LIFTING UP YOUTH PINAY VOICES IN THE ARTS

BY: Rhi Bergado

Introducing Pinaysphere, a new youth program giving young pinays experiences and opportunities to flourish in the arts

Many of us in the Filipino-American community are first or second generation, we are raised to believe that the best we can strive for is to become imported labor. Growing up it wasn’t always clear what my path was going to be, mostly because no one in my family pursued a creative career to set that example for me.

Generations before us believe that success can only come from monetary stability of working in medical and financial industries. Some parents refuse to teach us our native languages, fearing that we won’t be accepted in American society, and discourage us from pursuing creative careers that allow us to explore the complexities of our many identities. The decades of those conditioned beliefs since World War II have left Filipino Americans, like many other Asian and Pacific Islanders, left to navigate the stereotype of the model minority, and decades of cultural invisibility in the media.

As a young filmmaker, it was difficult to explain my career path to my parents, who undoubtedly wanted me to pursue a career in pharmaceuticals. Today I make a living directing commercials and documentaries, and I still struggle to explain what my career is to my parents. This is an unfortunate disconnect for many young creatives, it creates a barrier between generations, and makes it difficult to celebrate personal victories with a family who doesn’t value the accomplishments of someone in a creative field. This is where Pinaysphere comes in to provide young artists with guidance, workshops, and networking opportunities with other Pinays working in creative fields.

PINAYSPHERE is a youth arts program founded by Jennifer Benitez that provides not only mentorship and networking opportunities but dialogues on culture and self care for rising FIlipina artists. This group is a safe space that caters not only to Pinay artists, but also gender non-conforming members of the creative community. It is open to youth from the ages of 12-24 years old who are actively pursuing careers in an artistic field, or who value artistic contributions. Whether it’s visual art, dance, music, film, design, animation, or photography, artists of all mediums are welcomed to join.

Founder and Executive Director of PINAYSPHERE Jennifer Benitez

PINAYSPHERE’s goals are simple, to create a supportive community to expand our cultural imprint. “Several female (pinay) youth grow up with the lack of creative pathways for artistic expression due to the lack of representation and support. We believe that the colonial mentality affects the female youth identities in our communities, having them go into careers that they are not passionate about. Colonial mentality and the social stigmatization in our communities has our youth believing that there are better choices such as medicine, nursing, engineering, politics, etc. Art, therefore, is not prioritized and is considered as the last result. Our approach is to offer 3 different art components through: Mentorship, Art Programs, and Art Exhibitions. Our programming – in partnership with schools, we will focus on the development of the whole pinay. With a combination of one-on-one mentoring, an all female environment and artistic-based programming equips pinays to become thriving artists and role models in their communities.”

Kristel Bugayong
Illustration: “Pantheon”
Instagram: @KristelBugayong

Today, we’re seeing a surge of ownership of our cultural experience, and are actively promoting young artists and creatives to pursue their visions and to leave their mark on the art and media world. In speaking with the youth members of the group, many of them had experienced discouragement from family members, and an overall lack of resources when it comes to exploring the arts. Kristel Bugayong is a Young Adult Leader in the group and is a sequential artist whose current focus is exploring Filipino Deities. “My Dad would say: If you were a nurse, I would know what to tell you.” Bugayong also shows gratitude for access to other Pilipinas working in the arts. “To be able to get mentorship in of itself has been quite challenging, and to see that PINAYSPHERE is also offering mentorship from fellow Filipina Americans is to me, the first I’ve heard of that.”

Tayahna Agtarap, another youth member of the organization, describes it as: “An organization that allows the youth to find opportunity to know exactly where they want to go.”

A large aspect of providing networking and advice to young artists reaches back to a desire to decolonize our approach to art, beauty, and media. Shedding centuries of European visual standards, is often the first step to embracing our true identities. In addition to visual artists, PINAYSPHERE also supports musical arts, including dancers like Tomiko Younge.

“Ever since we were little we’ve been taught that western beauty standards are what we should strive to be, and being half Black and Filipino, that’s not what my beauty is,” says Younge.

Reina Quinonez is a Youth Leader for PINAYSPHERE and is pursuing a career in fashion design and illustration. “It’s just kind of shocking to see how white-dominated it is, even in something that can seem so diverse in the media.” Reina also integrates pre-colonial influences into their art. “I just did a mini collection that was inspired by decolonization, it was a timeline from Spanish colonization back to the Kalinga people.”

Reina Quinonez
Illustration: “Roots”
Instagram: @driedmang0s

Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Benitez hopes to build a stronger arts community overall, “I would like to build not only sisterhood, but something that allows them to be more supported and have more self confidence.” I am grateful that Jennifer Benitez invited me to be a part of this, and I hope to provide support and guidance that elevates everyone involved. For more information about joining, or donating to PINAYSPHERE, please visit www.pinaysphere.org

Kristel Bugayong
Illustration: “Aries”
Instagram: @KristelBugayong

Article written by: Rhi Bergado
Rhi Bergado is a director and filmmaker based in Long Beach CA

Website: Rhi Bergado: Director and Filmmaker

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