identities

How I’m Learning To Love My ‘Mexipina’ Heritage

I recently met with a fellow writer who was visiting town from California. As we gabbed over happy hour-priced prosecco and bar snacks, we discovered that we’re both Filipina. In my case, I’m half. My other half is Mexican.

“You’re a Mexipina!” my friend exclaimed. I cracked a smile. I hadn’t heard that phrase in a long time. It’s one that my half-brother, who’s full Mexican-American, used to describe me when I was a kid. I always thought he’d made it up, both because he liked how it sounded and because he often teased me for being part Asian.

The teasing was pretty typical sibling banter and, for the most part, ineffective. He called me “Mulan,” which I took as a compliment because, well, Mulan is a badass. He joked that I was adopted, which, let’s be honest, is not even an original thing to tease your sibling about.

While I never questioned whether my parents were my indeed my biological parents, I did question what my multicultural heritage meant for my sense of identity. I still do.

Photo credit: Kent B. Campbell

Sure, I’m equal parts Filipina and Mexican, I am a Filipino Mexican, instances of ethnicity, do two halves really make a whole? For most of my life, especially during my childhood and adolescence, I struggled with this idea of occupying these two categories simultaneously. I never felt like I was Filipina or Mexican enough.

When you’re both, it’s hard to feel like either. Further complicating my identity issues is the fact that I don’t speak Spanish well, and I don’t speak Tagalog at all. I was born and raised in Nebraska, a place that isn’t exactly known for its wealth of racial and ethnic diversity. I didn’t have many Asian or Latinx friends.

More often than not, I was the only person of color in an entire room. I rarely visited my family in Mexico, and I have yet to visit and meet my family in the Philippines. For all intents and purposes, I’m as American as they come. And it’s downright exhausting.

Credit: Q-Productions / Warner Bros. / Giphy

I wanted to know if other mixed people like me — who are part Asian and part Latinx — have experienced similar frustrations and insecurities regarding their unique ethnic makeup. This is what I found out.

“I do not look mixed, and that has been a source of contention all my life,” says Tabitha, a 29-year-old writer who’s half Chinese and half Colombian. “In American communities, I pass as a variety of ethnicities ranging from Native American to Hawaiian to Mexican to Greek to Eastern European.”

Tabitha makes an important point: How mixed individuals are perceived is largely dependent upon the community in which they exist. Like her, in predominantly American groups, I’ve passed as virtually everything under the sun, including Chinese, Cuban, Dominican, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Native American, Russian, Thai and many, many others.

But around other Mexicans, and especially once I’ve revealed my accented Spanish, I’m viewed as some type of other.

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Credit: The CW  / Giphy

On the flip side, other Filipinas can usually pick up on our shared heritage, although they’re just as likely to sniff out that I’m mixed with something else.

Tabitha says she can relate.

“In Chinese communities, some think I am Southeast Asian or Filipina, and others believe I am just white,” she says. “However, I am light-skinned, and in Spanish communities, it can go either way. Either people think I am only white or they know that I must be some kind of Latinx. Often, it means that I am in a space where I feel like I must know more about both cultures.”

That’s a conundrum unique to mixed folks, especially those of us who are American-born.

There’s near-constant pressure to know all there is to know about multiple cultures at any given time, because you never know what you’ll be asked and by whom. And the pressure to fully embody all your cultures isn’t just doled out by white folks.

Credit: ABC / Giphy

“When I was younger, I was much darker than I am now, and in my Chinese communities, I was always treated as less-than unless I was with my father or spoke Chinese,” Tabitha shares. “I have never felt like I fully belonged in the Chinese community.”

For Paulette, a 32-year-old government contract specialist who identifies as “Filirican” (half Filipina and half Puerto Rican), trying to fit in within a predominantly white community often meant struggling with her multiculturalism.

“I was really self-conscious when I was younger,” Paulette says. “I was uber aware that my family spoke different languages, ate different food and acted a little different. I remember arguing with my parents about attending sleepovers or the extent of my responsibilities as the oldest child, and cringing when a family member spoke their native language because everyone else was speaking English.”

That sleepover anecdote could not ring more true. My parents never, and I mean never, allowed me to sleep over at a friend’s house. It didn’t matter if they were my BFF and I had provided them with every last bit of information they asked for. It wasn’t going to happen.

