Filipinx American Spotlight: Interview with Sheena She
You are a film photographer. When did you first realize your affinity for photography? What is your “origin” story?
My origin story is pretty simple! I was always asked to take photos when I was younger during family gatherings. I came from the era of film and never left it. I really enjoyed capturing moments, especially family. My Papa Dodong would always show his slide film from his travels in the sala on a projector and I always loved the way his photos exuded so much life and energy in a single frame. Those were my inspirations as well as family photo albums. Those are special moments and photography especially on film upholds those emotions for me.First camera I used was my mother’s Vivitar Pocket 110 camera that came with her from the Philippines. When I can, I would borrow the family 35mm camera and if not, I carried a disposable camera. During middle and high school, I documented so much on a disposable.
Can you tell us about your projects? Where can we see your works?
Ever since I moved I have just been working on trying to capture people in Houston, Texas. Getting subjects and even my foot into the art scene here has been challenging so when I can, I work on personal projects. I shot a roll of me light painting with a friend and I also have been trying self portraits using long exposure as well as multiple exposures. I post mostly on Instagram and you can find me: @thefilmbruja
Do you feel that social media has helped artists? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?
I think social media has its perks and downsides. You can find inspiration but to be completely honest, it has been boring me as of late - especially Instagram! It definitely is a great platform when you use hashtags but I wouldn’t base it all on that. I still believe in word of mouth, showing your work within the community and locals, and engaging in the art scenes. I’m really into Twitter at the moment and I feel the film community that I follow on that platform engage more and I really like how you can retweet. The platform that has helped me most in marketing myself would be me going out into the world, speaking to people, working with people, and actually putting in community work. In those spaces you can give out your social media handles and you can get your followers as well that way. I still believe in stepping outside and socialize your media that way!
How do you define being Filipinx American for yourself?
Someone who is trying to evolve and re-educate the washed mentality of most Pilipino Americans. Fighting for how we can still be closed minded on the LGBQT+ community as well as darker skin asians. I come from indigenous roots as well and I try to uphold that as that is something so special to me. My mother is from the Higaonon tribe, my lolo and tito were tribe leaders.
What would you change about the mainstream perception of Filipinx Americans?
Being Pilipino American is more than being “Asian” we are our own identity - PILIPINO.
How would you encourage more involvement of Filipinx American with politics/events in the Philippines?
I’m not one into politics as my own view on Duterte is negative. However, I encourage Pilipinos to learn the different struggles within their community, talk to the people, stop listening to the news, fight for the diaspora and the try to regain what it was like for our history. Encourage keeping our roots alive before Westerners came and washed away what it is being Pilipino.
Being Filipinx enough is a concern shared with many Filipinx Americans. Do you feel this? If so, how do you combat this feeling of inadequacy?
Growing up in a small town in Lodi, New Jersey, I always felt not enough amongst my own race. Whether it was because I didn’t speak Tagalog and I am Bisaya. I feel like that was then and now as we grew up, I feel little by little we are coming together. I was always brought up to be friends with everyone, my parents instilled in me: kindness. I battle inadequacy by surrounding myself with a mixture of people that have known and grown to accept me. To me “being Pilipino enough or not” is just a mere projection on them onto me. I don’t have time for that type of negativity.
Did you always embrace your culture? If so, who taught you? If not, what inspired this change?
Honestly yes. I grew up in a household where the culture never left til this day. My entire family is a village - they always taught me.
What do you know about your family history?
On Papa’s side - it’s not too shared often but I know my great grandfather was a priest. On mama’s side - she is mestiza and indigenous. She grew up poor and lived in a nipa hut house. She has so many stories that I can always listen.
Do you speak a Filipinx language? If so, which one? Does this knowledge influence your work?
I was born in Cagayan de Oro and we speak Bisaya. I think being Pilipino influences my work somehow. Not sure where but I am very creative and artistic.
What are your thoughts on learning a Filipinx language as a Filipinx American? Is it necessary to you? Why or why not?
I think it’s always great to learn a language. But it doesn’t make you less or more Pilipino.
Do you feel obligated to talk about the Filipinx American experience because you are Fil-Am? Why or why not?
I do! We are always less represented in the Asian community, so I am always sharing any bit of the culture!
How in your writing do you express being Filipinx, whether implicitly or explicitly? Being American?
When I express being Pilipino, I am always sharing about food, mannerisms, down to our slang. I am not sure what being American is besides the fact that I live here and speak English and yes, I have a progressive way of thinking but I think it helps to evolve especially coming from a family that still is a bit stuck in their old school Pilipino ways. It helps me, help them or correct them.
What parts of your identity do you feel conflict? How do you reconcile these differences?
I grew up where the man of the household is the hierarchy and everything is right. I am conflicted with that because of my own beliefs and growing up to stay quiet and respect. I just learned to be at peace and fight certain battles. When you have a mentality that doesn’t want to change, then I will be the change. However, I will always stand up when needed.
Who are you, and how do you want the Filipinx American community to know you?
My name is Sheena She an indigenous Pilipino and women of many talents. I am a retired makeup artist, black belt, who loves connecting people and helping. I am a film photographer and currently living in Houston, Texas via Newark, NJ. I am just someone super genuine, minds my own business, but will get business done!
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.