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On Being a Brown Filipina: Righting What Is Not Wrong

Being a brown Filipina

Tham Luong, Luc Yen, Yen Bai, Viet Nam: Definitely not your wallflower.

Bet nila yong skin mo. Ganahan ang mga puti sa imong panit. They like your skin.I’ve been told countless times by many fellow Filipinas, both young and old.  Nila, They refers to white men, both young and old, who salivate over exotic creatures like me. And each time annoys the hell out of me. I never fail to point out how I hate words and phrases like exoticyou remind me of Pocahontas. The intentions were nothing but compliments, but I always reason out why those are nothing but derogatory and insulting.  I even wrote a piece on it.

Yes, I had a substantial portfolio of dating white men; however, no one was creepy enough to tell me how much they liked my skin. Rather, they fell in love (and fell out of love) with my independence, wit, intelligence (no matter how modest it is), fierceness, stubbornness, and passion. 

Some years ago, I wrote a painful piece on being a dark-skinned Filipina traveling solo around the Philippines on Rappler. Damn, writing that piece made me cry. Of course, I was judged for being dark-skinned. Of course, it was painful. Of course, I rise up every time it happens.

All my older sisters have been using whitening products for the longest time. So what? Being brown is their source of insecurity. They did something about it, and that’s admirable. They feel empowered of having fair skin, and that’s totally fine. While I embraced my brownness and became empowered on my own terms.

Empowerment is different for everyone. It is personal; oftentimes, it is a painful process. There is nothing wrong with making such a conscious decision of whitening one’s skin. There is nothing wrong with embracing your natural brownness either. 

Being a Brown Filipina
Yo, this brown Filipina goes places. 🙂

It becomes wrong when we make fun of and judge others who don’t share the same sentiment with us. Say, if you, a fair-skinned person, think your skin makes you prettier than us brown women, entitles you to something, then that’s fucked up. You’re fucked up. And I don’t and won’t hesitate to call out such bullshit. You’re nothing but a second-rate trying-hard white privilege copycat!

[bctt tweet=”An injustice remains an injustice when we remain silent about it.”]

Brown-skinned Filipinas can be arrogant too, claiming that brown is the pure skin color of the Filipinos. According to whom? The Philippines is an archipelago with various ethnolinguistic origins: we have Andamanese, Chinese, Arabic, Austronesian swimming, lurking in our deep genetic pool. Plus, colonization happened and fucked us all up. With all this fucking going on, here we are in different shades and hues. 

[bctt tweet=”Empowerment is different for everyone. It is personal; oftentimes, it is a painful process.”]

When my sisters and I walk together, strangers think I’m the oldest. They, my sisters and strangers, would make fun of me, and that’s not okay. Personally, I do think my sisters are prettier than me. I never consider myself pretty. Sensual, yes. And you know, I will always choose sensuality over pretty. Any time. 😉

Growth doesn’t end on having fair skin and on being pretty. If you’re fine with being pretty, that’s simply saddening and heartbreaking. 

Being a Brown Filipina
More on this soon: on Instagram clothes and shit

Personal growth—and to some extent—economic success—is more than skin-deep. In moments like this, I always rebut, well, I’m the smartest, the most moneyed (on our own terms), and the most experienced in men and life. (Laughed bitchily, witchily.)That may sound haughty, proud, arrogant even, but you can’t expect me to play it coy and nice. Justice is served with a bit of spice when there is a menu of blatant injustice right before my eyes. 

Our skin is not the problem. The whitening product, their ilk, and their marketing team are. Someone pointed out, “But that’s the truth!” Ah no, it is not the truth, it’s pure colonial hang-ups. The product is capitalizing on the insecurity of many Filipinos, on the country’s colonial mentality. They’re targeting a certain demographic: insecure brown women. 

[bctt tweet=”Growth doesn’t end on having fair skin and on being pretty.”]

It was very tone-deaf. Their marketing strategy would, could have worked 10 years ago. But the Filipinos, especially the millennials, are now very attuned with social injustices. I personally think millennials make up most percentages of digital social justice warriors. Of course, the whitening product got roasted. They asked for it.

