable

Jaelyn: Why is it that YOU’RE so concerned with how long my hair is, what I wear, and my makeup? - I don’t dress to impress YOU, but to EXPRESS me. Christina: If you men can become a CEO or president in the world, so can women. What makes you think we cannot achieve these things? Are we not strong physically, mentally, and emotionally? Maekayla: Why do I have to use gender made restrooms when they are used for an equal purpose? Kim: Why do the curves on my body define who I am? - Why are we viewed as weak when we are the ones who carry a human and nurture them with all of our being? Ate Elaine: When will this patriarchal society end? Christina: It’s time for women to dominate and liberate in this world after being oppressed for so long. Kiara: I am a strong woman and knows that every woman in this world should have the right to do anything and should be equal

Unison: We are more than what you think is “enough” because there is so much more than what you think we are In unison: I can’t keep quiet. Christina: I am a strong Niu Ren because... - I am influenced by the strong women in my life such as my mother, my aunties, and my grandmothers who experienced harsher conditions and struggles before coming to the free country. - I am on the path to achieving success and bringing honor to my family name. - I can’t keep quiet. Cynthia: I am a strong Niu Ren because... - The strong women in my life raised me to be the strong person that I am today. - My mother’s childhood stories influenced me to do better in school and life itself. - I will not let anyone talk down on me, I can’t keep quiet.


Danica: I am a strong Pinay because... - Important women in my life motivate me to succeed and get to where I am in the future. - I know the future will be challenging, but with many Pinays to look up to, I can make myself and others happy. - I can’t keep quiet. Ate Elaine: I am a strong Pinay because... - Despite my Mama’s breast cancer, she was resilient, and fought through it and now is cancer free. She is my definition of what strong is. - I choose my own path and define my own future. - I can’t keep quiet. Kiara: I am a strong Pinay because... - I am surrounded by women who motivate me to be a stronger Pinay. - I have a mother who supports me through my education and shows me how hard it is to get to where I want to be. - I can’t keep quiet. Kim: I am a strong Pinay because... - My mom is a constant reminder of what a strong pinay is. - I give my all into everything I do because I don’t just aim to make my family proud, but myself as well. - I can’t keep quiet. Celin: I am a strong Pinay because... - I am she/her/hers. - I choose to be an example of what I shouldn’t be. - I can’t keep quiet. Maekayla: I am a strong Pinay because... - I am the daughter, the granddaughter, and the niece of strong Pinay women that nourish me with love and feed me with the fruit of knowledge. - I am selfless while having self-love. - I can’t keep quiet. Edna: I am a strong Pinay because... - I am the rock and back bone of my future family. - I am my mother’s daughter, a Filipina minority working towards making my mark. - I can’t keep quiet. Jaelyn: I am a strong Pinay because... - I go beyond your set labels for me. I refused to be oppressed. 126

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- I am the living legacy that our women of color have started. - I can’t keep quiet. Conclusion Unison: Our voices will not be silenced.

The Truth About Being Taba Trisha Regine Fuerte Pronouns: she/her Instagram, Twitter: @trishavantegarde

“I wanted to push and challenge myself so that I could heal now.”

Trigger warning: eating disorders, binge eating, bulimia, bullying, body shaming, depression, mention of death threats and suicide. It took me 12 years to love what I see in the mirror. If you follow me on social media, you can tell how much I do with all my mirror selfies. 12 year old me would never imagine having the confidence to take mirror selfies. This confidence came from learning that the truth about being taba is that that doesn’t mean your body is not beautiful. The other truth about being taba however, (the ugly one), is that when don’t have that confidence yet and do not realize how beautiful your body already is, how strong it is, how powerful is; your body will listen and you can harm it to the point where you lose control. It took me 12 years to admit that I lost control and had an eating disorder. Last year, I finally started seeing a therapist. I knew that taking care of your body goes beyond food and exercise. I told my therapist all of the details you are about to read below, and she asked me if I knew this was bulimia. I said not until I studied Psych in college. I shrugged it off back then because us Psych majors are told all the time to not self-diagnose ourselves, but the truth was I was destroying my body from the inside out ever since I was young. Being bulimic is the biggest and longest secret I’ve ever kept. It was not said outside of my own head until that moment with my therapist. I began working with her to learn how to process this coming full circle, and more importantly how to listen and talk to myself whenever I start to revisit those thoughts I’ve had in the past. Seeing a therapist (or anything with mental health really) isn’t widely known or normal in Filipinx culture. What is widely known and normal in Filipinx culture no matter how you are eating white rice.