While the sleepovers were a no-go and I totally resented it at the time, I can look back on it now and understand that it was one of the ways  they reinforced their cultures within our household — and that’s worth something. Paulette agrees.

“I credit my parents for standing strong to their cultural identities,” she says. “They were always educating me. They raised me to understand that I don’t always have to belong. It’s OK to be different.”

But when your differences are always being singled out, how do you begin to view them as an asset and benefit, as opposed to a crutch and source of confusion?

Credit: DreamWorks Pictures

Based on my experiences, there’s no straightforward formula for making this shift happen. The key ingredient, as is so often the case, is time.

“A lot is to be said of maturing and becoming an adult,” Paulette says. “As I got older and understood everyone has a different story and background, I became more comfortable in mine. I have two different cultural communities who embrace me and to which I can relate.”

Tabitha has undergone a similar trajectory of growth.

“As an adult, I feel more secure in who I am and what I represent,” she says. “I also realize how much more I want to feel connected to both sides equally.”

I, too, have had that realization. While the incessant questions can still be burdensome, over time I’ve become more comfortable in my skin as a Mexipina. The insecurities of not speaking a language or not looking a certain way come and go, but I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as a singular way of being part Filipina and part Mexican, just as there’s no singular way of being American, white, black, or any other one-word descriptor.

What’s more, I’ve come to understand that I don’t have to choose between feeling more Filipina than Mexican or vice versa. Regardless of the classifications society has imposed on me, I am both — and my two halves do, indeed, make a whole.


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Up Next: Meet Victoria La Mala, The Mexican Badass Empowering Women With Urban-Banda Jams

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Up Next: Meet Victoria La Mala, The Mexican Badass Empowering Women With Urban-Banda Jams

Up Next is a FIERCE series highlighting rising Latina and Latin American women artists you might not know about but definitely should.

You know what Paquita la del Barrio is to your grandmother or perhaps what Jenni Rivera was to your tía? Well, that’s what Victoria La Mala is for our generation: a singer whose inner power is the only thing more forceful than the strong vocal pipes she uses to remind you that you are that bitch.

Born Victoria Ortiz in Mexico City, the singer-songwriter jumped into the music scene in 2015, bringing a refreshing sound and style to regional Mexican music with all the same girl power of her barrier-breaking female predecessors. Describing herself as the musical offspring of Tupac and Selena, the now Los Angeles-based singer places her soulful vox over traditional banda and ranchera rhythms to deliver treats for your ears and soul. Her songs, like last year’s chart-making “Merezco Mucho Más,” call out male fuckery and empower girls to know their strength, worth and beauty and leave toxic romances behind.

On the block, Victoria, who’s also the first Mexican artist to be signed to Roc Nation Latin, continues to be inspirational. On Monday, the 30-year-old launched her fifth annual #TeamMalaPromGiveaway, a campaign providing low-income teenage girls in Los Angeles with dresses, accessories and makeup and hair tutorials. This year, she will help 50 girls, who must submit their applications before March 29, become the prom princesses she knows they already are.

We chatted with Victoria all about the giveaway, making banda bops for millennials, her anticipated new, and sonically different, music, as well as why she wants to empower women and girls in everything she does, among so much more.

FIERCE: You were born and raised in Mexico but also spent much of your time growing up taking extended trips with relatives in Los Angeles. What genres of music were you listening to here and there, and how do you think this has influenced your pop-urbano-banda style today?

Victoria La Mala: I used to listen to a lot of regional Mexican music in Mexico because of my parents. They love banda and mariachi. I spent a lot of summers in LA, and I had some aunts who listened to hip-hop, ‘90s R&B, and I loved soul. I think all of those styles of music influenced me, and I think you can hear them in me.

FIERCE: Absolutely. While you sing mostly regional Mexican genres, you have a very soulful voice. Talking about your voice, it’s very strong and powerful. No one can deny your vocal talent. When did you realize you could sing and that music was something you wanted to pursue?

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Victoria La Mala: I literally cannot remember a time in my life without singing. When I look back on my childhood, I was that one little girl always singing. I loved music. I sang in class and school. But when I was 15, I started getting a little more confidence in myself. I’d be out at parties and people would say, “sing for us.” That’s when I realized this is something I love and have a big passion for. I started singing in a couple bands. I sang at family functions and school functions. So I think when I was around 15 is the time I was like, I love this and I think this is what I want to do.

