Janssen, born in Bahrain and raised in the Philippines, is a fourth year International Studies student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She is passionate about cultural anthropology, poetry, people-to-people connection, and the arts. Representation matters to her and she hopes to make known, celebrate, and share the beauty and essence of the Filipino identity.

I am kayumanggi

One thing’s for sure – I am still in the works. But let me wind back the clock for a bit and take you on a flashback of how I became the Filipina I am now.

I remember how media, in papers and TV screens, put a spotlight on girls who hardly looked like me. Brown skin and some curls. Usually, the ordinary worker roles in telenovelas were portrayed by actors and actresses that look like me. Sometimes, even by those who don’t (with the help of some bronzing make-up and hair curlers). The thing is, I never really understood how much this has affected me. I felt limited by the roles, capabilities, expectations, and even worth “assigned” or attached to my color. I was defined by my melanin. However, I really don’t know how it began, but there was a conceptual jailbreak that shifted my perspective and response towards this personal dilemma. Meeting a lot of faces, seeing different sides of the coin, experiencing different realities, and realizing that I truly am defined by my color pushed me to maximize my potential. Brown is the very soil I am rooted from, which feeds me and reflects the sun on my face, browns my skin, and reminds me who I am and what all this is for. I have embraced myself because I saw that I was not alone and that I share the same features, dreams, and purposes of my kababayan or fellow people. This bore my motto, “I am kayumanggi * and I am divine feminine energy.”

As the eldest daughter to an Oversea Filipino Worker (OFW) mother, and a father who was once afflicted by an illness, I could say I was forced to grow up and parent myself as well as my younger sister. Some would say I was “the man of the house.” Seemingly, situations like this would harden someone, but I was toughened. Actually, softened too. Our family dynamic and the climate we encouraged at home is a balance of mind, heart, and instinct. Sometimes, a little bit more of heart. My mother raised us in lambing, a Filipino term for gentleness, kindness, or tenderness. In a world where characteristics such as being caring, nurturing, sweet, delicate, beautiful, and similar feminine-laden ones are, at times, attributed to feebleness, I am grateful to have a mother who showed me otherwise. She saw value in our femininity – never synonymous to weakness, always about strength. It was never a “soft power”, only power.

This made me remember my Grandmother (Lola) Elsie telling me “Sanay ka talaga sa lambing dahil sa iyong ina,” in English, “You are really used to tenderness because of your mother.” She was actually apologizing for being unable to show me a similar gentle and motherly nature. Well, I truly am accustomed to lambing. This has been manifested through my leadership style, communication and persuasion skills, as well as my people-oriented personality. I am about healing, expressiveness, vulnerability, warmth, and calmness. I am also courageous, independent, ambitious, and relentless. Us, women are never just about one thing. We can be many things.

A woman may crash and burn, bend or break, but she always stands. And when she does, she stands tall with her head up high. I am that woman. I need to be.

Regardless of where life may take me and what choices I may make, I will continue to take up space. I intend to extend myself to the people and be one of the faces of Lahing Kayumanggi (our brown race); cultivate an encouraging climate that celebrates individuality as a woman and a Filipino. Also, to keep in mind my responsibility of listening to the clamor the masses have taken to the streets; of valuing my platform by passing on the microphone and letting others speak for themselves just as how I was given the opportunity to do so myself; and ensuring I stay grounded and conscious of the stories, narratives, and realities faced by the Filipino people.

Lastly, representation truly matters, especially to that young, clueless, and curious Micah who needed someone to look up to. I hope, I too will serve as the face of someone a young girl would be inspired by, a woman she can look up to and feel seen, heard, and valued.

Janssen, on January 22nd, 2023

*Kayumanggi means Brown in Filipino.

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