Like many Filipinx kids growing up, I ate white rice with everything. Breakfast—with spam and Vienna sausage. Lunch—with Lumpiang Shanghai, fried chicken, Lechon Kawali, Tapa, or Tocino. Dinner (the best)—chicken and/or pork Adobo, super sour Sinigang, Nilaga, Tinola, Bistek, Misua or Jollibee Chicken Joy with extra gravy. Honorable mentions for the times I didn’t eat white rice, are carbs, carbs, and more carbs: Pancit Malabon, Pancit Bihon, Pancit Canton, and Palabok. The list goes on. These are all normal meals for a Filipinx family, it is also really normal to love all of these delicious foods; I still love them and always will! What wasn’t normal was the fact that I wasn’t just eating an unreal amount of Filipinx food every day and the fact that I started hating my body at a very young age. Lay’s potato chips were my favorite. I could finish a family size bag by myself—original, BBQ, or sour cream and onion. Soda. I drank soda more than water. I remember once I even faked a stomachache so my mom could give me 7UP. As I grew up I continued to get sneaky so that I could eat more. It wasn’t just Filipinx food and junk food I was attached to, it was fast food and frozen food too. At Burger King, I’d always order a large meal, but with a side order of chicken nuggets and/ or onion rings too. I’d still be hungry. At home, I knew the hash brown patties from Lucky’s and my beloved Dinonuggets from Costco took 20-25 minutes to bake at 350 degrees in the oven. While waiting for 2-4 hash brown patties and 20+ Dinonuggets all for myself, I’d microwave a Kirkland Chicken Bake for 3 minutes, run to my room to hide it under a hat so my mom wouldn’t find out, and stuff it in my face within 10. This was all I was good at. Also like many Filipinx kids growing up, there was a serious amount of pressure to be “perfect.” My grades weren’t as high as my older sister’s or all my cousins, and I also wasn’t multitalented like my little brother. At family parties, instead of being known for test scores or awards, I was just known to be the first in line with my paper plate. In typical Filipinx fashion, all the lolos and lolas encouraged me to eat and eat more. However, in even more Filipinx fashion, the titos and titas would laugh and point at me saying things like “hoy taba (fat), tabachiching (fatty), sarap (delicious), baboy (pig)...” or ask me how many bilbils (love handles) I had. It sure looked like everyone was having a good time, but I wasn’t. I just wanted to eat, but I started to feel ashamed and embarrassed to. This became so normal for me when I knew the titos and titas that made fun 128

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of me were on their way, I’d cry. I even hid in my tita’s backyard once and when she asked why I was crying I said because I knew a certain tito would make fun of me once he got here. Tita Vangie got so mad, and that tito got so embarrassed he came outside and kept trying to put cash in my hand to make me stop crying (it didn’t work). From then on at family parties, I’d take my paper plate to a different room of the house and depend on food to distract me from their words and occupy me until it was time to leave. This was my childhood. Middle school didn’t get any better. I’ll never forget my first physical with my new primary doctor transferring from a pediatrician. I remember being 12 years old, sitting on the doctor’s table crying not because the scale said I was 181 lbs, not because my doctor pointed at some chart and told me my BMI was extremely high for my age and height, not because my doctor told me I was at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease that runs in my family... but because she told me I need to cut back on sweets. That was not fun to hear. My classmates laughing me during P.E. was also not fun to hear. It wasn’t fun being called a chipmunk because of my round face and large two front teeth or hearing them call my name and then turn around to see them sticking their fingers down their throats. In 7th and 8th grade, I’d sometimes go days without eating. If I did eat it would be one piece of bread, fruit, or bowl of cereal. Those days would catch up to me though, and I’d immediately overeat after midnight. I knew this was not the way to do it, so I listened to my doctor a little. I cut back on sweets; I actually ended up giving up soda and white rice for Lent, then for a year, and eventually for good. I started walking and doing some sit-ups in my room regularly, and by my first day of high school, I lost 20 lbs. I listened to my doctor and made some healthy changes, but I also started listening to the noise of my relatives and classmates. Even more when you’re in high school, your relatives compare all the kids in the family, all the Filipinx moms at school talk to each other and compare their kids too. Who had higher grades, awards, scholarships, who was in student government, what colleges people planning to go to. I wasn’t that kid in my family. I was just taba. In high school, although I had more classmates, their noise sounded a lot like some of the ones in middle school. This noise got even louder (and meaner) in high school, and my small healthy changes turned into a huge unhealthy obsession.