We need more narratives that center on acceptance, on different lenses on how we perceived beauty. To make it a sole issue on skin color does not add something to the existing narrative. The ad was horrendous and a failure, pretty much like our government. If we brown women embrace our skin and transcend beyond our skin color, damn, we gonna do a Saramago move (the novel Seeing, too geeky an example?) against the whitening product industry. They will all go bankrupt.

Northern Vietnam Travel Guide Ha Giang
Mother Nature, lead me to a path of paid writing gigs!

[bctt tweet=”I live a good life. I pay my own bills on time. I do whatever I want to do. I have a small beach lot under my name. I have my own savings. I keep on growing every single day. And yes, I’m brown as fuck.”] 

But let’s got more personal. 

Have I encountered any injustices of being brown like the cringey examples given by that badly named whitening product? Of course, I had. But an injustice remains an injustice when we remain silent about it. And, friends know how much of a loud bitch I am. 

Here in Ha Noi, locals—as neocolonial as the Philippines and the rest of Asia—point out how dark I am. They should have seen the overly beached younger bitch version of me. English language centers hesitate on employing me as their teacher because I’m Filipino, dark-skinned at that. And always, the keyboard warrior comes out and sends them a scathing reply on how their backwardness, bigotry, and racism give them no right to be in the education industry. 

Does that change anything? No. I didn’t get the job. And most likely, they hired a white backpacker who showed up in the class with a nasty hangover, worst, showed up in the class drunk. But, at least they know they can’t use my skin stone and country of origin as their basis of not hiring me. At least I didn’t allow them to belittle and dehumanize me for being brown and for being Filipino. 

Female-friendly places in India
Kids wanting to have photos in Agra’s Taj Nature Walk

Thankfully, I found workplaces that hire me for my professionalism, credentials, and educational background.

Back in 2017, in Siargao, I was with my then-boyfriend T. We wanted to do the boat trip to Sugba Lagoon and the guide just looked at and talked to T. I was invisible like Ifemelu with Curt in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (Cried a butt-load of tears while reading that part, by the way. The feels were fucking personal, man!).  I’ve seen white privilege in action. A lot of times, it becomes tiring. I couldn’t hold it up and told him, “Are you not greeting me too? I’m a paying tourist as well. Is it because he’s white and I’m not?”  The guide felt embarrassed. T felt embarrassed. I felt hurt (because I was expecting T to point it out first) and embarrassed. But it was empowering. I felt goddamn good for speaking up for myself. 

Apo Island Travel Guide Snorkeling in Apo Island
Snorkeling in Apo Island, Negros Oriental

The guide became apologetic and over-indulgent from there on. I made light of the situation moments after, knowing he learned his lesson.

Back in Cebu, my parents’ neighbors were somewhat confused on what I did back in the city. Other neighbors working in the city came back in our sleepy, conservative hometown fair-skinned and prettier, while there I was darker than my last visit. Someone had the guts to ask Mama, if I peddled fish and other goods on the street. 

That cracked me up. It was pure gold. 

Being a Brown Filipina
Sydney Opera House, Australia. Almost broke but still smiling.

So every time someone asked me what I do, I say, I sell fish. If it were the younger Jona, the insecurity would have eaten me whole. I would have tried my damn best to correct all these misinformation and perhaps print a copy of my resumes (one on digital nomadism, one on English as a Secondary Language, and one on literature and creative writing) and bank statement. LOL. But damn, bitch, I own and take full responsibility of, for the sole life I have. Strangers’ opinions on me don’t matter anymore. 

I live a good life. I pay my own bills. I do whatever I want to do. I have a small beach lot under my name. I have my own savings. I pursue some hobbies. I’m in love with well-written poetry, personal essays, and novels. I’m dead-set on achieving my goals. I keep on growing every single day. And yes, I’m brown as fuck and proud of it. 

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Jik says:

    Hi Jona, I have a niece who is ten years old. I can’t help but get affected every time she thinks she is less for being brown. It’s hard to convince her that beauty can be in different colors. I encouraged her to have a blog and I hope, you can read it one day too and please help me cheer her up.
    Here’s the link to her blog

  2. Jik says:

    By the way, I love reading everything here 😉

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