Audio of interview:
Izzy Evaristo is a thirty-year-old Filipina woman who came to America for college a few years ago. She is currently studying business and looking to further study healthcare in order to become a nurse. She originally came to California in hopes of studying film, but changed after two years and moved to New York, where her brother lives, to study. She enjoys cooking, going out with friends, and traveling, and while she hasn’t been able to do much traveling, she is enjoying her first time exploring New York. She originally came to America to get away from the unhealthy Filipino culture and to start a new, fresh life where she could be more herself. This interview delves into her views on the Philippines and how she is happy to be in America, along with what she has learned along the way about feminism, discrimination, and sexuality.
Izzy grew up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, which is a very large metropolitan city. Manila is a highly polluted city with environmental and political issues, and this is part of the reason Izzy wanted to get away. In Filipino culture, family is very highly respected and maintained. They are very traditional and Catholic, and as Izzy puts it,
“So like they’d want you to be like lawyers and doctors, and like businesswomen, businessmen. When I told them I wanted to go into film they were like, okay you do you, but they kinda knew in the back of their head that like I was gonna make the right decision, quote-unquote, so I did end up switching to business, and now I’m looking towards healthcare. But they’re also very- they’re more liberal than like the more traditional Filipino people.”
While her family is more liberal than the traditional Filipino family, they still hold certain ideals of jobs and lifestyles that Filipinos should have. They are family-oriented, so many people follow what their families say or follow in their parent’s footsteps. Since Izzy’s family is not as strict and traditional, they allow her to do what she pleases, but they are still wary about her decisions and if they will be fruitful. I didn’t know much about Filipino culture, and these few characteristics of their lives in society have given me a lot of insight into it and Izzy’s personal life.
When asked about what being a Filipina means to her, Izzy talked about how they are referred to as the “fake Asian”. What she meant by this is that Filipinos are usually just classified as Filipinos, never seen as “Asian”. This reminded me of a chapter in Whiter where a half-Chinese woman expressed that “to complicate matters further, I always had the sense that I wasn’t really Asian” (Jansen, 156). While the concept of one’s ethnicity is a complex idea to grapple with, Izzy does have some insight on hers, as a Filipina.
“It’s very wholesome, I don’t know, there’s a lot of pride when it comes to being a Filipino, but also a lot of shame, just ‘cause of the way they are, like traditionally, you know, there’s toxic Filipino culture where everyone like has to bring other people down if they’re not at their level.”
There is a sense of competition amongst Filipinos in order to be perfect or better than the people around you. This, amongst other factors, is what drove Izzy to immigrate to the United States for college. She went to an international high school, which is a type of school that prepares you to go outside of the Philippines for college. Therefore, this along with the toxic Filipino culture of everyone knowing everything about you, motivated Izzy to leave the Philippines.
When I asked Izzy about getting U.S. citizenship and her plans for living after she finishes college she responded by saying,
“It would be easier for me if I wanted to live here to be a citizen. I can live anywhere in the world as long as it’s not the Philippines. Like my biggest nightmare is moving back there because it’s something that I totally let go of, even though it’s part- like it’s a big part of my background, it’s something that I don’t want to go back to, just ‘cause, again, the toxic Filipino culture is just like the worst thing ever.”
Izzy acknowledges her culture and her identity, and she knows that no matter where she lives she will always be Filipina. She can live anywhere in the world and still be who she is, she just knows that she doesn’t want to go back to a place that inevitably makes her feel worse about herself. She has no concrete plan about living in the United States, but she knows if she does, she would most likely get dual citizenship.
Discrimination and Intersectionality
Getting into the discussion of the intersectionality of being a woman and Filipina, Izzy discussed the phenomenon of “yellow fever”. This is, basically, the fetishizing of Asian women. When I asked Izzy about any discrimination she faced she recalled a story of a night in Oceanside, California where,
“there was this huge African American man who went up to me, I had my AirPods on I couldn’t really hear, but I didn’t think he was like talking to me, and so I took one out, and I heard that he was like ‘Oh I’m um-‘. This is in quotes, ‘I’m a big Black angel and I’m looking for my Asian princess.’”
She finished the story talking about how she tried walking away and he would follow her, she ended up going up to a police car, and he eventually stopped following her. This kind of incident happens often, not just to Izzy, but to Asian women everywhere. Men fetishize Asian women and believe they are “cultured” or “superior” for being with one. Izzy also talked about the recent hate crimes committed against Asians that have been now getting media attention. She discussed her reaction to it and some other instances of discrimination she’s received in response.
