A Critical Look at Inclusive Growth

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetHere’s another throwback pulled from my freshman year column at The Hoya:

There has been lots of buzz these days about inclusive growth and wealth redistribution. So much so that even a humble intern like myself feels the need to grapple with such big issues. It’s come up at every social innovation event I’ve been to and with every entrepreneur I’ve spoken with in Manila. Even back on the Hilltop, The Hoya recently published a column called “The Promise of Reverse Innovation” (The Hoya, July 2, 2015, A3). In a nutshell, the idea is to create business models that target the poorest of the poor. Instead of focusing on wealthy nations, the goal is to look beyond the developed world and break into the untapped markets of those in poverty.

Theoretically, this approach is a win-win. Businesses increase profits and impoverished communities move one level up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What’s there to criticize? Up until this past weekend, I couldn’t think of anything. This was the groundbreaking answer to development. But then, my fellowship took a trip to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, poster child of inclusive growth for Filipino slums. There, I realized that inclusive growth could take on many forms, some sinister, some revolutionary. Depending on the context, combining optimized profit with social change can be insidiously ironic or incredibly empowering. Continue reading

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Check Your Privilege

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I’m about to write about economic inequality in the Philippines while sipping on third-wave coffee in a boutique cafe. Is something wrong with this picture? I’ve only lived in the Philippines for a month, but I’ve jumped headfirst into the conversation on its social issues. Within my summer fellowship, I’m the “bougie” one, thanks to my love of yoga, food blogs, vegetarianism and indie magazines. All these things now feel questionably irrelevant outside my East Coast bubble, but I still find myself pining for that lifestyle in Manila. As a Filipino-American returning to the motherland, I’m constantly reminded to “check my privilege.” It’s been harder than I thought. Continue reading

Manila Mysteries

11890969_990661064298096_6093648069736031015_nHow do I describe the textures of Manila?

Standing at a busy street corner with rumbling jeepneys and pressing crowds around me, I try to pin down the unfamiliar energies of the city. For me, its an ambivalent sensation of excitement, unease, curiosity and caution, all rolled into one. While trying to navigate Manilas vibrant, gritty streets, Ive learned firsthand the importance of flexibility and respect when it comes to the unknown. As I witness the mix of East and West here in Manila, I realize that the chances of confronting the unfamiliar are increasing for everyone. Continue reading

Transcending Ethnicity

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When I think of who I am, my first instinct is to define myself using personality traits rather than by ethnicity. I often wonder why many multicultural people intuitively do the opposite. Have I dishonored my heritage by not prioritizing Filipino-American as my core identity? My personal reflections on race have been admittedly stifled. I probably don’t give enough praise to Filipino culture as I should. I’m not sure if I’m to blame for this or if my parents are, with their progressive break from conventional Filipino customs when they came to America. Then again, exactly how much attention does my cultural identity merit, when in reality, the things I believe distinguish me (indecisiveness, corny humor, chocolate habit, introversion, soccer) don’t involve it? In such a global and diverse community as Georgetown, just how important is one’s ethnicity when it comes to identity? Continue reading

NEW DAWN, NEW ERA, DEMI LOVATO. Alternate title: Out from the Shadows

An important announcement, an even more important metaphor, and a random moment of life reflection. I’ll regret this later, but let’s get personal.

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I once had a secret dream two years ago to become a legitimate fashion blogger. Today, my furtive efforts to achieve that dream have been revealed. Against all odds, I have officially imported my old fashion blog of two years, Coco Carte Blanche, into my new supposedly literary blog of barely two months. (The Fraicheurie Files starts where Coco Carte Blanche ends, after the post, “l’art pour l’art,” and with the inaugural post, “A Riotous Introduction of Sorts“). The result is a mishmash mutt of a personal compendium with little sense of what direction it’s headed in or where it came from to begin with, which works well as a life metaphor for me personally.

Moving on to that important metaphor.

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Amour, You Stupid Thing

As it were, her story was never one about romance.

tumblr_n5086gFZUK1qc08oho1_500On a yellow beach towel spread upon the sand lay a sunburnt girl of 17. She had an easy smile and an ethnicity that was never fully confirmed. Often, but not always, she turned heads when she walked, out of what she could only imagine to be people’s bemusement. The attention made her notably self-conscious. She had full, soft lips like a cloud that had yet to be kissed. Her eyes, dark and shining, could seduce unwittingly, but only with handsome strangers she passed on the streets. Once at age 16, she became entangled in an innocent friendship with a Spanish boy at summer camp. To her stifled dismay, it never amounted to much more. That was the extent of her love life.

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Les Gaufres, The Waffles

photo copyI have an unhealthy addiction to beautiful photographs of beautiful people.

