Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-Latiné Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.

Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

Filipino-American Representation: Easter Sunday

I’ve been following Jo Koy’s career for over 15 years, back when he was a panelist on the Chelsea Lately show. I had no business being 12 years old watching that show religiously every night at 11 PM. Those were the days where I thought 11 PM was late… My sisters and I got into the show because our older cousin put us on. He’s a huge Chelsea Handler fan and let us know that there was a Filipino comedian that was on the show pretty often. He would describe funny comments and the banter that would happen on the show until we finally started watching it for ourselves.

It seemed like every single joke Jo or Chelsea told was in relation to him being Filipino, and I wasn’t mad at it. In fact, I waited it for it. That’s the thing about Filipinos – we take pride in our people that make it big and rep us. Jo Koy took every opportunity to let people know that he was half Filipino and grew up in a Filipino household. At a time where the only well-known Filipino was Manny Pacquiao, it felt good to see another Filipino making it big. Jo Koy is a Filipino-American born in the US, so his upbringing and experiences are pretty similar to a lot of first generation Filipino Americans. Through his comedy, he expresses not only what it’s like to grow up with the typical generational gap between parents and their children, but also showing the dynamic between first generation American-born children with their immigrant parents. After the show ended, I still kept tabs on Jo Koy’s career and followed his projects.

From my own personal experience, growing up there were little to no Filipinos in mainstream media in America. When my sisters and I would see someone that resembled a Filipino on TV, we would get our hopes up and do our research. I think we were desperate to see someone that looked like us in shows and movies that we liked. Not only would my sisters and I have suspected Filipino stars on our radar, our parents would too. “Did you know ______ is Filipino?” they would ask proudly. Usually because the person ended up on Balitang America confirming their Filipino lineage. The Philippines, and Filipinos in general, love to keep up with Filipino stars that make it in America.

It was a good feeling to know that a Filipino comic was selling out venues, getting Netflix specials, got his own Funko POP!, and making headlines. After seeing his come up, we all feel a sense of pride, and can’t help but feel like a milestone is being made in Filipino-American history with his movie, Easter Sunday. I believe this is only the 2nd Filipino movie to play in theatres, the first being The Debut. Jo Koy makes it a point in all of his stand up routines to say that he did not grow up with Filipino idols to look up to. He mentions his sense of pride seeing Manny Pacquiao’s rise to fame. I’m sure he knows that he is that Filipino idol to Filipino-Americans right now.

Jo Koy’s movie, Easter Sunday, that debuted on Friday, August 5th, touched on so many topics in the Filipino community while still keeping it lighthearted. I personally felt like I could relate to almost everything in the movie, given that a lot of these topics and issues are so embedded into the Filipino culture. These have been topics that I have covered on my blog, talked about extensively with cousins and friends, and have thought about on my own time. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing some deep diving into who I am, what makes me me, and how I was raised. Easter Sunday shows how families may have unhealed trauma and unhealthy family dynamics, but they can still be a family full of love with the best intentions at the end of the day. Filipinos know this firsthand.

In the movie, Jo is conflicted whether or not he should sellout to secure a spot in a sitcom show. It is apparent that they only want Jo in the show if he agrees to do his Filipino accent. He has mixed feelings about it because he believes he’s funny without the accent and doesn’t feel like it’s relevant or necessary for the part. His agent makes light of his torn decision, and encourages him to just agree to do it for the sake of securing the deal. This is an interesting take since Jo Koy is known for impersonating his mom and her accent. It really shows the point of view that there’s a difference between poking fun at your culture versus being told to make a mockery of your culture by people who are 1. not that ethinicity, and 2. seek to profit off of it.

Jo is in a dilemma because he feels the need to prove something to his family. He wants to prove that he is successful in his stand up career despite going against his mom’s wishes to pursue nursing. The long standing joke is that Filipino parents expect their children to go into the medical field. It’s a profession that has a huge Filipino presence. When Filipino children choose to take another career path other than nursing or the medical field, it could get ugly. Filipino parents take this opportunity to use scare tactics to discourage their children from choosing a career path they are passionate about.

This discouragement could be interpreted as being unsupportive and controlling, which let’s be real, it is. However, the nagging encouragement to pursue nursing is really an unspoken desperate plea to avoid the unknown at all costs. Filipino parents don’t know how to put into words that they are worried for their child’s future. They don’t know how to express that they just want the best for their kids and don’t want them to fail. And they definitely can’t put their pride aside to admit that they are afraid of the road less traveled and would prefer tradition because it’s familiar. The lack of communication translates to anger and doubt. For the most part, Filipino parents want the best for their children. They want them to have stable jobs that they know will be in demand and would prefer their children take the safe option. Exploring creative passions professionally goes against the work familiarity that so many Filipinos are used to.

Filipinos are so used to busting their ass to make ends meet. That means starting from the bottom and working your way up. Work wasn’t meant to be something they enjoyed, it was something they had to do to have food on the table for their families. Surprisingly, pursuing a career in something you actually like and are passionate about is somewhat a new concept for traditional Filipino families. Thankfully, my parents never fell into the stereotypical Filipino parents who push nursing onto their children. I’d be lying if I said it was never suggested, but my parents just wanted my sisters and I to finish college in anything we wanted. Being a college graduate was all that was important to them, so going for what we wanted to do was never the issue. My sisters and I were lucky, because I know a lot of people whose Filipino parents weren’t as lenient.

