Call Her Pinay: Catching up with Filipino American Podcasters Jen Amos and Nani Dominguez
With a podcast titled The Filipino American Woman Project, you might think that Jen Amos and Nani Dominguez know exactly what it means to be Pinay in the States. Yet Amos urges their guests on the show to not look to either of the co-hosts for direction but rather “look to themselves to decide how they want to show up in this world.” It is this come-as-you-are approach that has attracted a wide range of Filipino American women ranging from a dueling pianist to an environmentalist to even working mothers.
“I don’t know a lot about my culture,” Amos admits. “It’s through their narratives that I learn more about myself.” Growing up, the podcast’s creator Amos had a hard time resonating with her Filpino peers and identifying with the Filipino community — particularly after struggling with and being abused by some of her family members. In December 2016, she decided to Google “Filipino American women” and the search results dismayed her: articles on how to date them, why Filipina were not in politics, and of course, the stereotypical mail-order bride.
“I had just this awful view of being Filipino,” said Amos. “I just ended up really hating being Filipino, [but I also thought] there has to be good Filipino women out there. Women who are collaborative, commutative and just generally enthusiastic about life.”
The next year, she connected with over 33 Pinay women, interviewing them over Facebook Live. Her experience sharing their stories validated her belief that Filipino American women need to be heard and the project blossomed into The Filipino American Woman Project, a podcast now in its second season.
Less than six episodes into the first season, Dominguez slid into Amos’ DMs asking if the project needed any help. After connecting, Amos immediately offered her a co-hosting position. Over 50 episodes later, Amos and Dominguez are a tribe of two — finishing each other’s thoughts and sentences on the podcast and when I spoke to them. Anyone can feel the chemistry, mutual respect, and love between them:
“I believed in you, Nani, when you first called me. Even if you were going through an identity-crisis, you were so articulate.” Amos said to Dominguez.
Dominguez said back, “I also just felt a weird connection with you. I just couldn’t be doing this podcast with somebody else. You just naturally make me able to express myself somehow.”
When asked what inspired her to reach out, Dominguez notes that when she joined The Filipino American Woman Project, she was also struggling with her Filipino identity: “I was grappling with what it meant to be Filipina but also half white and still feeling like I identified much more with my Filipino side and my Filipino family. So I was looking for a way to connect with that outside of my own family because I didn’t feel really comfortable exploring it with all of them watching.”
To kick off season two of their podcast, Amos and Dominguez made the tough decision to take a stance and address the growing protests surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. In March of this year, COVID-19 became the uninvited guest on the show, right before Amos and Dominguez decided to take a quick hiatus. Resuming their show in June, at the height of the George Floyd protests, Amos and Dominguez stuck to the idea of “showing up,” a principle at the core of Amos’ philosophy.
“For me, it is about showing up. What it means today to be a be Filipino American woman is showing up.” Amos said, “It’s ingrained in a lot of us that we have to be qualified first before we can show up. I’m very unapologetic about showing up and publicly learning as I go. In a lot of our families, you have to be polished, you have to look like you have your shit together. And if you have any mental health issues, it gets swept under the rug, we don’t talk about that sh*t. And eventually that caught up with me.”
Dominguez recognized the need for the Pin@y community in the United States to join movements and build through allyship: “At this stage right now, I think [being a Filipina American] means doing a lot of unlearning. Recognizing how ingrained that colonial mentality is, not only for our parents’ and grandparents’ generation but also in us, because inevitably we were raised by them. Even if we are living in environments or atmospheres that are radically different than the times they grew up in, it is a [way] of honoring or acknowledging your ancestors and your elders. That is what is at the root of our culture: carrying tradition down. That is another reason why this podcast is so important to us. It is another way of passing those stories down, stories I never received from my own family. To me, what being a Filipina means is being part of a collective.”
However, Amos points out that the intent of the show is not to be political, but to create a space where the Filipino American woman can show up as she is. “My goal is to highlight the Filipino American woman and celebrate who she is at that moment,” Amos said.
As for who can claim to be Filipino American, Dominguez leaves the door open: “Anyone who resonates with [the label of pinay]. My whole thing with my familya is that I’ve always been ostracized for being half white. They call me ‘white-girl.’ They always want to bring up the fact every time when we are at a family gathering, [such as when] my uncle was like, ‘This is the white girl who knows more about being Filipino than any of us.’ [Situations] like that made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to identify as pinay. But at the same time, my grandma and my dad always instilled Filipino pride in me, but have not ever given me any context for what that means, because they wanted me to just assimilate and live the white privilege that you see when you look at me. Whether you are a whole, a half, a quarter, if you feel it; if you have that connection with our culture and our community, you can identify [as pinay].”
Nevertheless, activist movements and organizing as a Filipino American community is often where gatekeeping occurs and for good reason. Dominguez says that the labor of decolonization can be difficult for those “coming from both sides, because you are the colonizer and the colonized and that is a difficult thing to separate in the context of your identity and how you identify.”
How does one reckon with the "American" embedded in the Filipino American identity? For Dominguez: “I have to recognize that being a Filipina living in America is a privilege in and of itself. My whole thing about privilege is that you should use it to lift up others. For example, right now the anti-terror bill that Duterte just signed is awful, like how is this happening in 2020? Specifically, if people like me [i.e. Filipinx living in the U.S.] don’t stand up and use their privilege to fight back against that is exactly what is going to happen and exactly why it is happening.”
“You matter; therefore, your voice matters,” Amos adds. “You deal with the internal confusion [that Dominguez mentioned] and the external confusion of people asking, ‘Where are you from? No, where are you really from?’ It is a beautiful hot mess of the work we have to do. One thing I really enjoy about doing the show is realizing that all of us are confused and that gives me a lot of validation, like ‘Oh, no one has it figured out, so let us just laugh about it and show up.”
In this way, the show again breaks ground, welcoming all individuals who are living or have lived in America, that are of Filipino descent, and identify as female and use the pronouns she/her as well as those who are nonbinary.
Among their favorite guests, Stacey Anne Baterina Salinas, a feminist historian at the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies at UC Davis. Their favorite episode: You’re fighting for the colonizer and you don’t even know it with cultural educator JL Umipig.
When I asked for a preview of the upcoming season, I was surprised to find out that Amos and Dominguez allow anyone to sign up and choose based on the labels the guests chose to identify themselves as, such as “multi-passionate mom-preneur” or “musician,” rather than having the women pitch stories to the podcast.
“You are good enough. We want to hear your story. [I’m interested in] meeting people where they are at today, allowing people to show up as they are,” Amos said, “You are asking me who is coming up next and I am literally having to look it up. I don’t want them to be stressed. I don’t want to be stressed. I just want to get to know people.”
Nevertheless, each episode fulfills Amos’ and Dominguez’s goal of celebrating the diversity of the Filipino woman. Amos says, “All of our narratives are so diverse and different. It’s crazy because some of the people who in my mind are so Filipino, don’t even feel Filipino enough. Part of my mission and hope with the project is to have people identify how they want and just own it, own how multifaceted they are.”
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.
Giannina Ong - Bay Area, CA
Co-Editor Chopsticks Alley Pinoy
Giannina was born and raised in the Bay Area. A self-proclaimed social justice warrior, she is currently wrapping up her master's in women's and gender studies at University of Toronto, writing a thesis on Asian American mothers. As a Chinese Filipino American, she moves beyond the binaries that lock people into dichotomous thinking. She is a nerd: she loves reading, writing, and being in the classroom. She loves Filipino food, especially sinigang (sarap ng maasim!). She hopes to one day be a professor, sharing knowledge that empowers women and minority groups.