We’re on the cusp of a cultural shift and this young content creator is front and center
Since migrating with her family and planting roots in California, Filipino-African American Asia Jackson is back in the Philippines. At long last, after 13 years, it’s time for Miss Jackson’s homecoming.
Her first order of business, however, is not to rest or enjoy a little downtime. From the airport, it’s straight to a press lunch for the girl power festival she and twelve other digital content creators were to participate in. It’s an undertaking that hits close to home, so getting no rest is no problem; she’s all smiles, eager to share stories. The day of our interview is worth noting—it’s extra special for Jackson because it’s also the two-year anniversary of her brainchild, #MagandangMorenx.
Borne out of a desire to do something meaningful for Filipino-American Heritage Month, the young YouTube star took a selfie, took to Twitter and posted it with a hashtag that means, quite straightforwardly, “beautiful brown skin.” It was a move that has since taken on a life of its own, opening up the floodgates for taking a stand against the archaic whiter-is-better narrative in the Philippines. One by one, people began posting their personal stories with colorism along with their beautiful proud-to-be-Morenx selfies. A single hashtag, a viral moment that paved the way for a dialogue that had been a long time coming. And if the new movement in beauty is about rejecting long-established and elitist beauty standards, getting real about mestiza privilege and challenging Western beauty norms, we are all for it.
Wonder: It’s been two fantastic years for the #MagandangMorenx movement. Congratulations, Asia!
Asia Jackson: Thank you so much! You know, I never imagined that it would grow into something like this or get this far, but I’m so glad that the people who need to see it are seeing it.
W: And the thing is moreno and morena are words Spanish-speaking and understanding communities know, so they can get a grasp on the movement, too, somehow.
Asia: That’s so true! When the hashtag first went viral, there were a lot of people in Latin America who were receptive to the dialogue that was happening. They were, like: ‘this happens in our culture, too!’ so #MagandangMorenx not only started a conversation within the Filipino-American community, but conversations within other cultures as well.
W: What are some of your favorite responses since the hashtag blew up?
Asia: My favorite responses are always from those who personally DM or email me, telling me that that simple hashtag changed their minds about using whitening creams and things like that. In fact, there was one email I got––and it always makes me want to cry when I think about it––where someone who saw the #MagandangMorenx thread expressed how overcome with gratitude she was over the movement; it changed her mind about getting glutathione injections.
W: Wow. To want to change the color of your skin from the inside-out just goes to show how deeply ingrained the one-dimensional Western beauty standard is in this country.
Asia: It really is. You know, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that hey, okay, this is one idea of beauty being put out there. The fault lies in just the one particular type of beauty the media perpetuates or the media wants you to be. But the truth is, if you walk down the street––any of these streets right here––everyone is different. There are many different skin tones, so many different features and I think it’s unfair to have this insane single and specific beauty standard that other people are made to feel they have to conform to.
W: Would you say that in your case, as a proud African American and proud Filipina, you’ve had to deal with not one but several restricting beauty standards?
Asia: Yes. I have a really unique experience with colorism in that, in black communities, I’m considered light-skinned. Sadly, there is bias even toward light-skinned black people within the community. I’m not going to deny that I have benefited from that unfortunate reality at some point. But among Asians, I’m made fun of for my skin color. I’m too light [to be black] and too dark [to be Asian] at the same time, so I kind of experience both sides of the coin.
W: And what was your experience like growing up in the Philippines?
Asia: When I lived here, I remember people making snide remarks about my skin tone. And I was always just really confused, because no one had said that about my skin color before. Then it started becoming even more blatant and really mean. People called me negra and the n-word and things like that. I was always like, ‘how do you guys even know that word?!’ [Laughs]
W: How did you typically react to scenarios like that?
Asia: At first, I tried to ignore it, but it was just so prevalent. People kept going at it and saying it. It made me so angry. I remember one time, one of my classmates who was a boy called me the n-word while I was riding the shuttle to school. I was not having a good day. I got so mad. I had a textbook in my hand and I hit him right on the head with it. I was, like, ‘I am done with this.’ [Laughs] After that happened, he never said anything of that sort to me ever again. Now, to be clear, I am in no way advocating violence; I’m just saying that if you need to stand up for yourself, do it. No one is going to ride harder for you than you.
W: Amen. Anyway, you just hit that guy with a little intellect…a little aggressively. Can’t fault you for that. While we’re talking about your younger years though, can you tell us a bit about growing up in a mixed-race household?
Asia: Growing up, I thought it was completely normal to have two parents that looked different from one another. The concept of race was a concept but not an issue for me as a child: I just knew that my dad looked a certain way and my mom looked a certain way, and I looked like both of them. [Laughs] I thought that’s what all families were! Then I learned very quickly outside that that wasn’t how it was. But I’m grateful for my parents who raised me to be open-minded. I was taught not to treat others differently because of how they look or where they stand in some “social hierarchy,” and I think my upbringing really fostered my passion for different social issues.
W: Navigating your teenage years and dealing with peer and societal pressures, what would you say was the biggest personal demon you had to fend off?
Asia: You know, dealing with identity was a really huge personal demon. There were a lot of different people and communities telling me, dictating to me, who I was and who I wasn’t. In the Philippines, people were saying oh you’re not really Filipino because you’re only half-Filipino. In the US, my being mixed race meant I was “not really black.” And when I was around the white community, well, obviously I’m not white. [Laughs]
W: Any life lessons you feel you had to learn the hard way?
Asia: As a young person, you’re obviously a lot more vulnerable to self-esteem issues because you don’t know who you are yet. So, when people step in to tell you who you are, you take it in thinking that kind of input will help you figure it out.
And I realized, growing older, that people’s opinions may also have something to do with the self-esteem issues they are also coming to terms with. There’s a saying that goes: “how we judge others is how we judge ourselves.” And if people are just indirectly using you as an outlet for their frustrations with themselves and what they deem are flaws, you of course shouldn’t let that define you or let it be the be-all and end-all of your personal journey.
W: Lastly, how has your understanding of colorism changed through the years?
Asia: It started as: ‘Oh, because I’m dark-skinned, I’m considered ugly and I could never be beautiful.’ As I got older, I realized that colorism is a much more pervasive issue. It’s enough to hinder others from getting jobs, for example. The frequency of extra-judicial killings is a lot higher, too, for members of the black community, because there is implicit bias. And now, I know that issues on colorism go beyond the lack of representation in the media and challenging beauty standards. Colorism actually affects people’s livelihoods. So, while #MagandangMorenx focuses on media representation and the beauty aspects, I want to keep reminding people about the bigger issue at hand.
Photography Edward Joson
Art Alexandra Lara