I check Instagram every thirty minutes and log onto Tumblr for hours at a time. I go on Facebook to stalk the people with glittering lives and find them through what I can only imagine to be sheer desperation. The glitziest crowd is the Manhattanites. I once met a dark-haired girl over the summer who lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side, a true-life Gossip Girl in the flesh, hailing from Argentina’s international elite, with a backstory worthy of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

She vacations in Paris with her closest girlfriends, and they parade around the hotel room with thin flutes of champagne and dressed in nothing but white bathrobes, probably scented with roses. I know this because there are pictures of it all over Facebook. It’s an absurd life, but it looks amazing on camera, frozen into place and glossed over with a vintage filter. Nothing looks quite right these days without a filter over it. In fact, it would be a real discomfort, an act of defiance, to see a photo Instagrammed in unvarnished color, with no sepia or burnt-orange tinges and only the truth, black and white as ever. Continue reading

A Riotous Introduction of Sorts.

tumblr_mjlbvy7zp71r0hz4io1_1280I grew up in a world of mildly rich people with dippy problems.

These problems often concern serious trifles gone awry. A majority of them deal with the three final rungs on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization. As for the people, we’re not The Rich Kids of Instagram. We don’t have inheritances or titles. But many of us are moderately wealthy tykes of the Lexus-driving variety and we all just graduated from the Academy, which comes with its own presumptions. We’re (more or less) well-educated and well-off, and we advocate for little brown children in South America via Valencia-tinged Instagram feeds. We’re also fiercely suburban, albeit in denial of the fact. As it seems, life is an absolute idyll for us, as absolute an idyll as the 1950s American Dream in 2014 can be.

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Announcement (plus a story, which is why this post is so long)

If anyone out there reads this blog regularly, you’ve probably noticed the dwindling number of posts I’ve been getting around to. Truth be told, my fashion blogging craze has begun to lose its sparkle and I’ve started drifting off towards other quote-on-quote “creative projects.” Over the past week, I’ve been cooking up a short story, so I’ll post the first few paragraphs at the end of this post to prove it to you. Hopefully, I’ll be blending in more creative pieces into the typical fodder of le blog.

Start of untitled short story:

The golden sun, milky and pure, that poured into the road took me by surprise. And so did the skinny ribbon of cracked asphalt, and the wheat fields miles away from any shopping center or subdivision. Something raw and wild crept out from behind the landscape. From the rusty pick up trucks that spotted the curbs, to the creaking traffic lights that swung above the intersections, something was wedged between the cracks of it all that felt blissfully untouched. I couldn’t tell you how, but the world that lined route 463 felt perfectly removed from the rest of the universe that whirled beyond it. It was a beautiful anachronism, the idea of a two-lane road that stretched for miles like a quaint curving stripe. I sped along it with a goofy smile smeared on my face and music pumping through the speaker system, a study in smooth happiness.
Eventually, I reached the hills. They bubbled up and down making the road rise and fall and twist back over itself. I drove right past Mill Road, where I was supposed to turn right. I had to make a looping U-turn through a sparse neighborhood in order to get back to it. Driving on Mill Road was like riding a children’s roller coaster, one of those wooden Gemini Jr. ones that didn’t have any upside-down loops but had plenty of swooping turns and drops. I thought it was a sheer delight. And between the skinny skeletons of trees, when I rounded a bend, I could catch a glimpse of a huge basin of water beyond. It almost looked like a wide river if you didn’t know any better. The hills cradled it into a valley where it shimmered like dull silver.

I drove along Mill Road for 2.7 miles until it brought me to a mailbox labeled 1129. A long driveway stretched behind it leading to a house that couldn’t be seen. I pulled in slowly, rolling along the ashen pavement and passing a carved wooden sign that read “Fantasy Farm” in large, cartoonish letters. The house was made of dark panels of wood punctuated with black triangles for décor. Another big black triangle of a roof sloped casually over everything. It was a squat, horizontal house, only two floors high, and it sat like a solemn wooden dwarf in a forest clearing. The air around it had an evergreen tint, and the grass at its feet was a faded olive. It all felt a bit tired, as if the dwarf-house had been waiting for someone to arrive. But the moment people came, every crease of weariness melted into a warm welcome.

Movie Musings – Masculin Féminin

Masculin Féminin is bursting with literary allegories, motifs, and themes. One could do a feminist interpretation of the way Madeleine constantly plays with her hair and touches up her makeup. One could psychoanalyze the scene where Catherine eats an apple. But I, for one, will spare you all that in lieu of a feverishly written fit of personal opinion…

Seeing this movie, I felt like a Parisian café dweller eavesdropping on a particular group of people as I watched the world go by. The dialogue was so natural and unvarnished, it could only be the fragments of an overheard conversation. Like an extension of the French custom of people-watching, this film celebrated those little details, plot lines, and tiny idiosyncrasies that you fill in about someone when you pass him or her on the streets. Skipping to the beat of France in the ’60s, this movie presents a perfectly imperfect picture of life as a blithe adolescent in that time and place. Continue reading