Five Instagrammers You Should Follow (and who also happen to be Pilipino)

Instagram has revolutionized social media. It’s a vehicle to share stories, connect people, and exchange dialogue. Here are five Instagrammer you should be following (if you aren’t already).

1. @ejsamson - EJ Samson


Guys - here’s an account full of chests that your girlfriend will actually WANT you to look at. With his signature posting style, GQ Digital Director EJ Samson showcases perfectly crafted combinations of pocket squares, shirts, ties, and jackets. His looks have even gotten him featured on Huffington Post and Business Insider - no big deal. Not to be mistaken as just another Instagram account dedicated to men’s fashion, @ejsamson is actually the opposite. In fact, hashtags like #ootd, #style, and #suitandtie never even make an appearance in his captions. You will, however, find witty puns and wordplay. Here’s a guy who (just like all of us) enjoys posting everyday moments to share with followers... he just happens to be really well-dressed while doing so.

2. @geenarocero - Geena Rocero


Geena Rocero is a fashion model who, after delivering a TED Talk earlier this year, came out to the world as transgender. The T in LGBT is still a concept that most people struggle to understand. It is because of this that Geena founded Gender Proud, an organization that brings advocacy and awareness to transgender issues. Her Instagram account isn’t a portfolio of her latest editorial shots, instead it is a personal glimpse into the story of a woman who is lending her voice to represent the transgender community’s fight for acceptance and equality. It is a ticket to join a journey rooted in courage that has brought her to places like the White House, the United Nations, and even South America. It is a chance to walk alongside not just a fashion model, but more importantly, a role model.

3. @nealsantos - Neal Santos


Raised as a concrete city boy in the Tri-state Area, one would think that Neal Santos would be a pro at Instagramming sky scrapers and zooming taxi cabs. However, Neal’s mastery lies in capturing the rural hometown feel in a very urban Philadelphia -- the place he now calls home. His portraits of locals are honest and touching.  His food posts are way too classy to be called #foodporn (one might even call them ‘sacred’). @nealsantos makes you want to eat your veggies... and then ask for more. He has a way of snapping photos that make elements come to life in ways you didn’t know you could experience them -- as if you could actually hear the sunshine, smell the colors, and taste the silence.

4. @bjpascual - BJ Pascual


BJ Pascual is one of the youngest yet most accomplished fashion photographers in the industry right now. Although based in the Philippines, BJ is also making waves internationally. His Instagram mostly depicts samples from his body of work, with a few occasional sprinkles of the photographer himself appearing in front of the camera. BJ’s editorial photos coupled with his everyday snapshots depict an artist always at work. He has a way of translating his subjects’ style into sentences and expressions into edicts. Who needs to flip through pages of magazines when you can just follow @bjpascual and keep scrolling... and double-tapping?

5. @zagadago - Marie Zagada


@zagadago is an everyday girl with a paper boutique side hustle and a lover of all things positive and healthy. Moments in our lives happen and sometimes we’re not lucky enough to capture them. Thankfully, @zagadago does it for us. She turns everyday moments into art -- moments like reading books, eating breakfast, listening to music, and yes sometimes even working out. The compositions of Marie’s posts are similar to what one would see in the lifestyle section of magazines, yet she manages to post in a way that is familiar and relatable. Her posts take on different perspectives of sights and experiences that are universal. She never abstracts simplicity, nor does she simplify the abstract. She lives in these moments, and the best part is... we get to join her.

Oh, and umm...

We hear @hoygino posts some good things every now and then too... allegedly.

Photo credits: @ejsamson, @geenarocero, @nealsantos, @bjpascual, @zagadago

Response to Models.com "Rise of the Asian Male Supermodel"


Last month, Models.com published a photo article done by photographers Idris & Tony entitled “Rise of the Asian Male Supermodel.” With the intent to shine the light on a gender and a race that is significantly underrepresented in the modeling industry, the photographers did a photo shoot with the likes of Sung Jin Park, Phillip Huang, JaeYoo and Daisuke Ueda.

