Womxn Who Exude #WalangHiya

Middle photo from Kathara’s Facebook

Given the quick turnaround on the #WalangHiya project, the first few days of March have yet to be assigned to anyone. So to kick off some of the unique narratives coming up, I’m dedicating this post to uplift the work of Filipinx womxn that live with walang hiya because honestly, they don’t get enough coverage and we don’t get enough exposure. 


Fe del Mundo

Photo credit: Amazing Women in History

Fe del Mundo was a Filipinx pediatrician and the first womxn to be admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1936 — over ten years before the school officially began admitting womxn. Womxn before her had applied but didn’t get in. Fe got in because the school didn’t realize her gender. When the school realized their mistake upon her arrival, they didn’t turn her away because of high marks.

Talk about living with #WalangHiya. I can only imagine what it’s like to be the only Filipinx womxn in her classes, what kind of support (or lack of support) she received.

Kathara, a Filipinx Collective & Butterflies in Spirit, an Indigenous Dance Troupe

[Click photo for video; tw: sexual abuse]

In Canada, Lorelei Williams, founder of the Indigenous dance troupe, Butterflies in Spirit and Babette Santos, founder of the Filipinx collective, Kathara first came together in their desire to take the violence they both lived through growing up and turn it into a healing opportunity for others.

Their decision to take something dark and heavy and turn it into healing work is inspiring. In modern Filipinx culture (and honestly, many cultures) , sexual assault is a tabooed topic. The general feeling I get from my Filipinx communities is if we don’t talk about it, the problem will go away. Work like Williams’ and Santos’ makes me think otherwise. How can we heal if we do not confront our wounds?

To Butterflies in Spirit & Kathara, for demonstrating how living #WalangHiya can be healing work.

Barbara Jane Reyes

Barbara Jane Reyes is an amazing poet who was born in Manila and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I actually had the privilege of meeting her briefly during my time at Seattle University through a Poetry Reading that my Filipinx Cultural Club hosted and I emceed. She actually wrote the following poem titled “To Be Walang Hiya:”

Bubblegum lip gloss kissed,                   Our lifelines, our mirrors,

I was never a singkil princess                 These are Luminous Mysteries — 

Knuckle cracking, polished toes,              Our notebooks, our language,

I was never a Santacruzan queen           To witness, to make way,

Black eyeliner, push up bra                     Our thirst and our wedding bands —

I was never a curtsying debutante           To fill stone jars with water, to wed,

Loud, gum-smacking babygirl                Our glamour and our armor.

I was never a tiaraed Miss Fil Am          To transfigure, dazzling as the sun.

My personal favorite lines are “our notebooks, our language / to witness, to make way.” It encompasses why I write, why I am even attempting to put my perspective into words. My writing is as much for me as it is for making way for new ideas, making way for folks around me, and making way for generations after me. Fe del Mundo made way for womxn to go to Harvard Medical, and made way for Filipinx womxn who want to be doctors. Babette Santos and Lorelei Williams are making way for womxn to heal from sexual violence. Barbara Jane Reyes is making way for more Filipinx poets. Every decision we make has the potential to push the envelope and make way for others — making those kinds of deicisions is what it means to live life with #WalangHiya.

If you know of any other Filipinx militant femme and womxn diaspora, let me know.

This post is part of the Reclaiming #WalangHiya Project; see the landing page for more narratives.

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