A Message To My Younger Self: We Did It!
If I had a dollar for every moment I felt unseen, inadequate, and substandard to my white counterparts, I’d have enough money to go into early retirement. Because here’s the thing – imposter syndrome strikes women of color like a plague. It infects the parts that make women of color some of the most talented, driven, and unique people in the room. This icky feeling of incompetence courses our veins with no simple cure and it’s incredibly exhausting.
I was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States before I could speak words. My parents dreamt that same dream as many immigrants do: give my children more than what I had; present them with an opportunity to soar with flying colors. While I am incredibly grateful for the sacrifices my parents made, the experience of growing up as a Filipino-American in the 90’s and early 2000’s had its own unique struggle.
Due to the fact that there was little to no representation of Filipinos in the media I consumed, I had a hard time connecting with my vibrant culture. On top of that, society looked at me differently. I was too Asian to be American, but too westernized to be Filipino. My parents were also very strict. I wasn’t allowed to spend time with friends at the mall, academics were always top priority, and the biggest rule: don’t follow your dreams.
Okay, okay, so maybe that last one wasn’t an official rule, but it was a suggestion that was ingrained into my brain through fear tactics. In my family, becoming a nurse was pushed onto me – so much so, that when I mentioned to my parents of wanting to pursue acting, our drives around town became toxic fear mongering. When my dad would see a homeless person, he would point to them and say, “that’s a failed actor, and that will be you if you pursue acting.”
I ended up falling in love with all aspects of behind the scenes, and controlling the camera rather than being in front of it. I think part of that switch was the insecurity I developed after my parents’ constant belittling, in addition to the lack of representation.
So when I went to community college after high school, I enrolled into the Radio-TV program. I never was very good in school, but learning about topics I genuinely wanted to immerse myself in, made me excited to go to class. But what motivated me the most, was my professor Mr. Story. He was the one who said, “why not?” when I was unsure of pursuing entertainment as a career. For the first time, there was an adult who was genuinely rooting for me. Despite the endless arguments with my parents, I kept focus on my goals and the happiness those classes ignited within me.
Fast forward a few years to 2015, and I found myself at 97.1 AMP Radio in Los Angeles. I owe my entire career to my time as a Promotions Assistant. For those who are unfamiliar with radio, a Promo Assistant is an entry level role where one works a range of events for the radio station. This is an amazing way to get started in the music industry, and if you’re lucky like I was, you’ll have managers and co-workers who become a supportive community in your life.
Although being a promotions assistant was incredibly fun, there were moments that caused me to cry alone in my car. There’s going to be experiences that will either toughen someone up, or give realization that the music industry is not cut out for them. There is an endless supply of amazing perks – free concert tickets, passes to amusement parks, meeting celebrities, and travel. These perks however, can become blinders to industry professionals, especially to those who are new.
When I was in high school, I was often teased and felt substandard in comparison to my peers. I wasn’t pretty, or smart, or popular, or talented, I was just… there. I know that stuff isn’t important, but for a teenager it was my world. When I graduated, I told myself that I would one day be the “cool girl.” As my career unfolded before me, and free VIP passes, trips to Vegas, and backstage access fell on my lap, I was finally the “cool girl” in the room.
Then Covid happened.
In early April of 2020, myself along with many of my coworkers, were let go. Imagine going up a roller coaster, about to freefall into one of the best years of your career yet, and without warning, there was a halt. That’s how many of us felt. We were on our way to do great things, and then suddenly we hit a brick wall. I felt lost afterwards. I had been so focused on my career for the last several years, that I had lost sight of who I was as a person.
Never let your job define you.
This is probably the biggest advice I could give to any young professional, and if I could go back in time, I would tell myself this too. I attached myself to my job, the perks, and making my Instagram feed so undeniably exciting, that when my job as Video Content Producer was ripped away from me, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
During the pandemic I learned more about myself. Through the tears, the stress of being short on rent, and the fear of what Covid could bring, I found passion again. I found a deeper meaning and purpose that will last me years beyond what the music industry could ever give me. So to anyone still trying to get their foot in the door, remember this: you are incredible as you are, and you don’t need a fancy job or materialistic things to prove that.
Embrace yourself exactly as who you are, and f*cking send it! If you are a fangirl, don’t ever be ashamed of it. There’s a lot of negative connotations behind the word “fangirl,” many of those notions are backed by misogyny. The music industry is brimming with men, and navigating it as a woman can be difficult – especially when you’re a woman of color or a fangirl. And for me, as well as many others, I’m both.
Here’s a secret: fangirls can make some of the best industry professionals.
I know this, because I’m living proof of it. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about music and if you’re working in the industry, I hope music ignites you. I used to run fansites, write fanfiction, and call radio stations to request songs. I use my fangirl skills in my professional role as a Social Media Producer and Digital Marketer day to day. In my office, sipping on iced coffee, and jumping into my 3rd meeting of the day, I am still a fangirl at heart. Those full circle moments I love to talk about – filming the Jonas Brothers, photographing Taylor Swift, or jumping on air to gush about Lizzie McGuire, are all an ode to my younger self.
My younger self, who was insecure each day and would come home to write Jonas Brothers fanfictions where the heroine was confident and beautiful.
My younger self, who couldn’t accept her Filipino heritage but found excitement in watching Lizzie McGuire because one of the actors was Filipino too.
My younger self, who didn’t know how to take a stand, but listened to Taylor Swift express herself and call out her bullies.
The parts that make me unique; the parts that allow me to thrive and manifest, are the parts that are often brushed off by industry politics. If you are a woman of color who is also a fangirl, don’t hide it. Grasp onto it and hold it close to your heart. You will traverse this industry, feeling that imposter syndrome, but when you succeed, celebrate. Because coming from experience, I know that it took you a great deal to make it. From the adversities of being a woman, to the hardships of being a person of color, your success happened because you walked through fire for it; because you fought through cultural pressures and societal prejudices, and made it happen.
I’ll end my editorial with this one last piece of advice: be authentic in all you do, take a moment or five to breathe, and watch yourself elevate to extraordinary heights!