Once I saw the headline, I immediately clicked the link. Firstly, “Rise of the Asian Male Supermodel” are not words you usually see in the same line. Secondly, I guess it hit a little close to home for me and I was intrigued.

I think by Pilipino standards, I look “mixed,” - thanks to my parents for those genes, I suppose. I have a fairer complexion, a bit mestizo-looking despite being full Pilipino. Ever since I can remember, most Pilipino adults that I encountered have told me to “just be a model or an artista.” It’s okay - you can roll your eyes at this part. At family parties, my mom would introduce me to friends and I was programmed to say “Thank you po” every time I’d hear “Ay ang guapo mo iho!” Later on, when asked what I planned on studying, no one really wanted to listen to my responses about being a journalist (which is what I originally pursued in college); they would jokingly tell me to go back home and just be a model or a celebrity... in the Philippines. 

Never have I ever heard someone say “You should be a model here in the States.” Not that I think my 5’6” stature or my lack of a six pack would really work to my advantage if I did pursue something like that here, but I do find it interesting that a Pilipino guy like me could only be deemed “marketable” among fellow Pilipinos and not on a world stage.

So when I scrolled down through the photo article and reached the bottom of the page, I was a bit bummed that out of 15 supermodels featured, not a single one was Pilipino. The text of the interview with Idris & Tony mentioned that they had also wanted to shoot Paolo Roldan, a Pilipino-Canadian supermodel who has been featured in Vogue, but weren’t able to do so in this series. But otherwise, where were the Pilipinos? Where were the guys that look like me? Where were the guys whose titos and titas told them they should be models? Where were the guys to serve as role models for young Pinoy men trying to break into the industry? 

Perhaps there just aren't any. And that’s a shame.

Another thing I found interesting in the article was that a lot of the models featured are mixed, mostly Eurasian. So yes, there is a rise of the Asian Male Supermodel, yet how authentic is that headline? I get it though -- “The Sort-Of-But-Not-Really Rise of the Asian Male Supermodel” takes up way too many characters to be easily tweeted.

I do appreciate the spirit of the photo article and the dialogue that Idris & Tony aim to spark within the fashion community. They can’t be faulted for not including a Pilipino male supermodel if there simply is none.

However, I think this absence of Pinoy supermodels in the international scene might be perpetrated by how Pilipinos view their own. Look up a BENCH runway show and you’ll see quite a few quality guys. If they’re good enough for home, they’re certainly good enough for the rest of the world. And it all starts with believing that might actually be true.

Photo Credit: models.com

Becoming Victoria - Georgina Tolentino


By Georgina Tolentino, guest contributor I first learned of Victoria Manalo Draves when I read her obituary in the New York Times in 2010. The person who handed me the newspaper in a restaurant said, “Wow, you look just like this woman,” and walked away.

I did see the resemblance. She was half-Filipino and English. I was Filipino with a half-Portuguese mother and Italian-Spanish-Native American father.

Victoria was born and raised in San Francisco at a time when her parents couldn’t walk together in public. She grew up when pools were “whites only” facilities and had one dedicated day a month for people of “color” (this also meant immigrants, including Jewish and Italians). This allowed “internationals” to swim before the pool was sanitized for use the next day.

At the 1948 Olympics in London, Victoria Manalo Draves became the first Fil-Am woman to win two gold medals in diving. However, she faced a lot of racial prejudice along the way.


I grew up watching IFC, the Sundance Channel and loving film. I worked for three companies in LA — Maybach and Cunningham, LET Films and Divya Creative — while taking acting classes and auditioning during lunch breaks. Honestly, I got tired of the extremely limiting roles available for women: “cynical hottie #2” or “girl having affair.” I was also tired of being told, “Well, you’re not Asian enough.”

