Inspiring Interview: Stephanie Gancayco of Hella Pinay

Inspiring Interview: Stephanie Gancayco of Hella Pinay
Posted on 06/06/2018 . 1:03pm

Most of the people we follow on our feed are friends of friends. Or, we just happened to come across their account after so many others have either mentioned/tagged them. This happened with Pinay Collective and this soon happened with Hella Pinay.

Fellow Bay Area native Stephanie Gancayco holds the title as founder & editor in chief of the publication that aims to: seek to create a space for positive representation of the diversity and complexity of Filipina womxn, and facilitate dialogue between Pinays in the Philippines and throughout the diaspora. Frustrated by the lack of representation of Filipinas in mainstream media, Hella Pinay was created as a platform for us to tell our own stories; a space for conversations on identity, decolonization, spirituality, creativity, and celebration of dope Pinay sh*t.

Last week, we hopped on a phone call with Stephanie and talked everything out. Starting from the very beginning to eventually talking about another project of hers, her clothing line HALIYA. It was an honest conversation about identity that we bet so many others reading this can relate to.

TFCU: Read that you first started Hella Pinay as an Instagram platform. When did you decide for this to be an actual digital publication?
Stephanie Gancayco: I honestly didn’t really have any kind of roadmap at all. I’ve just been having a lot of these conversations with other Filipino women, whether it be women in the Philippines or women here, about identity. A lot of it was sparked by my Tagalog teacher who is half-African American and half-Filipino but she was born in the Philippines. I’m half-Filipino and half-Mexican and white so we kind of have opposite experiences, in a way. Such as the colorism but opposite ends of the spectrum but also incredibly similar. I felt like I saw the same themes popping up. I would say to people, “I wish there was kind of an online platform where people talked about this stuff.” And people said, “Why don’t you just do it?”

I’ve written for the school paper but that’s not really my background. It kind of just happened. I started doing a lot of research and finding out about a lot of other cool Pinays and thought, “Oh, let me start to feature them. Put stuff on this Instagram.” If wanted to do more interviews and stuff I thought, I might as well have a website like a magazine.

What was your background before this since you mentioned this wasn’t your background at all?
I went to Art school and worked in the fashion industry for 10 years.

What have you learned while in the process of putting together Hella Pinay? How did you eventually figure it all out?
I feel like I’m still figuring it out. [laughs] I’ve had to learn everything. I built the website myself – I don’t know how to design a website. It’s just kind of an organic thing. I don’t even know if I should tell people this. I haven’t really done research on how to do things. It’s just been a day-by-day like, “Hey, I want to see this or I want to do this.” I’m just gonna do it. Trial-and-error. Teaching myself how to do things. I’ve been really lucky to have had a lot of people reaching out to me and wanting to help. It’s been also about asking for help because I can’t do everything. I don’t know how to write about everything, I’m not an expert in really anything Filipino culture related. It’s been about reaching out to the right people and the right people reached out to me. It’s all worked out really well. [laughs]

When you do reach out to people, is there a certain quality you look for in a person?
It’s just been kind of right time, right place, right situation thing. It just keeps happening. I feel like I go with my intuition a lot. [For example] With Pia Cortez, who writes our Get Lit column, I’ve been wanting to have a column called Get Lit. Then, I found she also had a blog and saw that’s one of the things she does. Things have just really fallen into place kind of easily! *knock on wood*

How do you juggle it all?
It’s a lot of work, I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard. I definitely feel that I’m not moving as quickly with all my projects or being able to devote myself fully to anything as much as I want to. It’s also about being flexible and trying to not really be hard on myself. There’s a lot more I want to be doing and I feel like I could be pushing myself a lot harder. But, I also think about how I ended up having a health situation and that was from not taking care of myself (not eating, sleeping, working out). I really try to prioritize myself as well. I believe that the right people will come in to help me and that things will happen in due time.

How has your family/friends responded to all your work dedicated to your projects?
They don’t really know what I do/aren’t interested. It’s been really interesting. I think they think that I don’t work. I’ve had an experience, even with my mom, where I sent her articles and she’s like, “I don’t know what it is that you do” and I’m like, “OK, cool.” [laughs] I’ve just kind of learned to let that go and not beat myself up about it.

I don’t try to validate myself through what other people have to say. It’s just like, whatever. Although I will say that I do have a couple of titas in the Philippines who are super dope and are also similar to me – very independent, very much into pre-colonial culture/Filipino history. I would say that a lot of the work that I do, and the reason my family isn’t interested in it, is because they have a very colonized mentality. It’s really weird.

Props to you for keep going with it though!
Yeah, it’s hella weird. It’s something I didn’t realize until I started doing this work maybe in the past few years ‘cause you know, growing up, it’s like, “Yeah, we’re Filipino. Filipino stuff is cool.” But when I’ve gone into the deeper work of writing about history and working with indigenous people […] I realized how Americanized my family in the states are. Like, the ones who didn’t marry other Filipinos (e.g. my mom). There’s just so many connections that I make! Like, I use her maiden name but she uses my dad’s last name still. I thought about it and was like, “Is it because it makes her seem more white?” I don’t know. There’s been a lot of different things that I’ve noticed.

You didn’t choose your last name, right?
Yeah… Complicated. Which is why I have Hella Pinay! [laughs] To talk about all these complicated, weird things!

Since you didn’t have that knowledge to grow up with, how did you go about researching your culture?
So, I started getting sick in 2014/2015 but wasn’t really diagnosed until 2016. Around that time, I was having kind of a spiritual crisis. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for 12 years but was never into it. It never vibed with me. I started getting into other types of spirituality. I’ve always been to tarot cards. My family calls me Bruha. I kept going to gatherings and a lot of it was Afro-Latino women or black women and they were connected to their ancestral practices. It was stuff that I could relate to but it didn’t feel like it was me because that’s not my ancestry so I started to really research and look into a lot of that stuff more. That’s when I started to be like, “I should just put this online and share it with people” because a lot of it is in the academic realm or you have to do it first hand – go to the Philippines and interact with indigenous people there who are still practicing these beliefs. That’s kind of what got me started and also doing the clothing line (HALIYA).

When did you start you HALIYA?
I had the collection in summer 2016 but I didn’t fully release it or do much with it until this past Fall.

The Panubok?
Yeah. That’s the name of the Panay embroidery.

Do you plan on doing more for Fall 2018?
Yeah, I’m trying to. I was supposed to release a collection for Spring but just because, moving across the country, it just wasn’t able to pull together. I’m actually working on it now and hopefully, I’ll be able to release it by the Fall.

What do you hope the future of Hella Pinay and your clothing line to be like?
Since I’ve been back in the Bay, there’s been a lot of really exciting things in the works. I feel like I don’t really want to jinx it and say too much about it. We’ll definitely be branching into events which is kind of the main thing I wanted to do when I first started it. I wanted to do sister circles – I did one in Manila when I was there a couple of months ago. It was pretty dope.

Saw that! That was cool.
Yeah! It’s so important to have healing spaces. I also want to do parties. I did one in New York and it was super fun. Doing different types of events that are really highlighting Filipino women/peeps. It’s our time finally in more mainstream culture. Especially with like Ruby Ibarra, you know? People who are making a statement and people are like, “Oh, Filipino people are people who exist and have culture!” Just pushing for more visibility. Having our stories be heard and more told by us. Not having people put all these stereotypes on us. Keep pushing.

Lastly – since we’re all about inspirational quotes on TFCU, what’s your favorite quote of all time?
Grace Lee Boggs. “You make your path by walking.” I put this on my Facebook hella years ago.

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