To Jo’s family, he’s the big shot that made it in Hollywood, so it’s totally understandable why his character felt pressured to agree to something he was strongly opposed to if it meant landing the role. As a Filipino kid whose mom didn’t want him to pursue comedy, he’ll do almost anything to avoid letting his family down. Introducing this internal conflict in the movie sheds light on the fact that a lot of Filipino adults still feel the need to be successful because they dread being viewed as a disappointment to their parents. The sad truth is this: not wanting to disappoint your parents doesn’t just stop when you’re a kid, it continues on into your adulthood. Especially when you feel like you have to make them proud, but also outshine others.

There’s a lot of pressure to be successful and make your Filipino parents proud. But there’s also a lot of pressure to be better than those around you because you’re always being compared to someone. We see this play out in the movie with the relationship between Jo and his cousin Eugene. Clearly, Eugene’s character is the typical loser cousin who means well but just can’t seem to get their life together. Even though Eugene’s flaws are ridiculously apparent, Jo’s mother has her beer goggles on. She insists that Eugene is a “good boy,” even though it’s clear that he has tangled himself in with the wrong crowds. Jo rolls his eyes multiple occasions when hearing his mom say that Eugene is a good boy, not because he’s jealous of his life, but because he knows that she means Eugene is a good boy in comparison to him. In this instance, what’s being compared is how attentive Eugene is with Jo’s mom while he’s away trying to jumpstart his career.

As Filipino children, we are no stranger to being compared to our siblings, cousins, or family friends. And nothing is off the table for bragging rights – it can be about success, appearance, how big their house is, the person they married, what material things they own, what field they work in, how they treat their parents, what life choices they made, what school they got into, etc. It can be a very toxic game elders play because it can either motivate you or make you jealous and bitter. Putting everyone else under a microscope just opens the doors for judgment and gossip. In the Filipino culture it can seem like everyone is concerned about everyone else except themselves.

Religion plays a big role in the Filipino culture. I grew up around the Santo Niño statues, praying before eating, and going to church on Sundays. It was interesting, but not shocking, that Jo Koy decided to have a church scene in the movie. After all, the movie’s setting is supposed to be for Easter Sunday – resurrection day. Filipinos are known to be very religious and attending church on Sundays is a typical thing. When Jo is forced to give a speech in front of everyone in attendance, he calls out his mom and Tita’s feud. In a way, Jo is calling out his family members for not practicing what they preach. Exposing his family’s drama in church revealed something deeper. It’s not just about the petty drama, but the underlying meaning behind it.

The movie tastefully shows the Filipino family dynamics when it comes to feuding within the family. However, in real life, these scenarios can get straight up ugly and petty. We see how Jo’s mom and Tita take little digs at each other throughout the movie. They play it petty by threatening not to go to each others’ parties, not eating food the other made, leaving early, stealing recipes, trying to out-do each other on presents to the Philippines, and making rude unnecessary comments to diss each other. It’s funny for the sake of the movie, but we know scenarios like this that played out in real life. And it all boils down to pride.

Every Filipino family can relate – you have the aunties or group of elders that like to stir the pot and talk shit. It’s all fun and games until someone gets butthurt off something and it turns into a he said she said moment. In Easter Sunday, Jo’s relatives couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for the argument – and this is very true in real life as well. They tend to give their side of the story to whoever will listen, and then these people have to act like they don’t know the drama when the other person gives their side. Everyone is aware that this is going on, but the chisme is just too juicy to not listen to. So many sides and points are made that by the end, you don’t even remember what came first, who dissed who, or what the real argument is about. But it just shows the pettiness and pride Filipinos have when it comes to confronting an issue.

But the problem is, the issue is never confronted. Instead, the flames are fanned and the problem just gets bigger because everyone is just in everyone else’s ear. Both parties know that the other is angry and talking behind their back, which is the reason why they feel the need to get everyone to rally behind what they are saying. But that’s the issue – things are never resolved. It’s always passive aggressive anger. Instead of confronting each other respectfully, it always needs to escalate further to be resolved, or resolved for the moment. Filipino families are traditionally tight-knit, but they are notorious for grudge keeping. There is no such thing as things being forgiven and forgotten for our elders sometimes. It can be swept under the rug, but the next time something comes up, that shit is coming out from the backburner and being used again. Filipinos love hard but fight harder, over the pettiest things sometimes too.

A lot of built up resentment can cause these family feuds. And it all boils down to this – someone gets their feelings hurt, and they don’t have the tools to properly express those feelings. In the Filipino culture, admitting your feelings are hurt or that something bothers you is almost like a sign of weakness. Everyone wants to come off all bossy bad-ass, but the truth is, everyone is just butthurt and it’s a front to cover up those hurt feelings. And because we are not taught to express those feelings, they bubble up in other ways – anger, petty remarks, jealousy, acting like you’re better than others, acting like you don’t care, and being a straight savage in the worst way possible.

We see the result of hurt feelings manifesting itself into ill-mannered behavior in the movie when Jo’s mother tells him that he’s not a good father. Jo’s mom is hurt over what his Tita said – that she’s a bad mother. So she tries to lessen her shame by saying that if she wasn’t a good mother, maybe he isn’t such a great father either. It’s a chain of unnecessary hurt, and honestly everyone’s reaction in the movie was priceless. His post office uncle got me with the, “What is wrong with you?” comment after his mom blurted that out. Of course, this is a movie, so a resolution was made after the climax of insults and childish behavior. But it gave us a glimpse into how far things can go when pride and hurt feelings are commanding the ship.