However, I believe that a beautiful shift is happening in independent filmmaking, television and media, which women like Vicki had fought for in their fields. As my passion for telling her story grew, I decided to both produce and play Victoria in an independent narrative film with the help of Brittany del Soldato, Reggie Elzey and what today is Icarus Film Studios.

I started the process of making Vicki’s film by interviewing her husband, Lyle Draves, who also was her coach. I also got in touch with Sammy Lee, coach of diving star Greg Louganis, who was himself a legendary Olympic diver and Korean American icon. Jack Lavery, a friend who introduced her to diving at Fleishhacker saltwater pool in the 1930s in San Francisco, was also helpful. Then Connie, Victoria’s twin sister, shared great stories, like when they sent the same Christmas card to each other by accident.

Sammy Lee recalled that when Vicki first joined the team at the Oakland Athletics, they all wanted to push her into the pool as a hazing prank. But she found out about it, so she covered herself in baby oil. This made everyone else fall into the pool, making everyone laugh and see what a funny person she was. I believe her sunny attitude enabled her to endure the obstacles thrown in her way.

Vicki’s spirit was alive through these people; they are already in their nineties, and yet still joke and tell stories about her, keeping her spirit alive. There is an energy and light in their eyes that can’t be explained. Jack Lavery started laughing, held my hand and said, “Well you have Vicki’s smile – so that’s good.” I was so moved.

When we drove Jack to Sammy Lee’s house, they hugged as old friends, and we became invisible, which made me laugh. Jack had planted a “Sammy Lee plant” in his garden, and after six years finally was able to give it to Sammy. They began talking as if they were back in their twenties. We just watched in amusement, happy to give them that moment.

I have gotten to know Victoria through these friends of hers. The first time I saw a video of her, I started crying because she was no longer a photo. I felt as though I was meeting her in that moment, watching her smiling and winning. I knew what that moment of victory felt like for her, when losing her dad drove her to win in his honor. I really want people to recognize that Vicki fought for both her name and her family’s honor. I only want to do the same.

Preparing for the role has been a commitment. I got a trainer who is amazing and helped me through my back injury, with inversions, building stamina to train the muscles for diving and understanding a diet that improves performance. I go to diving class twice a week in Santa Monica or in Pasadena, and recently started taking private sessions. I also attend ballet class once or twice a week. I’ve begun understanding diving as an “aerial” sport.

When I don’t want to get up at 8 a.m. to dive, I try to remember that when Vicki first dove at the Fairmont Club, they only let her in once she changed her name to Taylor, her mother’s English maiden name. She had a special club where she was the only member. In one competition her father wasn’t allowed into the facility to watch her; so she refused to dive until they let him in.

I didn’t understand why she dove until I started diving. She, like me, had a fear of heights and drowning, ironic for a woman who won gold in 10m and 3m springboard. She dove for her father, for her mother, for the community that accepted her as an equal in sports. She dove for her friends who faced Japanese internment and for women who were being held back. She dove for her English aunt who married a Filipino and faced threats at work because her marriage was deemed “disgusting and wrong;" her aunt was later found dead in an elevator shaft. She dove not for what America was, but for what it could and should become.

Like Vicki, I was also born and raised in San Francisco. I am proud because it is a city full of activists and grassroots movements working to change society for the better. In English, Vicki's maiden name, Manalo, means to win. It's an apt name for a fighter. So, I fight for the rights and opportunities I have -- and for Vicki’s story to be told.

Join me in telling the story of Victoria Manalo Draves. Contributions help us meet our goal of $12,000. Help us build the momentum for a story that needs to be told by being a supporter and by encouraging your friends to do so as well.

You can donate by visiting our campaign here

Facebook: Vicki Manalo Film Instagram: @vickimanalofilm Twitter: @vickimanalofilm #vickimanalofilm Website: www.victoriamanalofilm.com

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Georgina Tolentino is an actor and independent film producer from Los Angeles CA.





The original version of this post originally appeared on Positively Filipino and has been reprinted with permission. 

Photo credits: Brittany Del Soldato and Vanessa Cabrillas

A Fil-Am Reflection: Here Lies Love, Disco and Filipinos!


