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Why Representation Matters | Brown Girl, You Belong

So, I quit my job.

Three months ago, I became debt free. Three days ago, I quit my job to travel indefinitely. And as I walked out of the Instagram offices for the last time, not gonna lie: I was a little sad to be dropping out of the rat race — not because I’d miss my old life, but because of a lil’ thing called representation.

Of course, it’s exciting and sexy and deliciously middle-finger-to-the-man to drop life and travel. It does feel like a bragging point to be like, “Y’all have fun with your 13-meeting work days! And abusive relationships with Outlook! And cramping while climbing the corporate ladder! WE OUT.”

However, I have been in a lot of mostly-white spaces in my career.

At this point, I am very aware that alongside my skills and talents, my brown face existing in white spaces matters. A lot. Black and brown skin existing in any typically-not-black-or-brown setting matters to other black and brown-skinned people, young and old. That’s just math.

And I feel a little bit guilty leaving my career track and, in my tiny-impact way, leaving those mostly-white spaces with one less POC that someone else can look to and go, “Oh. Look at that. We can belong there.”

 

GIF of three women of color Hamilton actresses onstage holding up the peace sign and altering the landscape of representation in media.
The ultimate woman-of-color representation success: Hamilton, ladies and gentlemen.

 

Women of color, WYA?

Let’s talk about the best possible example of representation for women of color, shall we?

Raise your hand if you saw Hamilton.
Raise your other hand if it was hard to watch Hamilton because you were sobbing the literal entire time.
Yup. Now hug me with BOTH O’ THEM OUTSTRETCHED ARMS.

The parts that made me cry hardest were when there were lots of folks onstage — like the final song, Who Lives Who Dies. The entire cast is standing there, belting out face up to the audience. And almost every one of those faces belonged to a person of color.

I sobbed because scenes like that did a very basic and profound thing to me. They shouted very clearly to the tiny 12-year-old in my soul — the one who gave up on budding Broadway dreams pretty early on because, what? Dark-skinned Asians onstage, onscreen, on anything, bish where?

It was like they were yelling right at me:
“Brown girl, look.
You belong on this stage, just like us.”
(Shit. I’m crying again.)

 

A GIF of the cast of Hamilton representing several people of color, including women of color in Broadway casts.
Hamilton = The perfect example of representation in the arts. And in life.

 

Representation is for you, brown goddess.

I’m especially talking to my fellow Filipino American women, because representation — the simple ability to see, with your eyeballs, someone who looks like you in a physical space you hope to occupy — matters so fucking much. On any scale. It may be incredibly narcissistic to lay out my achievements like this, but before I hop out of the career world, if I can give anyone a fraction of how I felt seeing the brown-ass Hamilton cast onstage with my own eyeballs, then it matters.

Now, this is of course applicable to any POC and/or person in a minority or oppressed group.

But I’m talking specifically to the young Filipino and Asian women around the world who don’t see dark brown Asian skin in the places their soul wants to be.

Because when I was growing up, I wish someone talked to me this way.

This is for us.

 


 

Brown girl, you belong in journalism.

One filipino american journalist sitting on the floor of a group of white women, illustrating why representation in the media is lacking terribly.
This picture got this Twitter response: “Wow. TONS of diversity on the Seventeen staff, huh?” *SIPS A GALLON OF TEA*

 

Brown girl, you belong in tech.

A filipino american woman in tech on her first day at a tech company, lunging in front of a poster that says "This Is Your Company Now." This woman quit her job to travel two years later.
My first official day as a woman of color in tech, at Instagram/Facebook. We were all surprised that it was not my last.
Four women of color in tech laughing in front of a fence at a backyard party, showing that representation means having every type of face present in influential spaces.
This is black and brown woman brilliance thriving in your tech companies: My epic 2017 interns, Nia, Jordan and Joy. Get used to this.

 

Brown girl, you belong in magazine bylines.

A Seventeen magazine print story about Race & Reality, focusing on young women of color and their thoughts on representation, with the author's name in the byline.
Baby’s first byline in a national print magazine, Seventeen – 13-year-old me’s actual dream come true. (And on a story on teens + race, no less.)
A photo of the corner of a magazine page featuring Michele Tan, former editor of Seventeen magazine, and Berna looking at her laptop.
Everyone: Michele Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen, the woman/goddess/also POC who made this byline possible (& snuck me onto her Editor’s Letter, too.)

 

Brown girl, you belong in magazine features.

A Filipina American woman sitting on a desk at a tech company.
That time Glamour UK did a feature on my work at IG. Photographer and everything. It was wild.

 

Brown girl, you belong next to political dignitaries.

Madeleine Albright sitting next to Berna Anat, an Asian American woman working in tech.
I had the insane honor of interviewing Secretary Madeleine Albright at Instagram on International Womens’ Day. Sometimes I say that to myself in the mirror when I’m sad
Madeleine Albright sitting next to Berna Anat during an interview at Instagram on International Womens' Day.
She was and is a dream. I still can’t believe I got to set up her up for an epic bra joke.

 

Brown girl, you belong onstage.

A filipina american woman giving a lecture at the GirlUp Youth Summit in Washington, DC.
Giving a talk/sweating at the GirlUp Youth Summit in Washington, DC. Who lets me do this stuff?
A framed photo of a woman of color speaking onstage.
They sent me a very mom-pride-friendly photo afterwards. So Beyonz. Very impress.

 

Brown girl, you belong at the United Nations.

A woman speaking in front of a mic about what representation means and being a woman of color in tech at the United Nations.
Speaking/sweating/fighting impostor syndrome while speaking on youth activism at the United Nations Youth Summer Summit.

 

Brown girl, you belong on Team Debt Free.

A biracial couple celebrating the advantages of being debt free and showing what does it feel like to be debt free by yelling and smiling. At this time, I wanted to quit my job, and this is the moment when being debt free made that possible.
That sweet, sweet moment we became debt free — and realized we could quit our jobs and travel.

 

Brown girl:
You belong wherever the fuck.
You.
Want.

A woman of color feminist standing in front of a sign that says "This is your whole MF universe", after I quit my job to travel.
One mo’ time, but with a small rewrite.

 

#browngirlyoubelong!

— Berna

 

I started drafting this on a bus and then started crying. That’s how I knew it was important for me to write. I dedicate this one to Jaz — a young and brilliant creator, activist and fellow Filipina who sent me a beautiful message about representation and inspired me to write. 

 

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