Note: Pinay is a term for a Filipina woman. It originated in the US, but was eventually introduced to the Philippines. The terms Filipino/Filipina are sometimes expressed as Filipinx, a gender neutral term which includes gender-nonconforming individuals. For the purposes of this article, we will be using the terms Pinay and Filipina (to refer to cis-, trans-, heteronormative and queer women of Philippine heritage).
I exited my Lyft, feeling awkward and very self-conscious of my body and the handwoven bolero I was wearing. How the butterfly sleeves so iconic of Filipiniana (traditional Filipino dress) felt very unbutterfly-like, instead feeling large and far more extravagant than I normally dressed. I wondered how I would be received today - this Canadian Pinay who was more accustomed to feeling left out than feeling included. What would this day be like?
I walked through the doorway, and it immediately felt like stepping into a fairytale. A fairytale of beautiful brown faces and bodies decorated in slews of colourful fabrics and textures and styles. Warriors of women. The first thing I heard was laughter, the kind that emerged deep from the belly and rang through. Pure, uninhibited, unapologetic. Stepping through this Filipina fairytale portal somehow transformed me. My insecurities melted aside. My arms previously stiff melted into wings.
All the women were here for the inaugural and oh so momentous Entrepinays Summit, a day-long event bringing together Pinay entrepreneurs at various stages of their journey.
Entrepinays: You Belong Here
Entrepinay is a mix of the words entrepreneur and Pinay. At the most basic level, the Entrepinays Summit was a conference for Pinay entrepreneurs in the San Francisco-Bay area, yet it became so much more than that.
As the scholar Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales so eloquently explained, the word ‘entre’ is French for ‘to be among, to belong.’ In a world where Pinays have faced discrimination, exclusion, and insurmountable difficulties both from within and outside of our community, here was the Entrepinays Summit beckoning and calling you, telling you, ‘you belong.’ It’s no wonder over 130 entrepinays came, travelling from Oakland, LA, Seattle, New York. And of course, your girl here from Toronto.
I came to this summit because I was selected as one of their lightning speakers, a series of brief three minute talks featuring various Pinay entrepreneurs. We were asked to share one key aspect of our journey and ‘how we entrepinay.’ There were nine of us, all huddled together in a circle at the start of the morning, giving each other pep talks and going through the rhythms of the morning. There was so much energy in the circle, nervousness but electricity.
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WELL THAT WAS AMAZING. I had the privilege to attend and be a lightning speaker at the inaugural @entrepinays summit this weekend in #SanFrancisco. 〰️ Let me tell you, being surrounded by a sea of BEAUTIFUL & BROWN #Filipinx faces felt like coming home. Someone (a dude, of course) asked me why we needed a summit just for Pinays, and I couldn’t really explain. But there is inherently something so unique about our collective experiences as Women and Filipinas that sets us apart, and brings us together. 〰️ I’ve never been more damned proud to be who I am. Ive never been more thankful to have @cambio_co as part of my journey. I’ve never felt so much Sisterhood and heartache and triumph and laughter and sadness and joy in one day. I barely have any photos of myself from the summit, but the ones I do have just feel like me. So, sisters, see y’all next year? 😍❤️ #entrepinays #magandangmorenx #empowermentisyou
“I’ve been corner crying in the bathroom,” one of us said.
Gina Mariko Rosales, the organizer and founder of events management company Make It Mariko, exclaimed, ‘No more corner crying! Outward crying today only!’ We all laughed.
Everyone got settled in their seats. Organizers Gina and Irene Faye Duller began the morning.
“It’s Filipino American history month. And this is a historic event!” Irene said to cheers.
The agenda was a jam-packed day of lightning talks, networking, workshops, and panels. In the morning, it was divided into workshops focused on Purpose - finding your purpose and turning it into something powerful. In the afternoon, the workshops were focused on Practice - practical workshops such as PR and marketing, scaling, and legal basics. In between, there were multiple panels that touched on all aspects of Pinay entrepreneurship, from decolonization to motherhood and wellness.
I was pleased and surprised by the depth and variety of topics. Gina said it best that morning, “Before we can learn about sales or marketing or PR, we gotta learn how to support our fella sisters.”
Top Left to Right: Ning Recio, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Glenda Macatangay, Angel Lobo, Pearl Parmalee (aka. Tita Pearl), Joanne Boston. Bottom left to right: Stephanie Gancayco, Juna Demavivas, Gina Mariko Rosales, Irene Faye Duller. Photo by Nicolas Photography.
Pinay Lightning Talks
We led straight into the lightning talks, and whooo it was powerful.
Irene was first. She spoke about single motherhood in the midst of finding herself. How she and her son moved halfway across the country, how she completed her masters as her son played beside her, how she still fought everyday, becoming a political organizer and activist. It was a testament to the magic of what it is to be us women, balancing work, family, love, fight, gentleness, and everything in between, reminiscent of our Filipina ancestors balancing banga pots on their heads on their way to fetch water from the rivers.
Next was Yana Gilbuena, chef and founder of Saloseries. She rose to fame after quitting her job and deciding to travel across the USA to host pop-up dinners as a way to introduce Filipino food and culture to the mainstream. Yana was funny and silly and poised, and I saw immediately how being able to laugh at oneself was a skill worthy of praise.