“It’s definitely real. Like people don’t think that it’s such a big deal, and they think that it’s not really, you know, as big as like Black Lives Matter, but it’s a big thing. Like, and it’s been happening for a while, like, you know, racism towards Asians, the stereotypes and everything…And then I experienced it in New York when I was in the subway, and I was wearing a mask so all you could see were my eyes. I go up to a crowded part in the subway, and I walked to like where it’s not super crowded ‘cause like covid right, you wanna social distance. The second I walk up there, I made eye contact with this one guy, and he looked at me, and then he walked away, to the crowded part, shaking his head. And then, he whispered like, you know, ‘fucking Asian.'”
It’s important to recognize the impact of racist events like this, and the reality and gravity of the situation. Even if it hadn’t gotten all the media attention it is getting now, that doesn’t make it any less real or harmful. There are things people can do to help bring this to light and to help fight against this discrimination and hate. Izzy brought up important things for people to do like:
“immersing themselves more in Asian culture like understanding it, you know like, posting on social media is fine, but like, once two people post it, pretty much everyone sees it, you know what I mean, so like it’s annoying to see the same post all the time…just like basically educating yourself and helping other people get enlightened about what it really means to be Asian.”
This is something that I had never considered to be as important as it is. Knowing the culture and the people you are trying to help and fight for is crucial, it isn’t something to acknowledge once and forget about. This is something that is an ongoing process. Audre Lorde also mentions this in her writing when she says “white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of color become ‘other,’ the outsider whose experience and tradition is too ‘alien’ to comprehend” (Lorde). We should not view them as people we can’t relate to, we need to understand each other and where they come from.
Sexuality and sex positivity was an important topic discussed by Izzy. When first bringing up the issue of sex-negativity in the world Izzy said that,
“it’s just as natural and as normal and people have to understand that, and like I think they have to stop teaching to not do it and start teaching more of the like the safeties that like you know like precautions and everything that you have to do when it comes to sex.”
This is something we talked about in class as well, the idea that telling people to not have sex when they are young is not an effective tool to deter kids. Instead, it is important to show young people how to safely have sex; whether they have it or not is out of someone else’s control, so it is better to make sure they stay healthy and safe. We both shared in our experience of never learning about sex education in school. Both of us went to Catholic schools, and neither of us were taught what sex is or the proper precautions to take. It was astonishing to see that this stigma about sex is all over the world, not just in American society.
Continuing on with sex negativity and positivity, I asked Izzy about “slut-shaming” and how it affects only women. When I brought up that women are often called sluts for having sex often, Izzy’s immediate response was:
“And they’re prudes for not?”
This struck me, and the importance of it resonated later. The judgment of women, whether they have sex or not, is appalling. In society, it is impossible for women to please everyone: they either have too much or too little sex, and they are shamed either way. This reminded me of the reading on sex positivity by Nagoski when she stated “Treat cultural messages about sex and your body like a salad bar. Take only the things that appeal to you and ignore the rest. We’ll all end up with a different collection of stuff on our plates, but that’s how it’s supposed to work.” (Nagoski, 185). Sex is different for everyone and no one should be shamed for their preferences. There is a sexual double standard in society, where the men are praised for having sex and losing their virginity, and women are scolded. Women should be able to do what they want with their bodies, especially when they are choosing to do it safely.
We also talked about the importance of educating yourself, through different means, on sex, and how both men and women in a relationship should bear the responsibility of protection and not getting pregnant. People can learn about sex from friends, family, or the internet, but the only way to truly figure out what you like is through practice. There should be no shame in practicing on yourself, or with someone else for the first time. No one knows exactly what they like or what they’re doing, and they shouldn’t be expected to. In addition, men need to make sure they are protected and not just rely on the woman being on the pill or providing another type of contraception. There are many ways to learn about sex, and if you are not taught about it in school it is necessary to seek out other options. Whether asking a trusted adult or finding a trustworthy source online, making sure you have knowledge of it before doing it is important.
Feminism in America and the Philippines
When I asked Izzy about what she though of feminism in America and how effective she thinks it is, she reflected back on feminism in the Philippines and the history of the word.
“The word feminism when I was growing up in the Philippines, had a bad connotation… If you say you were a feminist you’re basically saying you’re anti-Catholic…it’s like anti-tradition and everything. So, yeah I think like coming here and actually learning and being exposed to like feminism and like what their effect is on like sexuality is like super different.”