“Yeah you lost weight, but you’re still fat and you will always be fat and ugly no matter how hard you try. Stop trying.” “Hey Trisha, how much do you weigh?” “What size are you? I’m a size 3, I’m so fat.” “Your legs look like cottage cheese.” “Trisha, is that your second plate?” “I heard her cotillion partner couldn’t lift her up, lol.” “No one voted for you for ASB because you’re fat, ugly, and weird.” “Thank God you lost.” “He’s only taking you to the dance because he feels bad for you.” “You’d look better if you lost weight.” “That shirt makes you look bigger.” “No one likes you.” “Don’t come to school tomorrow because my friend and I are gonna kill you.” “Just kill yourself.” Said to my face, in anonymous Formspring and Tumblr posts, anonymous prank calls, at lunch, in class, in the hallways, and even doodled in notebooks and then shown to me. All terrible at school, but nothing compared to what I would say to myself behind closed doors in front of my mirror. I used to stare at myself in the mirror for long periods of time just listing every little thing that’s wrong with me, inside and out, but especially out. I’d say words far worse than all the ones said above. Everything from my nose to my toes, I hated myself. I hated food. I started giving my lunch to one of my friends every day. We developed a routine of me handing it to him when we’d walk passed each other going to class. When I did eat lunch it was Yoplait and an apple. That’s it. I started running, a lot. Every day after school I’d go to Coyote Hills with my mom and run outside for an hour wearing layers of thermals and sweatshirts with two sweat wraps around my waist. On weekends or over breaks, I’d sneak into a hotel gym where my mom does banquet events. I’d blast the incline of the treadmill to the highest it could go, and I wouldn’t get off until I burned at least 1,000 calories. On the days I cracked and binge ate, after eating I’d immediately down more than the recommended amount of laxatives or cheap detox tea from Seafood City, and then work out that night, again...making sure I didn’t let go of the treadmill till I burned at least 1,000 calories. I’d do this so much I’d get blisters on my hands from hanging on to the handlebars. I couldn’t run away from the people at school, but I could at least run this anger off temporarily. By the end of high school I lost 50 lbs, but the anger stayed. A lot of people started giving me praise, a lot of people just finally shut up about my body, but I didn’t. It became all I cared about. Not only was my debut (18th birthday celebration) coming up, but my family also began to go through a really

difficult time with my father. My childhood obsession and dependency on food turned into an addiction to exercise. I’d wake up early and do hundreds of sit-ups in my room, have cotillion dance practice, and go to the gym at night. Moving my body so much distracted my mind from the reality of my dad breaking my mom’s heart right before my big birthday. On the day of my party, I did feel beautiful on the outside for once in my size 4 pink princess gown but the next morning I woke up knowing deep down inside that this was the beginning of my depression. Not long after my debut, my dad ended up leaving my family and my boyfriend of 3 years (who constantly said a lot of those unkind things) broke up with me. I transferred to a new university because my first one was a nightmare, and I finally got a job I really cared about, but I was constantly paranoid about messing up. The significant change was hard. My old ugly habits of negative self-talk that started with this eating disorder spread like a virus into every aspect of my life. Family fights: “It’s all your fault. Fix it now. You’re stupid. You’re a burden. My family deserves better.” Mistakes at school or work: “You’re not good enough. Fix it now. You’re not working hard enough. You’re weak. You’re incompetent. What’s wrong with you? You can’t do this.” Every heartbreak (the worst): “You’re unlovable, undesirable, never a first choice, disposable, forgettable, so stupid, worthless. Men will always just abuse your heart and body more than you already have. What’s the point? You will never find love.” I felt myself reaching—digging inside me for a new beginning. My body physically could not take the emotional stress anymore. I was drained. I reached a plateau in my diet and exercise. My typical running and sit-ups routine wasn’t showing results anymore; my energy was low and working out wasn’t as fun or stress relieving. Restrictive dieting also wasn’t fun. I missed food more than anything. I knew there was a way I could still enjoy food and still enjoy exercising. I knew there was a way to put all my childhood bullies, fake high school friends, my dad, and all the dudes who’ve broken my heart behind me. I said to myself for the first time that I could really fucking do this for me and only me now. Instead of wanting to change my body for society and other people’s standards of beauty, something that it is not and never will be—I wanted to build it now. I wanted to build my body to be stronger inside and out now. I wanted to push and challenge myself so that I could heal now. Once I realized that my body transformation was