By Nicole Maxali, guest contributor

My boss asked if I want the New York Times to read. I say “Sure!” and read it on the train ride home. The cover story of the Fashion & Style section is an interview with Talking Head’s lead singer David Byrne and Cyndi Lauper. (Side note: I’m a huge Cyndi Lauper fan. And one of the last conversations my father and I had before he suddenly died in 2011 was about Cyndi’s artistry, her drive as a creative, and the fact that she followed the beat of her own drum). In the article Byrne & Lauper share their “famous pasts and their theatrical presents — she as the Tony-winning composer and lyricist of the Broadway hit Kinky Boots, and he as the Obie-winning creator of the musical spectacle Here Lies Love, about the former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos."

I’ve been dying to see both musicals since I moved to NYC. Last year, Here Lies Love played for an extended run but I wasn’t able to catch it because I was either too busy or too broke. But the article stated that Here Lies Love returns to The Public Theater for a permanent run in April! Another chance to see it? Score! I immediately hit up my friend to see if we can go together.  I get a text from her two days later saying, “Do you want to attend the preview with me?” See a $119 show for FREE? Double score! At this point, I don’t know what to expect except that it’s a 90 minute show and its set in a disco club so there are no seats and dancing is highly suggested.

I wear my most comfortable dancing shoes and meet her in the lobby of The Public Theater. We wait and wait and wait.  She texts her contact but no one comes to meet us. We wait some more.  And she notices a big group of gay boys going up a flight of stairs. Then a tall man in all white with white hair enters the lobby and heads towards the stairs. She asks him a question and he gestures us to follow. At this point, I’m trying not to geek out. I’m trying not to blurt out:

“I loved your interview with Cyndi in the NY Times!” or

“My dad loved the Talking Heads! My mom thinks you’re a genius!” or

“Hi, I’m Nicole Maxali and you’re DAVID BYRNE!”

Yeah, so I don’t say any of those things and just keep my mouth shut as we ascend the staircase that leads to The LuEsther Theater or the disco club that was once the LuEsther.

We walk in and it’s a typical club equipped with black lights, go-go stages, huge screens and a DJ booth above us. No chairs. No VIP bottle service couches. Nowhere to sit. Nothing like you’d expect a musical show venue to look like. And then it begins.

I have to admit there was a moment in the beginning of the show, when the liberal SF State Pilipino American Collegiate Activist in my head started to say: Wait. Is this show just a glorification of the Marcos era? Is Byrne not going to bring up the fact that the 1,000 pairs shoe lady was really part of a horrible time in Philippine’s history? Is this just going to be about Imelda’s extravagant life of excess?

In that moment I was hoping this wasn’t going to be like The Help. The Oscar-winning film has raised objections in the African American community, which may have to do with the fact that it was written by a white author. In a statement about the movie, The Association of Black Women Historians have said:

“Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers.”

So although I am a third gen Filipino-American from Cali, I still remember my grandmother’s horror stories about what the Marcos regime was doing to our mother country and our family in the 70’s & 80’s. And how much we celebrated in San Francisco when Aquino took office in 1986. I remember that regardless of Imelda’s extravagant life, her people (some of my family members) were suffering and abused during her twenty year reign as the first lady of the Philippines.

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But I tried to keep an open mind and I’m glad I did. Midway through the show, we witnessed how seamlessly Byrne and the director, Alex Timbers, incorporated historical facts into the story line of the musical both lyrically and visually. In the days following the preview, I found out that David Byrne did a thorough job at researching and investing his time into this show. Ten years to be exact. On his blog, David writes:

“Here Lies Love is entirely true and much of the lyric content comes from speeches and interviews the various characters gave over the years.”

I respect him even more for putting the work in and for incorporating actual speeches and interviews into his artistic vision.