Easter Sunday hit closer to home since the movie takes place in Daly City! That’s crazy to me. My city, the city known for its Filipino community, is the setting for a movie. Daly City is often shadowed by San Francisco, so it felt good to see us being put on the map for once and not piggybacking off of San Francisco or the Bay Area as a whole. I loved that Easter Sunday was in my city, it showcased food that I eat, Tagalog was spoken throughout the movie, and the mannerisms of each character made me think of my own family – That just made the movie that much more relatable.

Overall, the movie is exactly what I expected it to be. I watched it on opening night and then took my whole family to see it a few days later. I felt like it was a big moment for Filipino-Americans and wanted my parents to be a part of it. My parents really enjoyed it and I feel like every Filipino in that theater could relate to something in the movie. For once, we were watching our experiences play out on the big screen. That’s a big deal. For so long I’ve wanted to see the Filipino experience in media, in our textbooks, in the arts, and now I feel like we are finally getting that representation.

Playing Devil’s Advocate

One of my best and worst quality is the ability to play devil’s advocate. It’s a blessing and a curse to see someone else’s perspective. After all, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something taught to us early on to teach empathy. Being empathetic and trying to understand people’s experiences, lives, and point of view is a gift on its own. However, it can also be your biggest downfall.

In life, we are taught to be understanding and empathetic to those around us. You never know what someone is going through in their personal lives. We are taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, that deep down everyone’s a good person, and we should always be kind. It’s almost ironic that I say my gift is putting myself in other people’s shoes because I can be pretty black or white sometimes. Depending on the topic or issue at hand, I can give a fuck about your opinion, life position, or what you’re feeling. But there’s a difference between empathizing with someone and absorbing their emotions, versus understanding their reality and where they’re coming from. I feel like I would get the two confused in the past, and sometimes it’s hard to keep your own personal feelings out of it. You can see someone’s side but not agree with it, you can understand why someone acts the way they do but not like it, you can be sympathetic towards someone’s lifestyle and upbringing but want no part of it. There’s a difference.

I feel like this culture is all about canceling people and cutting people off. At times, these drastic measures are necessary for your own peace of mind. Don’t get it twisted, I am a firm believer of maintaining your inner peace and moving on from people or situations that disrupts that peace. But I will say that social media glorifies cutting people off in a very negative and hostile way. You can cut someone off and not fuck with them anymore without any drama. It’s not the act of cutting off that is negative, but how you do it… Yo. That’s me playing devil’s advocate again…. But I guess that proves my point…. I always try to see both sides.

I say that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a skill, only because it’s usually when someone does you wrong that you have to try to see their side. From experience, I would get frustrated with myself for trying to see other people’s side when it was at my expense. I would take it as a sign of weakness, and I would teeter totter back and forth wondering if I should be a bad bitch that pop’s off on someone, or understand why a situation happened and just take the higher road. I hated the thought of knowing that some people could interpret that as being weak and passive. Just the thought of someone thinking I am backing down irked my soul.

I would have mixed feelings about trying to sympathize and put myself in others’ shoes who have wronged me because I felt like it made me look spineless. I didn’t want to give off the impression that I condone any behavior that had me fucked up. I’ve learned from experience that there are times when you show sympathy for others and they take advantage of that sympathy to manipulate you or control a situation. It’s not a good feeling when you’re putting your ego and pride aside to attempt to empathize with others and have that be thrown back in your face. It can have the opposite effect – where you end up not wanting to be open to someone else’s perspective but your own going forward.

Sometimes I still struggle with playing devil’s advocate for people or situations that are to my detriment. And I don’t think that I’m better than anyone else for trying to “take the higher road” in certain scenarios, I just know that it’s a sign of maturity and growth. It gets to a point where you understand their truth, but you don’t agree with it, and there’s nothing you can really do but just take a mental note and move on. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that some won’t care if you’re trying to see their point of view. You can understand all you want but you can’t control how others act, react, or choose to view you.

What can get frustrating is when you’re trying really hard to be understanding with others, give people the benefit of the doubt, and rationalize why others act the way they do – but you don’t feel like that same effort is made with you. Realizing that only you are in control of your own narrative and can’t convince others to see your truth unless they want to can be a very hurtful thing to realize. You can’t force others to try to see your point of view. You can only control what perspectives you choose or choose not to acknowledge.

My reputation at work and in my personal life is to play devil’s advocate – not to be an annoying asshole, but because I always try to rationalize situations. Regardless of my relationship to you, whether you are my best friend, family member, or partner, I will give my honest advice and opinions. Sometimes people don’t like it, but I refuse to be the friend that just agrees with everything you say just because I know you. That’s not what being a good friend is.

What I love and admire about my friend group is the fact that they’ll always give me their honest advice. They have no problem playing devil’s advocate and holding me accountable for my own actions. We don’t always agree with each other, but it’s important to hear other perspectives. Usually people only want to hear what you have to say only if you’re agreeing with them. But that’s how you get stuck in one-sided thinking. Get friends that play devil’s advocate when you vent to them – those are the real friends.