never about my relationships with the people from my past, but the relationship I have with myself every damn day, I was able to take baby steps in some brand new Nike Free Runs that I bought myself as a gift. I quickly discovered and fell in love with Insanity. Even my first few weeks into it I saw and felt my body, heart, and soul get fuller because that was my “me” time. By the end of each 30-45 minute workout, I felt stronger than I did before I started it. I also quickly discovered that this high-intensity workout I was doing required a higher calorie intake. Then, I was even more in love. I began tracking what I ate on MyFitnessPal, where it basically tells you when you log your food and exercises that you exercised a whole lot you better eat a whole lot today (just with healthy substitutes of course). By the end of the day, it would tell me how much closer I was to achieving my goals and I’d go to sleep happy. I wanted to do more workouts like Insanity; I wanted to log in different types of food! I wanted to keep going to sleep happy (and sore). This drove me to eventually try Pilates, dance, swimming, weight lifting, learn to kick a man’s ass with Krav Maga, and my most recent favorite, SoulCycle. I used to be 181 lbs., but I’m not anymore. I used to be 124 lbs., but I’m not anymore. I used to care about those numbers. I do not anymore. I used to hate my body. I do not anymore. I now love my body as much as I love food and exercise. I now love food and exercise because I love my body. Results began to show that I was not only finally healthy, but I was also…finally happy. I do still have my moments to this day, everybody does. My old ugly habits of negative self-talk definitely come back sometimes. The only difference now is that I tell myself it’s okay. I forgive myself on these days and I start again tomorrow. My body is not perfect, nor is every workout, every meal, or every step of this ongoing healing process, and that’s okay. I end this with a quote from a caption of a #TransformationTuesday I posted on Instagram 2 years ago, but very much could have been 1 year ago, 1 month ago, 1 week ago, yesterday, or today, because it was, is, and always will be the truth about loving your body: “(Sometimes) it’ll honestly feel like you are starting over again, but it’s okay to start over again. That’s a brave thing to do and you should be proud of yourself. I should be proud of myself because what I’ve overcome and accomplished is no joke. I still have a long way to go in terms of reaching all my fitness goals, but I am damn proud. I will live my life reminding myself and 130

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anyone who has ever struggled with body image that you deserve nothing less than feeling good about your body shamelessly and unapologetically.” You also deserve to take all the damn mirror selfies you want.

Janelle Salanga Pronouns: she/her Twitter: @jvnelly

There are no Asian professors in the theatre department. Some people like to tailor parts of cultures alien to them until they wear a ramshackle patchwork coat made in [insert exotic country here], and sometimes those outsides are brighter, louder than mine. They strut with assertive familiarity plotting points on a world map with all the dexterity of a baby in a hurricane, their steps of authority thunderstorming through rainbow roads bearing the name scholar (imperialist?) capped with a four-year degree. These scholars slip gracefully into a skin (one I should belong to but am a stranger in) signifying they know everything about being other: being Filipino, being Chinese being Asian-American when the American is just an addendum sliding on, boots that don’t fit right, but they can never memorize the cloying sweetness of taho coating my veins, sinigang souring my insides they may look more Filipino clutching their rice cookers full of knowledge but I feel the stirring of dinugaan rich and full, reddening that hollow I call my heart.

year of the oxtail i don’t eat kare kare anymore it tastes too much like running away, five years old and my mom tells me to stop reading at the dinner table, but i put the book down and i haven’t stopped looking for stories, so maybe that’s why i start listening to the bowl of food, the oxtail telling tales of axing my heritage taunting me through whispers, “just pray to be white and you can be those book heroines, you can be hermione granger,” and i can’t miss it, i can’t, it tastes too much like home, when the bags under my mom’s eyes were from taking care of me instead of taking care of paperwork for a boss she wishes was the oven, when i only had my heart in one place and not scattered one hour away, fifteen hours across the globe, all the everywheres that i am not but today is a new day, in the palm of my hand is a spoon, my mom is expectancy and soft touches and she smells like peanut butter, so i scoop up the kare kare in the pot, steaming and frothing with silence and suddenly the oxtail looks at me and smiles, says “welcome back.”