Hearing that feminism was very rejected in the Philippines and looked down upon was hard to hear. Feminism is something I only recently learned about in the past few years, and I believe it is something that should be taught to young people all over the world. There are definitely places where women are more oppressed, but learning about it is the first step in helping women all over. In America, especially where I grew up, feminism wasn’t talked about either, so I hadn’t heard the word feminism until late into my high school career. Knowing about how traditional Filipino culture can be, it was definitely hard to fight for feminist rights in the Philippines. Then shifting to the current time in the Philippines and the fight for feminism, Izzy talked about the progress, but also the current issues they’re facing.
“it’s getting to the young people, they’re starting to get like what like a real taste of feminism is, and like how like the way things should be that aren’t like as traditional. So it’s a mix right now, so it’s basically old versus young.”
While feminism is becoming a bigger discussed topic, there are still many people who are fully against it. The older generations are stuck in their ways and unlikely to be swayed easily, and the younger is starting to realize what feminism is and how it can help everyone. Izzy also mentioned, though, how the younger generations need to approach themselves and feminism.
“Well, first they have to work on themselves. ‘Cause like, women in the Philippines are very- I don’t wanna say fake, but they are fake…Like they’ll bring each other down, like I said, like that crab mentality, where you put crabs in a bucket and they’re all gonna like climb on each other and just bring the rest down. That’s pretty much it, yeah, so I think first they have to work on themselves and then believe what they’re saying, like a lot them will say like, oh yeah I’m a feminist and then say like oh my god she got an abortion like what the heck. So it’s like, yeah so it’s different there.”
The self-reflection and being able to work on yourself is an important part of fighting for rights. Without knowing yourself and being aware of your internal biases, the fight for feminism won’t get anywhere. When Izzy brought this up, I hadn’t even thought about how important this is, and how I did this when I was learning. I had many internal biases and beliefs that were taught to me, but once I learned how to think for myself and expand my understanding, I was able to form better opinions and beliefs. Working on yourself is crucial to helping a whole group of people attain societal importance.
Closing the interview I asked Izzy what her plans for the future, and after college, are and what she hopes to do. She talked about earlier how she wanted to get into healthcare after studying business and she further stated that,
“I’m hoping to like, you know, unfortunately, I don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing, but I’m falling into that hole of becoming the stereotypical Filipino nurse.”
Her skepticism with her internal motivations for choosing this career path led me to ask her is she truly wants this or if she deep down is just doing it to appease her family. She said that,
“I think I’m doing it for the betterment of myself and then there’s also that part- like it’s a plus that it’ll like, you know, make my family happy and stuff.”
It was good to see that she is still looking out for herself while wanting to make her family happy. I know that it is hard to disappoint your family, even if it is to go after something you want, so it is helpful to know that it works both ways for Izzy.
After spending some time talking with Izzy I felt enlightened and inspired to keep learning about other cultures, their history, and their traditions. Getting to know other people and what they believe is important to truly understanding others, and not judging them based on preconceived notions. This interview was definitely eye-opening to Filipino culture and ideals, along with Izzy’s personal battle with her identity and her future. Getting a personal perspective was certainly important, but I also have to remind myself that this isn’t the whole of Filipino culture. Everyone is different, there are so many different aspects to the culture, and it is always changing and progressing. Knowing that I shouldn’t generalize was an important part of this project and my growth when looking into different cultures and feminism. Izzy’s commentary and stories about feminism and sexuality in the Philippines is something that needs to be heard, but also it should be known that everyone’s experiences are different. This isn’t to invalidate Izzy’s story or Filipino history, but each person and different societies have a plethora of important stories that should be heard in order to know how to better support one another. In addition, here in America, there are still many women that are oppressed and discriminated against every day, while Izzy hasn’t been in America for long, she has experienced this. There is no good or bad society, every place has its flaws and its need for change. I have also experienced sexist remarks while walking down the street and even by peers and teachers in schools. Knowing that this happens every day, everywhere, is crucial in stopping this sexist epidemic.
“Cultural Context: A Sex-Positive Life in a Sex-Negative World.” Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, by Emily Nagoski, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2015, p. 185.
Jansen, Anne Mai Yee. “What Are You?” Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism, by Nikki Khanna, New York University Press, 2020, p. 156.
Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Copeland Colloquium, Apr. 1980, Amerst College.