A bit about your background, where you grew up?
I am Filipina-American, both of my parents grew up in Manila and emigrated to the US when they were in their twenties. I grew up in Philadelphia (on land stolen from the Lenape, ahem), in a neighborhood called East Falls not far from a river with an old Dutch name, the Schuylkill or Sheltered Creek. Although Philadelphia was then the 5th largest city in the US, I grew up playing outside and running around free when I wasn’t inside getting lost in as many books and craft projects as I could get my hands on/into.
What did you dream of becoming when you were a little girl?
I dreamt of being a ballerina, a writer, and a fashion designer like my maternal grandmother, aunts and uncle.
Describe your current job?
I am a writer and personal stylist, and I consult creatively on all sorts of matters. I focus on nurturing authenticity and that which is sustainable, ethical, and fair—regardless of the sector or medium I am working in. Currently, I am developing and conducting guided mediations to support individuals such as facilitators, educators, artists, musicians, cooks, and caregivers, who give so much of themselves and must continue their work despite having less resources and more emotional, mental, physical, and energetic demands during this challenging pandemic.
What’s been your greatest challenge and your greatest reward in your professional career?
I’ve worked in very different capacities in connection to styling and fashion and often the greatest challenge was “breaking in,” getting into the fashion and textile design industry in NYC, getting into the costumers’ union in LA, and getting started and situated in Amsterdam, London, and most recently, Berlin. The greatest challenge is always the next big move or project. The greatest reward for me as a writer and the thing I am most proud of, is the book I wrote and produced with photographer Bernd Ott called All The People. It combines storytelling and portrait photography to celebrate 39 beautiful individuals, and the diversity of gender expression and identity.
What do you love about the city/town/village you live in?
Berlin has lots of green spaces within the city and lakes surrounding it. And the food on offer just keeps getting better and better, thanks in large part to the people who move to Berlin and offer up amazing food close to their heart and culture.
Do you have a favourite place in the world?
Not really, I have a couple of favourite places and the list evolves. Amsterdam; Cape Town and the nature around it; Los Angeles, and the desert, ocean, mountains close by; any of the national parks in Utah. Manila, but I haven’t been since 2009!
What is the greatest risk you have taken? OR The greatest fear you have overcome?
I moved to Amsterdam on my own as a not-so-young adult to start a new business and embark on a new way of working, collaborating, and living—to create a life that truly aligned with my beliefs, values, and joy.
What motivates you?
Feeling fully alive and fully free. Being in service of the larger collective, the greater good, having a positive impact on others. Being vulnerable but true to myself. Love.
What brings you joy?
Simple things like dancing, eating well, sunshine, fresh air, being by the water, and sharing these things with people I love. Also, I do like finishing something I’ve created but the entire process isn’t always joyful.
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you this year?
This past year? I got mono (Epstein-Barr) last spring which I thought was only possible when you're a teenager. I thought it was hilarious that I had “the kissing disease” during a very serious global pandemic. The resulting chronic fatigue was not so funny but the best thing that came out of it was that I had to rest for several weeks and let go of everything—I mean, EVERYTHING.
Who are your top 3 female role models, and what about each inspires you?
My two grandmothers and my mom: my paternal Lola (or grandma) was a physician, educator, academic, role model, and was the first Filipina to specialize in Biological Chemistry. She received her medical degree from the University of the Philippines in 1938 and Master in Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan in 1940. She was a trailblazer! Her determination, intelligence, and dedication to the service and betterment of others inspire me. My maternal Lola was a fashion designer, making custom clothing for often several generations within a family. Like so many others, she had lost everything during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII and started from nothing. She out-earned my Lolo, her husband who was an electrical engineer. She was the main breadwinner of the family and the matriarch. She had a vibrant social life, playing mahjong with her friends and going out dancing every week, and worked into her eighties. Her discipline, drive, and verve for life and work stay with me. My mother studied journalism and worked as an advertising copy writer for a major TV station in Philippines. She decided to pursue a master’s degree in Romantic Languages and Literature and move to Philadelphia to start a family with my dad. She didn’t complete her degree but learned how to drive and cook incredibly well, all while raising two toddlers. She was completely in charge of the family: the day-to-day, the finances, et cetera—she was the engine and glue of the family. She received a culinary arts degree when she was in her fifties. She is very much her own person, not caring about other people’s opinions, eccentric, irreverent, but still very caring and considerate. Her selfhood, independence of thought, and ability to do anything she sets her sights have shaped me.
What does International Woman’s Day mean to you?
It's an opportunity to reflect on how women—and overwhelmingly women of color—still have less opportunities in 2021 and are at a higher risk of violence, environmental challenges, sickness, and poverty. It is also a chance to celebrate the girls and young women coming up who are such incredible leaders and visionaries, and see that our future can be as bright as they are, but we all need to work every day to liberate our world of the gender-based injustice and prejudices.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a young woman just starting out?
Don’t rule anything out, don’t limit yourself when you are first starting. Life works in mysterious ways and if you are agile, open-minded and open-hearted, you can always find and make your way. Identify and develop relationships with inspiring peers, mentors, role models—not just professional ones but also personal ones. Our relationships are essential. We can learn so much from each other, and go much further and faster together in collaboration and cooperation.
'All the people', book publication by Emily