self-portrait as discomfort, halo-halo i want all the lives i cannot have. life is not poetry, yet here i am writing a poem about lives just beyond my reach, blink and you are mired in almosts, and you are a shark, so to stop moving would mean sinking, stationed in magellan cebu’s shark fin soup. my mom chides, anak, look with your eyes and not with your mouth, but when my mouth tastes dreams, sweet and sticky, brown sugar biko it doesn’t know how to look back at what i am there is the novelist comedian human extraordinaire with a smile sharpened with wit, tongue twisted into ghosts and memories, nose a kind of shapely no filipina knows, eloquence and grace, the pen at her side a sword as she wards off ignorance there is the poet with words smooth and simple, incisive all the scars i cannot write she has emblazoned on her sleeve there is the girl with eyes of sky and hair of discord the helen of troy for whom asian nations go to war, not for her hair but the snow of her skin (they have never touched snow, only rain, gray and fast and hurting) there is the viet girl (make that plural, girl/s), but i have never liked pho and i have always been passed over for girls with cheekbones sharp like cilantro, warm broth eyes, brisket comforting hands noodling into homey hugs. there is so much humanity and yet none of it tastes like enough (what am i a mix of, the lives i want or the lives i have)


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Genie Pronouns: she/her

I wanted to have “white skin”. How many times did brown kids hear “Anak, you’re so dark”? I’m sure these same kids still hear this as grownups, perhaps in a different form. Did these kids eventually learn to be proud and to love their brown skin? When I was younger, I told my mother that I wanted to have “white skin” (fair skin, lighter skin). She said we can get that done in the Philippines. I said I wanted to do that when we go to the Philippines in the future. I was roughly 7 years old when I said this. Yet, when I went to the Philippines years later, I didn’t do it. I was quite young still so I can’t recall whether it came into topic. However, I do remember bringing home a ton of papaya soap! For years, I used papaya soap to help whiten my skin. I didn’t want to become too dark, especially during swimming season. I felt that becoming darker wouldn’t be me anymore. Yet, slowly, the papaya soap became less of a routine. I stopped using the papaya soap around my second year of college. Throughout my college career, I surrounded myself with friends that had their own insecurities, but were learning to embrace it. During my second year, I was changing my major to a field that studies communities. One of the lower division courses I took was about race, ethnicity and class in America. Through that course, I learned a little bit more about my Fil-Am identity through my classmates. I learned what it means to have privilege. I learned what it means to be a brown person. Towards the end of my second year, I began to accept my brown skin, but I still had some preference to lighter skin. I was at a nail salon, and this fair skin, older Asian woman complimented the color of my skin. It was something I never heard from older Asian women! I told her how I didn’t like my skin color and would use skin whitening products to keep from getting too dark. Her response? She still loved my brown skin and that I don’t need skin whitening. When you grow up hearing “Anak, you’re so dark” or how pretty someone is because of their fair skin (or how skinny/tall they are), it’s difficult to let go of the white beauty standard. Yet, hearing this one comment from this older Asian woman sparked the beginning of my acceptance for my brown skin. I knew that this self-love cannot happen overnight, but I always reminded myself that it is a process to accept your true beauty.


Kim Velarde Pronouns: she/her/they/them

The spaces are the same we’ve been here before in different times in different bodies indifference we rise and we fall we rise and we fall we rise you will rise from tired backs and empty cores dirty hands carry on but look up look up look look look look to warm expanding cereluan skies hold on beautiful brown hands that do no harm carry on gently carrying seeds to be sewn in lands you called home soon to be known no sooner planted lay dormant sleep quietly grow into yourself and wake up we rise


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Can You Handle It Tessie Pronouns: she/her Soundcloud, Youtube: diannedulay Instagram: @tessiemystic_ Twitter: @tessiemystic

Talk is cheap so you better come with some flame Let me know what I’ve been missin babe You really talkin like you bout that life Don’t make me turn around Make me think twice now You gotta prove yourself to be mine Its too late we can’t go slow Time is of the essence now that anything goes If you ain’t ready then you better say some tonight I want somebody that knows just how i feel No time to play games baby just keep it real Can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me can you handle it Can you handle this love I need to know i need to know Tell me can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me Can you handle this can you handle this love Oouu don’t blame me I know what i want It’s gonna take a lot more than just some sweet lines Just to win me over just to be mine You gotta be patient cuz i get crazy (don’t make me cut a bitch) And don’t play for a fool love You know that ain’t cool Cuz i wasn’t born yesterday So baby if you really feel me don’t be playin with me If you want it let me know I want somebody that knows just how i feel No time to play games baby just keep it real Can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me can you handle it Can you handle this love I need to know i need to know Tell me Can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me Can you handle this can you handle this love Can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me can you handle it Can you handle this love I need to know i need to know Tell me Can you handle it I think you can handle it Baby tell me Can you handle this can you handle this love