Playing devil’s advocate is necessary when you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But don’t ever let empathizing with others be at your own expense. Know when seeing someone’s side is to your detriment. Create those boundaries where you can see someone else’s perspective while still putting yourself in an emotional position where you don’t end up taking the L.

3 Sides

They say that there are 3 sides to every story – your side, their side, and the truth. This saying is very logical and makes a ton of sense on paper. However, when it’s applied to real life scenarios, the gray area starts to creep in. This saying could easily be interpreted as “gaslighting” depending on who you’re talking to. And it can be easy to get blindsided by your own reality. If everyone is interpreting things completely different, what is even the truth?

I have been in this situation many times where you’re debating what was said or done with someone else. It can be a very frustrating position to be in. Especially when, in theory, these little discrepancies don’t even matter when you’re looking at the bigger picture. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I have even mentally threw in the towel a couple of times, knowing that arguing the details will make it that much more harder to move on and come to a conclusion. I have even expressed wishing I had video footage so we could just rewind and really see parts of our lives play out right in front of our eyes so we can see who was really right.

Sometimes I do think of what it would be like to have footage of the exact time and scenario being brought up. I think about this often, and how convenient it would be to hold everyone, including myself, accountable. Have you ever been put in a situation where someone or some people got you fucked up and you want to rewind that shit to prove every point you’re trying to make? Because same. Sometimes it takes embarrassing, moded, undeniable facts to hold people accountable to their actions.

In the past, when someone or something had me fucked up, I’d put so much energy into trying to prove my points. Especially when I knew what I was arguing was the “truth,” I’d put my heart and soul into proving my point. You’d think that my ass was studying law with how much I tried to defend my stance and case. I’m very opinionated, and when I’m very confident and believe something to be true, it takes a lot for me to back down. I admit that sometimes that shit blows up in my face when I am in fact, wrong as hell. But it takes a lot for me to change my mind if I’m confident in what I’m saying.

But the truth is, fighting and arguing over what your reality is versus someone else’s is exhausting as hell. Because you end up both going in circles just trying to justify your own points. It quickly turns one sided and you’re talking to just speak over the other without trying to hear their side. Everyone is just saying their own points as to why they’re right or why their stance or actions are valid, and it just becomes people talking out into space. No one cares what the other is saying, but they sure as hell need to make sure that at the very least, they’re saying their peace. Even if no one is listening. And like I said…. it’s exhausting as hell.

I have been on both ends of the scenario where I feel like I’m being gaslit or someone feels like I’m gaslighting them. And it’s not a fun position to be in. Because you start to second guess yourself, you start to second guess them, and then you start to second guess what the truth actually is. It will literally have you doubting which reality, if any, is valid. If there are 3 sides to every story, is there even a “truth,” or are we all just set in our own ways and realities?

I actually have no answer for these questions. But what I do know is this: I gave up on trying to convince people of my reality if they are unreceptive to my words. It doesn’t even have to be an argument either, I mean that in every scenario. I have hit the stage in my life where I no longer feel like I have to explain myself, my truth, or my reality to anyone that isn’t deserving of it. You don’t need to explain yourself to those that, from the get, want to have a certain perception of you. Learn not to waste your breath.

I saw this meme that was circulating that basically said not to put in effort to try to clean up your name when you know what’s being said isn’t true. At first, your first reaction may be to defend your name and set the record straight. But it’s your truth versus theirs, and if people want to see you in a certain light, nothing you say will change their mind. And if that’s the case, let people think what they want.

There are always 3 sides to every story. I didn’t get the full magnitude of that saying until recently. When I was younger, I would hear that saying and think, “…Ok but there’s really only 1 side… the truth.” But I’ve come to learn that it’s all about interpretation. All of our realities and what we believe to be true are all subjective. Your reality and truth can be crystal clear to you, but can be interpreted so differently to someone else. Just like how another person’s actions or intentions may seem one way, but can actually be another. But in both scenarios, both parties are “right” in their own respect because it is their interpretation and own understanding of what’s at hand.

There are 3 sides to every story if you want there to be. It goes south when people start to deny another person’s perspective, feelings, or reality. And sometimes, that shit can be hard as fuck not to do, because it can feel like someone else’s truth is so out of left field that you can’t even begin to try to see their point of view. That’s the harsh reality I’ve been having to come to terms with – people are entitled to their own opinions and truths, but they’re not obligated to understand yours. So there are 3 sides to every story if you understand that your truth may be different than someone else’s, under the same exact scenario.

1 Year Without Tatay – A Year Of Change & Lessons

It’s crazy to think that it’s been 1 year since Tatay passed away. One thing I’ve always known is the fact that time waits for no one. Whether we like it or not, life moves on with or without our consent. How is it possible for time to move so fast yet so dreadfully slow at the same time? I’ve always felt this way, but especially this year. So much has changed, is changing, and will change. I’m notorious for resisting change at all cost, but this 1 year without Tatay has forced me to accept the things I know I can’t change. These last 12 months without our Tatay Jack has had its ups and downs to say the least. The theme of the last 12 months have been: CHANGE.

For the first few months after Tatay passed, I had no dreams of him whatsoever. This may seem like a “…okay, and?” moment for others, but for me it was a big deal. I consider myself a very intuitive person, and have always had vivid dreams that I would read as signs either from the universe, loved ones from the other side, or things of that nature. I’ve always felt that I have a third eye to some degree. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked for the deeper meaning in things and always believed in signs. I’ve always believed that those we love are still around us after they pass. For me, I’ve always got those messages through dreams. So I was devastated when weeks had passed by with no dreams from Tatay. I was pretty bummed that he wasn’t visiting me because I desperately wanted a sign.