FIERCE: Why banda? This isn’t exactly a genre that’s expected from young millennial women?

Victoria La Mala: For me, it was always important to represent my culture and tell my story as a woman. Some of the first memories I had listening to live music was banda. My first album in 2013 was full banda. It was just important for me to represent. My dad had passed away a few years before then, and he loved banda. When I moved to the States from Mexico, I wanted to represent from the beginning, and from there I started evolving as an artist as well. I tried different regional sounds and more fusions, because it’s all a part of my story and who I am. I was exposed to more types of music. Being a girl raised in Mexico City, I listened to everything in the streets, Spanish rock, cumbia, so I think it’s important to represent my culture and my story.

FIERCE: I love that and definitely see that. While artists like Paquita la del Barrio and Jenni Rivera made waves for women in traditional Mexican music, these genres continue to be male-dominated. Honestly, most Latin genres do. How has your experience been trying to navigate this industry as a woman, and as one who is very vocal about her opinions on men and proud of her identity.

Victoria La Mala: You know, they always say, “Victoria hates men.” But I don’t, just a couple that have been bad, but some are great. But it’s definitely difficult being a woman, not just in music, in a world that has been male-dominated. The roles of women have slowly been changing: women started working, started going to school and now they’re doing basically anything that we want. But because it hasn’t been many years to do these things, it’s still a struggle. And in music, it’s reflected. Music, I think, reflects what’s happening in society. Now girls are starting to take power in music. Girls want to listen to other girls. They want to feel identified and want our stories told. It’s definitely still difficult. It’s definitely still a struggle, especially on the industry side. There’s this idea that girls dont like girls, girls don’t like to listen to girls. This is also an idea that has been changing, though. I grew up listening to women I love, playing my CDs and singing along to them. I think women nowadays are the same: we want to hear our stories.

FIERCE: I think you’re right. Not only are many of the rising acts in Latin music women, but they are sharing their stories through their music.

Victoria La Mala: Right, exactly. Thank you.

FIERCE: Making a space for yourself where others might be uncomfortable, though, isn’t something you seem to ever shy away from. Another example: you’re the first Mexican artist signed to Roc Nation. How has this been for you?


Victoria La Mala: It has been an amazing experience. I’ve been able to learn so much from people in the industry who have been doing this for years. I’ve met legends, people I looked up to as a little girl, people I still look up to.

FIERCE: Like who?

Victoria La Mala: Like Beyoncé and Rihanna. I got to sing with Paquita la del Barrio. Olga Tañón invited me to sing with her at Premio Lo Nuestro. It’s been an incredible couple of years, learning and growing so much. It’s been really amazing for me. This is part of what I always wanted to do: represent my culture and what I come from as Latinos and Mexicans in a more general-market kind of way. People never really listen to Mexican music, so for them to say, “let me see this Mexican artist signed to Roc Nation,” that’s an amazing experience. As you mentioned before, part of me always feels like I have to fight for what I want. I grew up seeing that. I grew up around strong women that will make a way.

FIERCE: And that’s clear in your music. As I stated earlier, your songs are very bold and empowering. They often validate women’s experiences in relationships and remind them of their own strength, beauty and power. Why?

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Victoria La Mala: It’s so important for me because I think music literally is the soundtrack to our lives. We have songs we play when we are feeling so sad and want to cry. We have songs we want to play that cause us to feel strong, like you could do whatever you want to do.  I grew up listening to strong women that made me feel powerful, and it’s important for me to give that back to other girls. Sometimes, I play my own songs when I’m going through it, like, “yes, girl!”

FIERCE: Haha! I love that. I can honestly say that “Si Va A Doler Que Duela” was one of the songs that helped get me through my last breakup, so I completely get it.

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Victoria La Mala: Thank you. I really appreciate that.

FIERCE: You’re also inspiring outside of your music, though. I know you have a prom dress giveaway each year, where you provide dresses, makeup and accessories to underserved teens so they can attend prom and feel like a princess for an evening. Talk to me about this. Why do this?


