So I took a long social media hiatus during the last two weeks of the infamous, disastrous, harrowing, perplexing, the-year-that-must-not-be-named, 20th year of the 21st century. I wanted to spend time with my family, friends, my cat, and have some much needed ME time. It was energizing, liberating, empowering, and I felt like I truly lived in the moment and made these last few weeks truly special.
When I was 16 years old, I achieved my dream of becoming a published author when I wrote an Op-Ed for the national paper in the Philippines. At that time, I was reading, "Mga Ibong Mandaragit" (Birds of Prey), the Philippine literary classic about neocolonialism by social activist, Amado V. Hernandez, and had just come back from a trip to the United States. My article was about the destructive effects of colonial mentality that was still so pervasive in Philippine society over a century after Spanish colonial rule officially ended.
Growing up with dark brown skin in the Philippines, I never considered myself beautiful or attractive in any way, shape, or form. The ideal beauty at the time was a demure Filipina with pale skin and westernized features. I was even once passed down for a modeling job because I would not capitulate and say that I was not pure Filipino. The casting director wanted me to say that I was part-Filipino and part-something else. I just couldn't do it. It was just something that I accepted as a teen. I thought to myself, "Ok. You have to accept this. You are not physically the ideal concept of beauty here, so you are just going to have to compensate by being intelligent, charismatic, athletic, and fun to be around". So I grew up not putting value on looks and placing my worth on my achievements and accomplishments instead.
I was born and raised in the Philippines, a country of 134 ethnic groups, 120 different languages, and 7,107 islands. Growing up close to the capital, Manila, I was most enamored by the southernmost portion of the country, called Mindanao. Though most of the country is Christian, that part of the country is predominantly Muslim.
There are 18 different ethnic groups that live in Mindanao. One of them are the Badjao/Bajau, also known as Sea Gypsies, as they move with the wind and tide in their small houseboats called Vintas. These seafaring people have the most fascinating rituals that illustrate their concept of life and their relationship to the sea. For example, it is said that immediately after birth, a newly born infant is thrown into the seas and the rest of the family save the newborn.