It took a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, for Tatay to start appearing in my dreams. When that moment happened, I was so relieved and felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. If he wasn’t with me in the physical world, at least I could still see him again in my dreams. It’s a comforting feeling to know that he still lives on in my subconscious memory. Every time I have a dream of Tatay the night before, I wake up feeling content with life. Losing Tatay is the void that I will forever be trying to fill for the rest of my life, and dreaming of him makes this change without him a little easier.

Even though it took a while for me to dream of Tatay, once it finally happened, it happened consistently. Some I remember vividly, and some very faintly. You know that feeling when you know someone was in your dream the night before but you can’t really remember all the details? You just remember envisioning their face and wishing that they were there and it were real life. For a while though, I had a few regular occurring dreams of Tatay. This frequent dream, I admit, is a bit morbid, and I would wake up feeling like I wanted to cry each time.

I dreamt this regular occurring dream over the span of a couple months. I wouldn’t dream of it everyday, but I can think of 3 or 4 different dreams where basically the same thing happens. In these dreams, I would be trying to convince people that Tatay was still alive, that it was all a mistake, and if they’d only listen to me, he’d be back with us. Like I said, these dreams were pretty morbid, but they always ended the same way. The dreams differed in small ways, but it was always the same gist. It was always that Tatay’s death was a misunderstanding, and he was in fact, still alive. In some of my dreams, we were even at the cemetery, the digger present to reopen his grave. Sometimes, it would even be me digging his plot, anxiously trying to prove that Tatay was buried alive. I had no doubt in my mind that he would come out, living, breathing, and perfectly well – a huge misunderstanding that we could easily fix.

I would wake up sad as fuck, wishing that that was actually our reality. But I knew it wasn’t, and it never could be true. I had this dream in different forms for a long time. One day, I casually told my sisters about my morbid occurring dream of Tatay. My older sister said, “That’s your subconscious not coming to terms that he passed away.” And I knew that was the case. It took such a long time for me to process and come to terms with the fact that Tatay passed, how he passed away when the state of the world was in shambles and had many restrictions, and feeling robbed of more time. It took a couple months for me to accept all of these things, and I guess it took my subconscious even longer to register in my brain that he was actually gone. For me, my dreams are always revealing what I push deep down and avoid. Just a few months ago, the reoccurring dreams of me thinking that Tatay was buried alive stopped. I guess it finally sank in, 1 year later.

I will admit though, there have been plenty of times where I simply forget that Tatay has passed on, even 1 year later. It’s crazy because I think about him all the time – he’s one of the first things I think of when I wake up, and always on my mind before I go to sleep. But there are still times when I enter his home and think that I’ll see him. There are still times I think we’re going to get him bread and drop it off for a quick visit. There are still times I think I’m going to be welcomed by the smell of Vick’s and hear his cane coming down the stairs. My head has adjusted to the fact that Tatay has passed on, but my heart still needs to get used to this new reality. Different places, smells, and times of the year bring me back to different memories of Tatay.

These last 12 months have brought on so much change for the Cabillo family. Extended family are starting to relocate elsewhere, and it’s a change we all have to get used to. For all my life, the core of the family has been in the Bay Area. Tatay was in the Bay Area with 5 of his 7 children. We got so used to family coming in from Vegas for Tatay’s birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmas’, that it’s unfathomable to think that that’s most likely a thing of the past now. Things were bound to change – our family is forever growing – but we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly.

I have never been one that conforms to change easily. I’m such a nostalgic person by nature – I’m big on family traditions, family time, and preserving things from the past. So when 1 by 1 we got news that family planned to relocate elsewhere, of course it made me sad. Because that meant that our family dynamic would soon be changing – everyone scattered around and no longer a short car ride away. But I’m aware that nothing stays the same forever, and if Tatay’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that. Change is inevitable, it’s a part of life, and it can be really sad. But in the midst of all this change, I’ve learned that it’s how you adapt to change that really matters. Feel those feelings and do whatever it takes to come to terms with the changes at hand, but pivot after and learn how to adjust.

Like I said many times, Tatay’s passing made me realize what and who is most important to me in this life. With Tatay gone, family moving away, and everyone doing their own thing, the family is well aware that we need to make a conscious effort to prioritize making time for each other to keep our family close. Effort and time is something that money can’t buy. The last 12 months without Tatay has taught me to be more mindful of being present for events for those I care about, even if that means expensive Ubers, plane tickets, and taking time off of work. Because at the end of the day, you can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time. Show people you care about them now, while you still can.

It has been a long, yet short, 1 year without our Tatay. One of my worst fears is that with time, I will forget tidbits of Tatay. From here on out, more and more time will pass. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my children will never meet their Tatay Jack in the physical world. But one thing’s for sure, my kids will hear many stories of their funny, gentle yet aggressive, animal-loving, likes things a certain way, Ray-Ban wearing Tatay Jack. 1 year ago, we lost such an important person in our family. But Tatay’s death has brought us closer in many ways. For my cousins and I, it definitely strengthened our desire to make the effort to keep our family close.