There was also Deanna Sison of Mestiza Taqueria, Paloma Concordia of PapaLoDown Agency, the artist Sammay, and Chera Amlag of Hood Famous BakeShop in Seattle. Andrea Barrica, a Pinay with experience working at one of the largest venture capital firms in the country, shared her journey being a queer woman of colour, and how she surpassed hurdles to raise millions of dollars of investment for her tech company and inclusive sex-ed platform, O.School.
When it was my turn, I was nervous. I had this entrance planned out, with a series of photos on a powerpoint slide I had painstakingly obsessed over. But in the excitement and nervousness of the day, I completely forgot about my poised entrance, my powerpoint slides, my carefully rehearsed pauses and lines. I got up onto the stage and I just began talking.
I talked about the last three years of my life building Cambio & Co. That when we started, neither Jérôme nor I knew anything about retail or marketing or fashion. At the beginning, we didn’t even know what to sell. So we started off selling hair scrunchies and greeting cards and a whole random collection of things.
Gelaine Santiago (me!) speaking at the Entrepinays Summit about our journey building Cambio & Co.
I spoke about what I learned. I learned about GRIT. I learned that grit, and having it, are inherently Filipino because I’ve witnessed it all my life from my immigrant parents. I witnessed grit from our Filipino partners, young entrepreneurs who lack access to resources yet still persevere. And I witness grit from the Filipino artisans who craft our products, battling through poverty and systems that actively oppress them, yet they do whatever they have to do to take care of their families. “You literally don’t need to know anything or anyone to be successful,” I said to a quiet room. “You just have to be willing to figure it out.”
The Diverse and United Filipina Experience
I came here alone, but I never felt alone. Throughout the day, people came up introducing themselves and thanking me. >Me! Many of them had already been following Cambio and knew of our work, others were just discovering us for the first time. But many shared how they’ve been afraid to start a business of their own, feeling daunted by their lack of experience and this sense of not being enough. Other women had been in business for years, and introduced themselves to me sharing how they went through the same things in their journey.
What I realize is that our stories as women, particularly women of colour and especially as Pinays, are diverse and varied, yet tied together with a common thread.
View this post on Instagram“I’ve never had it easy. But I’ve always had it good. And it’s because of the women I’ve had in my life.” ~ Glenda Macatangay @uppercloudmedia 〰️ Today is Canadian Thanksgiving, day 8 of #FilipinoAmericanHistoryMonth, and the day after the inaugural and oh so momentous @entrepinays summit. Yesterday was a floodgate of emotion, heartache, learning, unlearning and JOY. We’ve got so much to say, but long story short: we got a lot to be thankful for. Thank you, Sisters ❤️🙌🏽 #empowermentisyou #entrepinay #pinayism
There was also the bigger-than-life Pearl Parmalee (aka. Tita Pearl), the first woman to study aeronautic engineering in the Philippines. Although she had been among the top in her class, she failed to pass her physical exams and had to give up her dream of becoming a pilot.
“When you don’t know what to do, don’t look back. Only move forward.” Tita Pearl shared. And move forward she has, becoming a vocal and active leader of the Filipino Food Movement in the US.
What is it about being Pinay that makes our experiences so unique? Why did we need the Entrepinays Summit?
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Still gleaming from yesterday’s @entrepinays Summit | What an inspiring, powerful, and positive day with my fellow Pinay sisters. Thank you, @entrepinays for creating a space for us to come together and I look forward to connecting with everyone. I left feeling loved, NOT alone, and more empowered than ever. Community is everything. Always FORWARD! #entrepinays
Perhaps the answer is best explained in the last panel of the day, called Mama Makers: Motherhood and Wellness, a uniquely forward and honest panel that shared diverse perspectives on what it means to be whole, whether that means starting a family or not.
One woman in the audience raised her hand, and bravely asked a question. She was afraid, she said through tears, of starting a family. She left home when she was young, grew up in a broken household with a long history of abuse and neglect and generations of men who were absent. She dreams of starting a family, but she was afraid of doing it all alone.
There was silence in the room, tears streaming down brown faces. Some of them silently recounting their own experiences in their heads. Finally, Glenda Macatangay spoke, with resolve in her voice. “I’ve never had it easy, but I’ve always had it good. And it’s because of the women in my life.”
“You were made for this. And nobody in this room is going to let you do it alone.”
The Entrepinays Summit featured a panel on Mama Makers: Motherhood and Wellness. From left to right: In memory of Dawn Mabalon, Gayle Romasanta, Paloma Concordia, Glenda Macatangay, Angel Lobo, and Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales at front.
The Power of Sisterhood
There’s a theory that trauma is inherited. That horrors like slavery and colonialism are so dark they not only alter our landscapes and family structures, but they reach past our connective tissues and organs and bones,literally altering our DNA. The theory says that such severe pain and trauma can be inherited, passed down from generation to generation through our genes.
I’m no scientist, but I think the same could apply for intense love and sacrifice. The kind a mother makes when she works overseas, leaving her family for years at a time so she can send money back home. Or the kind of love you would witness on an afternoon like this one, with 130 Pinays holding hands in a circle, overcoming our own heartbreak and struggles and stories of pain, to be here for one other.
I think there’s something to be said about the power of love, how it can shape and alter our identities for generations. For the love we all witnessed and felt in that room was the earth shattering, DNA-altering, time-travelling kind.