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Nja Pronouns: she/her Instagram: @world.alone



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Flowery Language Kim Velarde Pronouns: she/her/they/them


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magkadugtong Aliana Pronouns: she/her

magkadugtong ang kanilang kuwento ay ang aking kuwento (their story is my story) ang karunungan nila ay aking kalakasan (their wisdom is my strength) na humubog ng aking pagkatao (which makes up who I am)


Raychelle Duazo Pronouns: she/her Instagram @bombchelle

Kahit Ano 144

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May We Raise Them



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The World


Papaya Skin Nickole Caimol Pronouns: she/her Instagram: @nickaiart @nickole_33


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PreColonial Philippines Nicole Solis Pronouns: she/her Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter: @solicole


Julianne Villegas Pronouns: they/them Instagram: @singlepickles


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Thank You Projects as involved as Brown Papaya take time to blossom. To truly reach its potential, I knew that I could not create in a vacuum, alone behind my computer screen. To the first person I rambled my idea to, thank you Lee-Ron. You not only listened, but you actively supported me in more ways than I would have ever asked for. Because of you, I was able to take this project to a larger scale. Truly, people should be thanking YOU because you allowed them to participate in this project, than if I did this alone. From being my production assistant, to personal driver, to location scouter, to best friend, thank you thank you thank you a million times thank you. To Vianca Natividad, thank you for your incredible generosity and support. Your professional photography and videography skillsets helped push Brown Papaya to a level of quality I would have never achieved without you. Thank you for taking my vision to its highest potential visually, and for just being a fun person to collaborate with. I’m so glad to know you were able to gain something valuable from participating as well. Who knew this collaboration would happen two years after our first mini photoshoot together? To Mikhael Oreiro, thank you for reaching out to me on Twitter and showing genuine interest to volunteer your photography skills. It was refreshing to get the support of a Filipino ally, believing in this project’s cause. I’m excited to share your work with the community, and to see where your photography will take you next. To Chang, Kate Dash, Stephanie Gancayco, and Chichai Mateo: thank you for being the incredible Filipinx leaders in the creative scene in the Bay Area. You’ve all motivated and encouraged me to want to aspire for more, not just for myself, but for a larger community outside of myself. I appreciate the time you took to interview with me, share your work, and share your stories. To Gilbert Gammad, I appreciate that you were so down to help review a small, but very important part of this project with such short notice: to explain why I chose to use the “x” in words like “Filipinx” and “womxn”. Because of your knowledge on topics/language surrounding the intersection of LGBTQIA+ issues and the Filipinx/Filipinx American culture, I had no doubt I could trust you to review this important paragraph explanation to be as accurate and clear as possible. The work you’ve done and continue to do inspire and motivate me to always make sure my actions and language are inclusive of marginalized communities. To the larger community who shared your submissions, from writing, to poetry, to illustrations and photography: it fills my heart to know there are Filipinx/Filipinx Americans still pursuing 154

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their creativity in their own forms. Creative expression reminds us of our humanity, our soul, our ability to connect with ourselves and with others. Do not say you are not an artist. If you create with genuine intention, you are one. And now your work is published in this magazine. Take ownership, and continue to create. To the 37 participants, my Brown Papaya Babes: thank you for making my vision come to life with your beautiful, varying shades of brown. You all came to not just get a cute photo, but to engage with the critical thinking dialogues with each other. I hope you continue to take with you the lessons you learned from that day, and pass them on to empower other Filipina/xs. You can change the world one conversation at a time. Don’t let people say you are not beautiful, because look at you now. You’re all models in this magazine, embracing your beauty, standing stronger together. With the participation and support from the local community, Brown Papaya has grown to be what you see today: a beautiful collection of imagery and stories reclaiming what it means to be beautiful as a Filipinx/Filipinx American. And to my family (Mommy, Daddy, and Angela), my deepest gratitude to you for allowing me to pursue my creativity as a serious career. You never discouraged me from starting random arts and craft projects since I could hold a crayon. You never drilled into my that I had to pursue a “stable” career. Despite the initial struggle of transitioning into college, you eventually blessed me with the incredible opportunity to study what I passionately believed in, which many of my friends were not so blessed with. I hope for this same blessing upon up and coming young folks to pursue their inherent gifts, so they may inspire and put more goodness into this world.