No matter what changes happen or where we all move to, home will always be where Tatay is.

POV: 2017

As I stood there impatiently, for what seemed like a 10 minute long wait to fill up my Hydro Flask, I thought back to what my reality was like almost 5 years ago. Even writing the title of this post: “POV: 2017,” I had a “damn” moment, realizing that 2017 was literally 5 years ago. I can’t wrap my head around that. In my mind, it still feel like I’m in the year 2019. 2020 at the very latest. I can’t believe such a significant amount of time has passed.

Anyways, there I was, standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, thinking of all the work I had to do the next morning. The preschool is nearing the end of the school year. That means a lot of things need to get done to close out this school year before we shut down and we go on summer break. I thought about my current position at work and where I stand in my life in general. Even though the next day’s stresses were weighing heavy on me already, I thought back to a time where I couldn’t imagine being where I’m at now.

I thought back to 2017, and damn, it took me back. I had flashbacks of me sitting in that gray chair leaned against the wall of the Kid’s Club at the gym. Those 4 walls of Fitness 19 were my life from 2014 – 2017, and I ain’t talking about working out. I spent 4 hours a day in that little room, I’ll never forget that blue carpet with the colorful crayon pattern that, for some reason, went halfway up the walls. I had made that space my own – bringing in my own movies for the kids to watch so I’m not watching Frozen for 4 hours straight, even though that’s what ended up happening anyways. To this day, I can probably recite every word to Frozen, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and some episodes of Super Mario Brothers.

I had great memories working at the Kid’s Club – I took care of some awesome kids, befriended their parents, and had a lot of deep talks in that small room with close friends, new friends, and members of the gym. It was also the room my friends and I used to workout in when we felt insecure about being judged by the regular gym goers. I’ve had countless phone interviews for articles I was writing for Xpress Magazine where I sat crisscross apple sauce on that nasty ass ABC mat. It was the job I had while I was in community college, and for a while when I was at SF State. It was the job that got me by, and even though it just barely got me by, given that I lived at home and had no real bills to pay, it was a great first job to have. It reminded me of simpler times, where all I cared about was my social life, school, and having fun.

But clearly, working at the Kid’s Club at my local gym was not my dream job or end goal. When it got slow at the Kid’s Club, I have vivid memories of staring off into space, completely zoning out. Don’t worry – the kids were fine – probably watching a movie or playing amongst each other. But with 4 hours to basically sit and watch kids who have made friendships with one another and waste no time chopping it up amongst each other, it left a lot of time for me to sit and think. At times it felt like that room was my mental prison. I was always thinking of what the next step of anything would be – the next stage of life, the next stage of school, the next stage of my career, the next stage in my relationship, the future as a whole.

Now, I know I said the job reminds me of simpler times, which is true. However, that’s me in the present looking back at it now. Back then, I was equally as stressed out, just in different ways. The pressure of school deadlines, maintaining my grades, a social life, all while being broke as shit was no walk in the park. Looking at it now, I was just at the threshold of adulting, and if current me could give 2017 year old me any advice, I’d say that the current stresses in life would just be replaced with different ones – enjoy the mother fucking process. But 2017 me was 22, in the thick of my school career and on the cusp of trying to get my life together.

I enjoyed my job, but at the same time I knew I wanted more. Obviously working minimum wage as a glorified baby sitter wasn’t my dream job, but I knew there were other ways for me to feel more fulfilled for the time being until I graduated and figured out what to do with me life. 2017 Marinelle felt uninspired, lost, and burnt out working at the Kid’s Club. I felt the anxiety from deep within my soul when thinking about the future. I would sit on that gray chair, staring off into space, and literally wait for time to pass by.

One day, with the usual 3 favorite movie rotation, I managed to sneak in a movie other than Frozen. To my satisfaction, Tangled was playing in the background as I did my routine – kids comes, they play with each other and ignore me, I put on a movie for background noise, and I watch and manage the kids as my mind wanders. I can distinctly remember the next steps of my relationship was heaviest on my mind. At the time, Christian was going from living situation to living situation, staying in the Bay Area solely for our relationship. All first generation Filipino Americans can relate – moving out is a big deal. It’s not just financial independence and venturing out into the real world, it’s also nerve wrecking and a drama-filled topic to even bring up.

I knew the next steps in our relationship would be to move in together. But I was stressed as shit knowing that I was nowhere near financially able to do so. I wanted to do things the “right way,” and I was incredibly overwhelmed with the fact that we literally live in the most expensive area in the country. I felt like there was no “right way” to check all the boxes to appease everyone. I was stuck, emotionally exhausted, and I felt like my life was at a standstill. I dreamt of the day where I could say that everything building up until that moment was worth the struggle, the fight, the late night stress. I wanted more than anything to be done with school, start my writing career, and live a comfortable life. I had no idea how I would get to that point.

In the thick of all of these anxious thoughts, the song, “When Will My Life Begin,” started to play in the background of the Kid’s Club. I’m a singer – not the best out of the bunch, but that never stopped me. I sing because I like to, not because I think I actually have bars. So like any other day, I sang along to the lyrics. Usually, I would sing the background song while casually scrolling through my phone, not paying too much attention to the meaning and what I’m actually saying. This specific day though, the Tangled sound track hit a little different. Singing the words, “When will my life begin?” hit me. Damn, that’s deep. I felt that shit in my soul. I couldn’t relate more. That’s exactly how I felt in that exact moment in time. I remember daydreaming about having it all together and figured out in the future, looking back to this exact moment. That’s what I wanted so desperately – to know that it was going to get better and things were going to sort itself out eventually. And it did.

