Image: “Women Empowerment in the Philippines” by Grace Alfonso, courtesy of Grace Alfonso.
Pinay is a term for those who identify as Pilipina, but to many others and I, a Pinay stands for so much more.
I believe being a Pinay is beautiful, and not in the “exotic” way that Google images displays. Being a Pinay is beautiful in the sense that we as Pilipinas carry so much hxstory on our backs. We carry and share the hxstory of the Pilipinx people, our culture, hxstory of our ethnic issues, specifically as Pilipina womxn, and hxstory of our own individual, personal struggles. Yet through countless times of adversity, Pinays remain strong-willed, strong-minded, and well, just strong, resilient womxn.
When I hear the word Pinay, I think of the appreciation and the admiration that Pinays hold for their community and their culture.
There was “The Joan of Arc of the Visayas”, Teresa Magbanua, the first womxn warrior in Panay to serve in the Philippine Revolution. She was the Pilipina that led soldiers in the Visayas and fought against the Spanish and American soldiers, as well as the Japanese, to free the Pilipinxs. Gabriela Silang was also a fierce Pinay, being the first 17th-century womxn revolutionary to lead a revolt during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Then we have Trinidad Tecson, a womxn-member of the Katipunan who fought in the battlefield and organized other groups of women who would nurse the ill and the wounded during war time. Other Pinays like Agueda Kahabagan, the only womxn general in the armed forces of the Katipunan, Lorena Barrios, Patrocinio Gamboa y Villareal, Gregoria Montoya y Patricio, Lourdes Evangelista-Castro, Eugenia Apostol, and Pura Villanueva, all served as influential figures and great examples as Pinays.
In my experience, I’ve been exposed to Pinays all of my life, including two powerful Pinays who happened to have raised me— my mother and my grandmother.
My mother taught me when I was younger that if someone ever told me hurtful words or spoke to me in an inappropriate tone, I should say something about it. If I felt I was being treated badly in any setting or disrespected in any way, my mother encouraged me to use my voice. In my eyes, my mother held a lot of authority inside and outside of the house. For that, I thank her for showing me her strength so that I wouldn’t be afraid to show mine.
My grandmother was another Pinay that I looked up to. She raised and provided for her eight children in the Philippines. My father told me, “She was by herself in the Philippines for a while as Tatay (my grandfather) was in America. She was doing everything for us. She had a small store of vegetables, candies, soda, bread, and other goods just to make income for the family. She was trying to make money and at the same time, you know, maintain a family.”
Subsequently, when my father and all of his siblings were finally together in America, my grandmother still looked for work to provide for her family. In one incident as she was working in Los Angeles, she got mugged and a man took her purse. Instead of being startled, my grandmother boldly ran after the man and took her purse back because like my dad says, “that’s just how she was.” She was always thinking about family in everything she did. “She didn’t have much of an education, but she was smart. She made sure that everyone studied because she understood that education is important. I think we all got our smarts from Nanay (my grandmother).” My grandmother did so much for people, but never asked for anything in return, and that’s what I admired the most about her—she was hard working. Her character is what made her a strong Pinay.
Like my mother and grandmother, I’ve met many Pinays who remind me of that same dedication and empowerment. I’m fortunate to live in an environment that fosters these hard-working, strong-minded Pilipina womxn in Samahang Pilipino, an undergraduate student organization that ultimately caters to address the needs of the Pilipinx/Pilipinx-American community at UCLA and the greater Los Angeles area.
To get another perspective about Pinays, I was able to sit down with Niki Sinclair, Samahang Pilipino’s PINAYS Coordinator, and ask her what Pinays means to her.
“Pinays are underrepresented in Asian-American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) studies and publications. Scholarly work that exclusively looks at Pinays is fairly new. Because of this, having a space at UCLA and beyond to explore Pinay identity is so important. Ideas that explore ethnicity and gender together actualize an individual’s identity even further so one may feel empowered and have a greater strength to live and act without being restrained by problematic, sexist stereotypes. Everyone’s experience with stereotypes, social rules, and oppression that are based on gender and sexuality are different. For example, the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in a Pilipinx community may differ greatly from the experiences of LGBTQ individuals in a white community, a black community, or even an East Asian community (as Asian and Asian-American cultures differ greatly). That’s why it’s so important to look at each group and each group’s feminism quite carefully to understand how we can combat womxn’s oppression as a whole, and how to be an ally for womxn of other ethnic groups.”
Niki is in charge of Samahang Pilipino’s PINAYS Collective, “a space for members to engage in the PINAY identity by actively learning, discussing, and addressing PINAY issues.” The PINAYS Collective goal is to promote womxn empowerment to members by giving them the opportunity to discover, familiarize and appreciate their Pinay identity. Through this, the PINAYS Collective hopes to develop powerful leaders committed to progressing the means of support for Pinays and their allies.
In Pinays Collective, members have conversations about sisterhood, generational struggles, the impact of ethnicity on identity, hxstory, womxn oppression, common trends of Pinays, different Pinay experiences, etc. During one of the most recent Pinays Collective, members (both men and womxn) discussed gendered expectations for Pinays. Collectively, they came up with these gender roles:
“Pinays are expected to be GREAT at everything, well-balanced, expected to be strong, pale, maganda (beautiful in Tagalog), expected to be conservative (save yourself for marriage), expected to be straight, to have a family and children, and to prove themselves because in Pilipinx culture, parents often care how their children are doing in comparison to other kids in the community (competition).”
Pinays are bombarded with conflicting messages about their beauty, given that being pretty, skinny, and light-skinned is highly valued in the Pilipinx/Pilipinx-American community due to Western influence. I agree that as a Pinay, I experienced many of these gender roles from my extended family and from the Pilipinx/Pilipinx-American community. Although the list of gendered expectations is not limited to this passage, it’s important to realize that these expectations are still being held today. This is why it is vital that the Pinays Collective is present on UCLA campus because it serves as an educational space to find ways to combat Pinay issues and also, a comforting space for individuals to identify and grow with other members. Niki emphasizes, “A Pinay is every Pinay’s experience. There is no way of defining it. Culture, both familial, communal, national and ethnic, are fluid and change with time.”
Pinays are educators, organizers, innovators, warriors, builders, writers, hard-workers, scholars, cognitive liberators, leaders, fighters, and beyond definitions. I am thankful that spaces, like PINAYS Collective, exist and explore the experiential Pinay identity. It makes me immeasurably proud to have been surrounded by Pinays throughout my life growing up and through Samahang Pilipino.
I could not imagine a life without the bold presence of Pinays.