What Does It Mean To Be A Filipina?

A few weeks ago, Twitter blew up on the topic of Filipina representation in America’s modeling industry. The Victoria Secret Fashion show had just aired and people were hot on the topic of Kelsey Merritt’s debut on the VS runway.  They were quick to praise her — not just on her looks, or her walk, but on how her presence signified a big step towards representation.

Of course, because this is the internet, nothing can ever stay as simple as that. Some contested her presence counting as representation, while others questioned her ability to represent the Filipina identity at all. They claimed that because her skin was lighter, and her features more western than the average Filipina, it meant she wasn’t one.

It was impossible for people to connect with her because they couldn’t see themselves in her. The contrast in skin tone, in eye shape, and even in face angles reminded them of all their differences rather than similarities. If the point of representation is for the audience to be able to place themselves in someone else’s shoes and think “I can make it here too”, then what was the point of glorifying someone so dissimilar to the typical Filipina?

But this logic forces identity to be skin-deep. It operates on the notion that there are a definable set of characteristics for any Filipina. It boxes women in and asks them to conform to a checklist of demands before certifying them as a “Filipina”.

Most importantly, it says that your identity as a Filipina is dependent on the color of your skin. Never mind that years of colonization has mixed our lineage to the point that most people have a little bit of Spanish blood. Never mind the periods in our history which forced families to flee and make homes in other countries. Never mind that the Filipino identity itself is varied and diverse owing to our archipelagic geography.

But to be a Filipina — it is so much more than the color of your skin. It’s the way you grew up, the food that you ate, the stories that your lola would tell you. It’s the strict same-sex Catholic school you went to, or maybe the co-ed Science High School you attended. It’s growing up speaking taglish — or bisaya, or cebuano. It’s recognizing that there are so many different ways to call yourself and be a Filipina.

There is no one way to define what a Filipina is, or what it means to be one. The walks of life in this country are as diverse as its biodiversity, probably. And all are valid.

What does it mean for you to be a Filipina? 

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