Once I had calmed my inner Filipina activist, I was able to be immersed into the world of disco, love and politics. Yes, it’s everything the descriptions and reviews say it is. It’s fun and enthralling but at times heart-wrenching but beautifully acted and sung throughout. I also realized that this show was less a glorification of Imelda and more a story that humanizes this woman’s journey. It humanizes a woman that both the media and personal greed made into a larger than life caricature like a Filipino Marie Antoinette… except with possibly a hundred times more shoes and her head intact. There was one point of the musical that made me actually feel sorry for her and feel like if I were in her shoes (no pun intended), maybe I would’ve turned into the woman she became.

As I danced my way through each scene I felt a sense of pride. I was ironically witnessing Filipino-American history of a Filipino history lesson on stage. I was proud to see other Filipino artists singing, acting and dancing on stage while still being Filipino characters. The first time I witnessed a Filipino actor on stage in NYC was Lea Solanga in Les Misérables where she played Éponine (a French teenager). That was 18 years ago! Finally two decades later there is a semi-mainstream show that is representing Filipinos in a way that isn’t either a racist stereotypical comedic bit or a highly sexualized prostitute or a submissive mail order bride.

There has never been a musical or play with this much media attention (VogueNew York Times and The New Yorker have all written reviews on the show) and Off Broadway support in NYC that is written about Filipinos casted with “mainly” Filipino actors. I use quotes around mainly because in my research I found that almost all of the characters in the musical are Filipino except for the main actress playing Imelda. Wait, What? Yeah, the actress Ruthie Ann Miles is of Korean descent from Hawaii. I do have mixed feelings about producers casting any person of color for a specific ethnicity but I will say that on the night of the preview Ruthie Ann Mills was under the weather and so her standby performed instead. Her stand in (or swing), Jaygee Macapugay, was amazing and she is of Filipino descent. But alas as David Byrne told us before the show, “Unfortunately, the swing will not be doing any of the hair or costume changes tonight.” That’s ok. Just another reason to go back and see the show.

There was one question that I wanted to ask David Byrne. Why Imelda Marcos? I unfortunately didn’t have the (disco) balls to do it. Fortunately, I looked over the NY times article my boss gave me to read on the subway and found my Q&A there:

"I read somewhere that she loved going to discos. She went to Studio 54. She was hanging out with Andy Warhol and Halston and those people. She put a mirror ball in her house. How many people do that? I thought this woman lives in that world, and that means something. The fact that disco music connects with her life, how she sees herself, that’s significant. And I thought: I know that music, I like that music. Maybe I can tell a story that way." - David Byrne

And with music as his passion David Byrne did just that. Probably unaware how inspiring his ten-year project would be to future Filipino-American artists, his own passion gave me hope that if a story about a Filipino woman can garner so much attention and support outside of the Filipino-American community then it is possible to do the same with my own work.

Because how do communities of color rise above racism and under representation in the mainstream media? We write, produce and direct or own stories regardless if the gate keepers ask us or allow us to do it. In a recent article about Asian American representation on TV, Alanna Bennett added the quote from Pulitzer Prize winning author Junot Diaz:

“You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror…And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all… And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors.”

On that brisk April night, I walked out of The Public Theater humming Here Lies Love in my head. And in my heart… inspired that my stories will manifest one day on screen/stage. Thank you for this musical that is a huge mirror for Filipino-Americans, David Byrne. My mom is right. You are a genius.

Info and Tickets: www.herelieslove.com/‎

General tickets: $99.00 Rush tickets: A limited number of $40 day-of-performance rush tickets will be available, at The Public’s Taub Box Office (425 Lafayette Street, NYC) starting at 6:00 p.m. on all Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for those evening performances.

The original version of this post originally appeared on Nicole Maxali’s blog

Photo credit: Here Lies Love

Discovering My Story in 'The Journey of a Brown Girl'


I made my way up several flights of stairs, where I was greeted and asked to choose a small stone from a bowl before entering the performance space. Each audience member did the same, and wrote a word or their name on their stones - I elected to scribble down the word “love” in Arabic. We placed them on the altar, located on stage right, and took our seats.