I stood there, my Hydro Flask just barely getting to the top, finally. And I remembered that I would’ve never guessed to be where I’m at now back then. I remembered that what I’m living and doing right now is exactly what I wanted just 5 years ago. Sometimes I need to take that step back to realize that even though I’m not exactly where I want to be in life, in my career, in XYZ… I’m still making progress in the right direction. That’s not always so apparent from day to day life, but when you see the picture, you see how far you’ve come. I need to appreciate that life happens in mysterious ways. I can only imagine where I’ll be 5 years from now when I think back to this moment – filling up my water bottle on a Thursday night in 2022.

The Smiling Photograph

My dad’s mom, Conching, passed away during childbirth over 55 years ago. At the time, my dad was about 5 years old. Tatay was left to care for 7 children, ages ranging from about 14 to 2. Like their ages, what each sibling remembers of Nanay Conching ranges as well. Some remember the day she passed away vividly, some remember bits and pieces of isolated moments, and some remember nothing at all. Because my dad and aunt were the 2 youngest siblings, they heavily relied on the memories of their older siblings to get an idea of what kind of person their mom was.

From what I have gathered throughout the years, my grandma was a very kind and religious woman. She was the eldest of her siblings, and had a very nurturing personality. Every new piece of information lit up my family’s faces. Each story, memory, and photograph was like striking gold. My cousins and I wanted to know more about the woman that left such an impact on everyone that knew her. We have all wondered what our family would be like had Nanay Conching and my Auntie Merlinda survived. We’d probably have more aunts and uncles, more cousins, and a way bigger family – which is hard to believe, given that our family is already pretty large.

Since Nanay Conching passed away so long ago, and at such a young age, there are only a handful of photos of her that we’ve seen. I personally have only seen a total of 4 photos of Nanay Conching: a solo photo of her in a traditional Filipino dress, the picture of her and Tatay on their wedding day, a photo of my great grandparents (her parents) and all of her siblings holding a painting of her after she passed, and her and my aunt’s tomb stones in the Philippines. These are the only photos that the family has to remember her by. I’m sure that there might be more photos in the Philippines in the albums of very distant family members, but these are the few gems the family’s aware of.

My family is known to have a big family “story time.” We all gather in the living room – you know it’s about to be story time just from the vibe. They turn off the TV, everyone grabs a seat nearby, and it becomes a family group discussion. This usually happens when family from out of state visits the Bay Area – it would routinely happen during Tatay’s birthdays. I don’t know when these family story times started becoming a thing, but they seem to be happening more often as us “kids” start to get older. We feel more comfortable to ask the adults more thought-provoking questions on how they were raised, what they remember, and what life was like immigrating to a new country right after their mother passed away.

Each story told, each point of view shared, each memory ingrained in my aunts, uncles, and dad’s pasts, helps us understand their upbringing and how it has personally effected them as parents, partners, and individuals. Because we know our loved ones’ pasts, it brings to light all the unspoken emotions that their generation couldn’t find the words to express properly. Understanding our family’s generational trauma has planted the seed of change in my cousins and I’s heads. For me, love is many things, one thing that love is is wanting to try to understand. Trying to understand means that you not only want to listen, but that you want them to feel heard. Attempting to understand other people’s pasts and lives brings healing for them, and can connect the pieces in your own mind about why they are the way they are.

I’ve heard many sides and point of views of the day my grandma passed away. Some details vary from sibling to sibling, as time sometimes clouds the memory. One thing that everyone could agree on – regardless of what they remembered and how old they were – was the fact that my grandma’s death put Tatay in a frenzy. He was left widowed with 7 children to care for. Tragedy brought my family closer together and made the stitching of their bond to each other that much tighter. Because they lost a parent so early on in their lives, they cherished Tatay that much more, regardless of how flawed and irritable he was.

Now that Tatay has passed on, a lot of change has happened in our family in the last year. A lot of family are moving out of the Bay Area – something that I never thought would happen in my lifetime. For some reason, I’ve always believed that my extended family on both sides would stay in the Bay Area for life. Looking back now, I know that’s pretty unreasonable, but when I think of “home” I think of the Bay Area. As family starts to branch out outside of California, I think it’s important to try to maintain the closeness and bond that we are all so used to.

A few months ago, we took a trip to visit family that recently moved out of state. It was an amazing experience to explore a state we’d probably never think to visit otherwise. It was hands down one of the best family trips I have ever been on. When entering a home I’ve never been to before, I love to look at all the pictures that are up in the house. I feel like the pictures that are up in someone’s house says a lot about them and what’s important to them. I made my way around my uncle’s living room, dining room, bedroom, and anywhere with pictures up.

I analyzed all of the photos in my uncle’s home, each tucked away in a frame, some big, some small. As I admired the collage frame hanging next to the front door, I noticed some faces that looked very familiar at the top right. It was a photo of Tatay and Nanay Conching on their wedding day. But this wasn’t the wedding photo we were all familiar with, this was one I’ve never seen before. There in front of me was a picture of both my grandparents smiling ear to ear. It dawned on me that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a photo of my grandma smiling.

