Brown Girl, You Belong

I started drafting this on a bus and then started crying. That’s how I knew it was important for me to write. I dedicate this one to Jaz — a young and brilliant creator, activist and fellow Filipina who sent me a beautiful message about representation and inspired me to write. Hope you like!

Today, I am unemployed. Three days ago, I walked out of the Instagram offices for the last time. And I’m not gonna lie — I’m a little sad to be dropping out of the rat race, y’all.

Of course, it’s exciting and sexy and deliciously middle-finger-to-the-man to quit our jobs and travel indefinitely. It does feel like a bragging point to be like, “Y’all have fun with your 13-meeting work days! And abusive relationships with Outlook! And cramping while climbing the corporate ladder! WE OUT.”

However, here’s a detour for ya:
I have been in a lot of mostly-white spaces in my career.

At this point, I am very aware that alongside my skills and talents, my brown face existing in white spaces matters. A lot. Black and brown skin existing in any typically-not-black-or-brown setting matters to other black and brown-skinned people, young and old. That’s just math.

And I feel a little bit guilty leaving my career track and, in my tiny-impact way, leaving those mostly-white spaces with one less POC that someone else can look to and go, “Oh. Look at that. We can belong there.”

 giphy (3)

Raise your hand if you saw Hamilton.
Raise your other hand if it was hard to watch Hamilton because you were sobbing the literal entire time.

The parts that made me cry hardest were when there were lots of folks onstage — like the final song, Who Lives Who Dies. The entire cast is standing there, belting out face up to the audience. And almost every one of those faces belonged to a person of color.

I sobbed because scenes like that did a very basic and profound thing to me. They shouted very clearly to the tiny 12-year-old in my soul — the one who gave up on budding Broadway dreams pretty early on because, what? Dark-skinned Asians onstage, onscreen, on anything, bish where?

It was like they were yelling right at me:
“Brown girl, look.
You belong on this stage, just like us.”

(Shit. I’m crying again.)


I’m writing this because representation — the simple ability to see, with your eyeballs, someone who looks like you in a physical space you hope to occupy — matters so fucking much. On any scale. It may be incredibly narcissistic to lay out my achievements like this, but before I hop out of the career world, if I can give anyone a fraction of how I felt seeing the brown-ass Hamilton cast onstage with my own eyeballs, then it matters.

Now, this is of course applicable to any POC and/or person in a minority or oppressed group.

But I’m talking specifically to the young Filipino and Asian women around the world who don’t see dark brown Asian skin in the places their soul wants to be.
Because when I was growing up, I wish someone talked to me this way.

This is for us.


Brown girl, you belong in journalism.

Someone tweeted this picture of us former/current Seventeen Magazine staff at a holiday get-together. Another person tweeted back, “Oh, wow. TONS of diversity on the Seventeen staff, huh?” …….*SIPS A GALLON OF TEA*

Brown girl, you belong in tech.

Sept 24, 2015: My first day working at Instagram/Facebook. Right away, I let ’em know.
Also, we have to talk about my epic Summer 2017 interns – Nia, Jordan and Joy. Here we are lollin’ at a team dinner. Folks: This is black and brown brilliance thriving in your tech companies. Adjust your eyes to this immediately.

Brown girl, you belong in magazine bylines.

Baby’s first byline in a national print magazine, Seventeen – 13-year-old Berna’s actual dream come true. (And on a story on teens + race, no less.)
And, everyone: Michelle Tan, Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen, the woman/goddess/also POC who made this byline possible (& snuck me here onto her Editor’s Letter, too.)

Brown girl, you belong in magazine features.

Glamour UK did a feature on my work at IG. Photographer and everything. It was wild.

Brown girl, you belong next to political dignitaries.

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 10.31.28 AM
While working at Instagram, I was asked to host a Q&A with Secretary Madeleine Albright on International Womens’ Day. I politely declined LOLOL JK ARE YOU KIDDING ME, I NEARLY BARFED W/ HONOR AND DISBELIEF
Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 10.31.19 AM
What a damn dream she/all of this is/was.

Brown girl, you belong onstage.

UN stage
I didn’t perform a ton this year, but I did hit up some stages all adult-like. Here’s a terrible screenshot of my livestreamed talk at the GirlUp Youth Summit in DC. But it’s cool, cause…
UN frame
… they sent me a very mom-pride-friendly photo afterwards.

Brown girl, you belong at the United Nations.

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 10.54.00 AM
I was asked to speak on youth activism on social media at the United Nations Youth Summer Summit in August 2017. It was my second time speaking at the UN this year. Who’s life?

Brown girl, you belong on Team Debt Freeeeee.

loanpayoff gif.gif
Fave footage from when we completely paid off $50,000 in student loans this August. Also guys I learned how to make gifs guys

Brown girl:
You belong wherever the fuck.

firstday remix
One mo’ time, but with a small rewrite.


— Berna


7 thoughts on “Brown Girl, You Belong

    1. WAAAH. Thank you, Mac! You’re an OG figure of “I’m a strong ass woman and I do what TF I want, please get out of my way” in my life. Hope to see you on the road!


      1. Would love for you to come up to Seattle and visit! We are also super close to Canada so it it’s international you want, we could grab a cuppa joe in BC! 😜😘


      2. MAC. I don’t know why I’m just seeing this, but I would loooove, love to see you in Seattle! Will keep you in my brain once we come back to ‘Merka in November. Thank you!!


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