Jana Lynne “JL” Umipig, the director, creator and producer of The Journey of a Brown Girl, explained to the audience that the stones were meant to absorb the positive energy from the show, and that we were free to retrieve our stones at the conclusion of the night’s event.

The energy that flowed through WOW Café Theater that evening was beyond positive. It was also a mix of wonder, anger and passion; wonder – for many of the issues that the piece as a whole raised, all of which sparked curiosity and reflection among the audience; anger – for the many misfortunes and atrocities that fellow Pilipina women have had to endure throughout the course of history; and passion – for the intense level of emotion that each the five characters evoked during the performance.

The Journey of a Brown Girl did not follow a particular storyline. Instead, it was a collective; it was an exploration of Pilipina issues and experiences through varying lenses. Following the opening ritual, the five women gathered for “Ina sa Anak na Babae (Mother to Daughters).” Light, played by Precious Sipin, was the mother figure of the four other elements. Her four daughters were Wind (Renee Rises), Water (Leslie Hubilla), Fire (Vanessa Ramalho) and Earth (Karen Pangantihon). Each of the women in the show used a malong throughout the performance. The malong is defined by Umipig as “a life cloth.” Umipig describes the malongs as garments that:

“… become an extension of the spirits of the wom*n and are used throughout to help them transform into characters and to give to the stories of all the sisters, mothers, wom*n, and girls whose voices fill the piece… From cradle to grave, this is how the malong serves the Maranao. The malong is a tube-like, unisex garment that also symbolizes the Maranao’s artform and culture.”

In a commentary on the Catholic Church, poignantly referred to as “Sit, Stand, Kneel,” Light knelt on stage right, deep in prayer. As they sat, stood, and knelt non-stop, the four daughters began to itch with frustration. They recognized that they had been conditioned to abide by the expectations of the church, regardless of their understanding of faith and spirituality.

“I know Him, but I know the hymn by heart,” one of the daughters stated with discontent.


The wide disconnect between the church and women’s issues as a whole is still evident today. Change, though slow, requires arduous effort. Just this past week in the Philippines, the Supreme Court passed the RH bill, which previously faced much opposition by the Roman Catholic Church.

“The Reproductive Health Law is a historic step forward for all women in the Philippines, empowering them to make their own decisions about their health and families and participate more fully and equally in their society,” states Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Still the church continues to clash with women’s rights, especially in the Philippines and among Catholic women of the Pilipino diaspora.

The performance also presented the modern Pilipina woman as an individual that is often overlooked in society. The performers took turns telling the accounts of OFWs who have become domestic workers after leaving the PI. These portraits explained the trials that domestic workers are subjected to, including receiving little or no pay, enduring physical and sexual abuse, and experiencing the inability to break contract and leave their employer. The piece went on to portray trafficked Pilipinas who have been deceived by recruitment agencies or individuals and forced into sex slavery abroad. The performers took on a different persona, reflective of the women whose stories they were telling. They took turns recounting several interviews and recollections over candlelight. Hearing these chilling tales brought tears to many in the audience, myself included.

The latter half of the piece explored the perception of beauty among Pilipina women. Light encouraged her four daughters to make their skin white by smearing thick layers of lightening cream upon their faces. Watching the women cover up their brown skin was comical at first; they appeared to buy into the acceptable perceptions of beauty (according to their mother and society). Eventually, each of the daughters realized that they were hiding their true selves, and began to wash away their masks.



All I could think of during the performance was how much I understood each of the daughters - and even the mother. The performers portrayed Pilipina women as victims of circumstance. Those circumstances ranged from religious faith and spirituality to colonialism and globalization. However, each of the women also portrayed strength, perseverance and resilience.

After the show, I approached Umipig, and thanked her for such a moving experience.

“It was like you were telling my story,” I admitted to Umipig.

“That’s because it is your story,” she assured me.


Photo credits: Chauncey Velasco