Victoria La Mala: To me, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I love being able to connect with young girls. When I was in high school, my dad wasn’t there anymore, and my mom, by herself, had to make sacrifices for my siblings and myself. For my high school graduation, I had to figure out dresses, which was so expensive, and I thought, maybe I should come up with a giveaway for girls doing their prom and can’t afford it. There are so many circumstances as to why they might need help. I started this five years ago. I had people, whoever I knew, give me dresses. I said, “anyone who wants to donate, I will give you a CD.” That’s all I had. People donated dresses, and I think we dressed 10 girls that year. I did it all on my own. I had no clue what I was doing, but it was an amazing experience to see girls have the dress they wanted. I knew I needed to do it again. Here we are now in our fifth year. Last year, we  dressed more than 60 girls. This year, I’m hoping that doubles. Now we also have sponsors.

FIERCE: What do you think is your overall goal with this giveaway?

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Victoria La Mala: My goal is for girls to enjoy their prom. I want them to feel like all their efforts were worth this moment, that all their hard work does pay off. I just want them to be happy that day. I’m also really hoping every year we can double the amount of dresses we give. I also hope that we can take it out of LA. This is my home and community, so this is where I’ve been doing it, but I hope to take it to other cities and one day everywhere.

FIERCE: Love that! I want to get back into music. You haven’t released a new song in a little while, and there’s a lot of anticipation around Victoria La Mala and demand for new music. What do you have in store for this year that you can tell us about?

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Victoria La Mala: Well, last year, I put out only two songs. One did amazing and was on the charts, “Merezco Mucho Más,” and the other I put out during the end of the summer, “Corazón valiente,” which was for immigrants. But after that, I had a couple changes within my team. I took time for me to get in the studio, work on music, write my stuff, get involved in everything, from production and sound to writing new songs. We are almost there. It’s just been a process. I’ve just been waiting and writing and making sure everything sounds and is how I creatively see it. Again, we’re almost there. I think it’s going to be something new and different from what I put out in the past and reflects who I am, a mix of Mexican culture and me living in New York, LA, Mexico City, more of the urban side. So it’ll be something new and something I’ve been wanting to work on for a while, so I’m excited.

FIERCE: You’re 30 years old, at the earlier stages of your career, what do you hope people can say about Victoria La Mala in 10 to 15 years?

I hope people can say that I’ve helped them feel empowered, that my music has been a big part of their life. I dont think a lot about this. I think about things I want to accomplish more than things people say about me. I hope my music can empower them and be a part of their life and touch them the way other artists have inspired me.

Read: Up Next: Rombai Is Ushering In The Return Of Latin Pop Bands

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Yalitza Aparicio Is The Oscar’s First Indigenous Woman To Be Nominated For Best Actress

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Yalitza Aparicio Is The Oscar’s First Indigenous Woman To Be Nominated For Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio is making history. The Hollywood newbie was nominated for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” on Tuesday for her performance as a domestic worker in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” making her the first Indigenous woman to be nominated in that category in the Academy’s 90-year history.

“Roma,” produced by Participant Films and currently available for streaming on Netflix, is a film based on Cuarón’s childhood in 1970s Mexico City. Aparicio, an Indigenous actress from Oaxaca, Mexico, plays Cleo, a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family. During the film, she had to perform some of her dialogue in Mixtec, one of 68 Indigenous tongues spoken in the southern nation.

The film is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, foreign language film, director, lead actress and supporting actress, original screenplay, sound mixing, sound editing, production design and cinematography.

Last week, Aparicio, 25, told the New York Times what it would mean to her and her community should she be nominated for the coveted award.

“I’d be breaking the stereotype that because we’re Indigenous we can’t do certain things because of our skin color,” she said. “Receiving that nomination would be a break from so many ideas. It would open doors to other people — to everyone — and deepen our conviction that we can do these things now.”

With the nomination, Aparicio isn’t just the first Indigenous woman to be up for the award for leading actress but she is also only the second Mexican actress to be nominated in the category, following Salma Hayek, who was up for the award for her 2002 role in “Frida.”

In 2013, Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o won supporting actress for 2013’s “12 Years a Slave.”

The 2019 Oscars will broadcast live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24.

Read: Latinas Are Rejoicing Over Indigenous ‘Roma’ Star Yalitza Aparicio’s Appearance On The Cover Of Vogue Mexico

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