I immediately took pictures of the photo and sent it my dad and aunt who couldn’t make the trip. They also shared that they have never seen the photo before either. My aunt texted me, thanking me for sending it her way. Being the youngest sibling, my aunt was only 2 years old when her mom passed away. Her and my dad have no memories of their own of their mother. All that they have gathered about their mom has been stories passed down from their older siblings. She shared that this was the first picture she ever saw of her mom smiling, and it brought tears to her eyes. There is nothing that can fill the void of losing a parent so young, but a picture of both of her parents smiling was the next best thing for my aunt. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture left us speechless.

It was a nice surprise to discover that photo that day. Especially with so much change happening, it’s nice to get those signs from the other side that they’re still around. Or at the very least, a reminder of the people that started it all. Sometimes discovering a photo that you never knew existed could really move you in ways that are unexplainable. For me, the smiling photograph filled my heart in many ways.

Summer Gon’ Get Whatever Body I Give It

Summer gon’ get whatever body I give it.

That’s a mother fucking note to self I need to internalize.

Please listen up, if you find that this applies…

Body positive, but the inner work is never done,

I say this because I hit an all time low in 2021.

My Tatay died, the pandemic continued, Tita-Lola died too.

My heart was broken, but I still had to find a way to get through.

I have always been a foodie, so much more in 2021 and now,

I had to pick myself back up and didn’t know exactly how.

I was depressed as shit, not really in the mood,

the only thing I found comfort in was eating bomb ass food.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, there is no shame in what I said.

Eating made me happy, it was 1 of the few things I didn’t dread.

On top of losing loved ones, the pandemic bloomed fear and uncertainty.

I feared I couldn’t get out of the funk I was in, and that’s what worried me.

I found joy in food, because it reminded me of better days –

of get togethers, pre-pandemic, family events, and many other ways.

If eating is what I enjoyed, it was okay if I was using it to not be so sad,

for I know I was using it to cope, and this solution wasn’t that bad.

But I was blocking out my emotions, emotionally constipated if you will.

I was using my love of food to hopefully get that void to fill.

Body positive, that’s what I strive to be,

trying to remind myself that my appearance and weight is not what makes me me.

But I’m human, insecurities are nothing new,

not to mention that it’s pretty clear I gained more than a few.

I wish I could say that I’m 100% confident and do not give a shit,

but it’s hard when I look in the mirror and don’t like how things are starting to fit.

Summer is coming, hotter weather approaches, and I shouldn’t get upset,

for this summer is gon’ get whatever body it will get.

In the past, I would talk down on myself and try to make me feel more low,

but now I’m kinder with myself and know that I can learn from this experience to grow.

My life is happening now, I’m not waiting until I’m fully happy with what I see.

I can still appreciate my body in the now, even if it’s not where I want it to be.

Body positive, but being aware that I can do better,

I need to feel comfortable with myself and know when I need to check her.

Be kind with yourself, and you yourself will blossom,

your body is beautiful in every stage, and that’s what makes it awesome.

Currently, my body reflects how I dealt with my sorrow for some time,

I gained some weight in the making and that’s not a fuckin’ crime.

I thank my body for everything that it was, is, and everything that it will be,

for this summer gon’ get whatever body I give it, and it will just be simply me.

Sometimes I Forget

Saw something I knew you’d like,

so I thought I’d text it your way.

While I’m at it, I should also ask about your day.

It’ll be nice because we haven’t spoken in a while,

not anything to feel guilty about, that was always just our style.

When we reconnected, we always filled each other back in,

updating since the last time we spoke and saying how we’ve been.

I’ve been meaning to catch up, I’m sorry life’s been busy,

I’ll joke around and brag about how much I know you’ve missed me.

When the thought crosses my mind to reach out to you, suddenly it hits me and I feel dumb.

For I’d be waiting on a reply that would literally never come.

You’re gone, and it’s been that way for about half a year.

All that time has passed and in my mind it’s still not very clear…

You’re gone, and sometimes I forget that.

Still think you’ll show up at family functions wearing your SF hat.

Wouldn’t it be nice to joke and hang with you 1 more time, Tita-Lola?

We still had plans to get tacos, catch up, and entertained the idea of NOLA.

Crazy how life works, but I’ll be forever grateful for you.

The way your heart remained so pure, no matter what you’ve been through.

You were always down to listen, to give advice, and simply just be there.

I did the same for you, and could never guess the type of shit that you would share.

I could put you on blast right now, about the last thing you updated me on that had me cracking up.

I know your ass would surely haunt me if I did, so let me shut the fuck up.

Oh Tita-Lola, I’m smiling writing this now, thinking how I don’t even know where to begin,

laughing at the thought of all the awkward, funny, fucked up situations you always found yourself in.

But that was you – you did whatever made you happy,

We miss and love you dearly, don’t mean to get too sappy.

We’re still celebrating your life, your memory, and everything that is you,

I know you’re still around and still motivating me with whatever I want to do.

I’ll admit, maybe your death hasn’t processed in my head because it’s something I don’t want to be true,

It’s easier for me to think that we just haven’t spoken in a while, but you’re still out there doing you.

It sucks when something is expected yet so sudden,

But I know you still got my back, still lookin’ out for your little cousin.

So maybe I need to be easier on myself, and maybe not get so upset,

when I get the urge to text you, because sometimes I forget.