Creative Credits Photographers: Isabel Bagsik, Vianca Natividad, and Mikhael Oreiro Photo Editor & Videographer: Vianca Natividad Isabel Bagsik: pages 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 52, 53, 54, 55, 66, 67, 68, 69, 72, 73, 74, 75, 80, 81, 108, back cover Vianca Natividad: front cover, pages 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 48, 49, 50, 51, 56, 57, 60, 61, 62, 63, 70, 71, 76, 77, 78, 79 Mikhael Oreiro: pages 4, 10, 11, 32, 33, 34, 35, 40, 41, 58, 59, 64, 65, 82, 83


Why the “x”? Throughout Brown Papaya you’ll notice the letter “x” in words like “Filipinx” and “womxn”. Why use the “x”? By replacing the “a” with an “x”, we protest the idea that “woman” is a subset of “man”. We are claiming our independence, our own identities. The spelling of “womxn” with an “x” has evolved throughout feminist history. It actually started with the letter “y”, however its origins were not inclusive of the transgender community. This spelling was first used in 1975 for the WoLF Creek Womyn’s Festival and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1976, but attendees could only be “womyn-born-womyn” (cisgender womxn, or womxn who were assigned female at birth). Allowing only cisgender womxn excluded transgender womxn, or womxn who were assigned male at birth. The prominent use of “womyn” by white feminists and the resultant exclusion of womxn of other intersections led to a shift toward the more inclusive “womxn”. The spelling of “womxn” with an “x” is a more inclusive term for all womxn. The “x” is open, a space for those who may be genderfluid, non-binary, trans womxn, womxn of color, or identify in ways “woman” does not resonate. The expansiveness of the “x” is intended in the use of “Filipinx” as a communal term instead of the gendered use of “Filipino” or “Filipina”. Contemporary Filipinx American culture often erases LGBTQIA+ identities, so the use of “x” is a space to name themselves. The interviews in Brown Papaya span the use of “Filipino”, “Filipina” and “Filipinx” as each individual has their own experiences and relationships to these terms. “Filipinx” is based on a Western understanding of gender, and in this project, a majority of the participants are referring to Filipinx American culture. In the end “Filipinx” is left open, and does not dictate anyone’s identity, so folks can still identify themselves as Filipinx, Filipino, or Filipina.

Editor: Gilbert Gammad Sources:


Brown Papaya

Index Brown Papaya Babes 8 Ahri 10 Alyssa 12 Charisse 14 Chelsea 16 ChiChai 18 Cheryll 20 Danielle 22 Elleanor 24 Ermoan 26 Eunice 28 Faith 30 Gabby 32 Jaimie 34 Jamie 36 Jannine 38 Jazmyn 40 Jennaliz 42 Jessy 44 Karen 46 Kat 48 Leen 50 Kenzi 52 Kiersten 54 Liza 56 Marie 58 Maxine 60 Melissa 62 Mellanie 64 Micaela 66 Michelle 68 Nickole 70 Nja 72 Ranna 74 Robielie 76 Sophie 78 Tessie 80 Zoe

Creative Crushes 90 Chang 96 ChiChai Mateo 84 Kate Dash 102 Stephanie Gancayco

Submissions 143 Aliana | illustration 120 Alyson Noele Sagala | writing 119 Caleb F. | writing 125 Celin Corpuz | writing 123 Chriseah | writing 116 Danielle Miguel | writing 133 Genie | writing 117 Izzie V | writing 115 Jaime Barrairo | writing 131 Janelle Salanga | writing 114 Jasmine Aiza Obiacoro | writing 124 Jazmyn Reyes | writing 150 Julianne Villegas | mixed media art 111 Kenzi Laceste | writing 134, 142 Kim Velarde | illustration & writing 114 Natalie Pardo Labang | writing 148 Nickole Caimol | illustration 149 Nicole Solis | illustration 137 Nja Zuniga | photography 144 Raychelle Duazo | illustration 118 Sarah Mac | writing 135 Tessie | music 127 Trisha Regine Fuerte | writing


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