This year marks my 10th year living in the United States. Not only that – this month marks my 1 year being in the geek industry! What better way to pay tribute to my roots and celebrate being, for lack of a better word, “ME” by writing a feature about my journey and at the same time feature someone from back “home” who’s had a similar journey as I have?
My “geekiness” has come full circle! I landed 2 awesome jobs in the most amazing city, while living the dream of being a “geek girl” for a living and cosplaying, playing video games and board games, and reading comic books with women who actually have the exact same interests!
Before we begin, I’ll give a snippet on my journey to geekiness before we dive into Wilonah’s. For about 8 years of searching where and what my purpose is in this country, everything came full circle last year when I was offered a spot to join the Sugar Gamers as their Social Media Amazon!
I was discovered by the gorgeous Kat during WWCC 2013 (Wizard World Comic Con)- My first Con, where I dressed up as Chun Li. It was the most memorable because it was my first “con” experience. That, and I beat a couple of guys playing “Injustice: Gods Among Us” at the Sugar Gamers booth. LOL! And then later on, I was recruited by our fearless leader and founder, Keisha Howard.
I took my first assignment by attending the inaugural NWI Comic Book Convention in Schererville, IN. Then again, I can’t really consider something as an assignment if it was something I enjoyed doing and I was passionate about. I had fun at the con, spread the word out about SG, and wrote an article about it (go to – http://sugargamers.com/2014-nwi-comic-con/ ), and the rest is history! So I cosplayed, and meet a lot of fantastic people, geeked out, and will keep doing this probably for the rest of my life.
Some people may not know this, but I was born and raised in the Philippines and I didn’t move into this country until I was an adult. Growing up in the Philippines is quite the experience! If you love the heat of the sun beating down on you, the beautiful beaches and wildlife, fantastic food and very friendly and hospitable people, then you’re in the right place! I went to Catholic schools my entire life (I bleed green, if you know what I mean! Animo La Salle!!! LOL.).
Although my parents are a lot more open-minded compared to others, they instilled the values and strict discipline on me and my brothers while growing up. Being the youngest and the only girl in the family, I was expected to behave like a typical Filipina girl – demure, soft spoken, keeps to herself, or what we call a “Maria Clara”* type. But I am none of those! Being surrounded by boys, I enjoyed “boyish” things. I tried ballet, but basketball, taekwondo, and then later on, hockey became my favorite physical activities. I enjoyed buying and reading comic books when we travel 3 hours north to Manila. Having a chance to play video games and watch Dragon Ball Z right after I did my homework was a privilege for me, being that I shouldn’t be doing these because it’s un-lady-like. So, now I can say I’m living the dream! I make my own money so I can cater to, nay, BINGE on all the repressed geeky wants that I had growing up.
I went home last year for my cousin’s wedding and wondered how my family would react to what I do in my spare time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed of my lifestyle. In fact, I was promoted at work in part to using my cosplay skills to make a training video that stood out in the minds of management. But being raised in such a conservative society, I can see why some people have a hard time understanding why I would dress up as Wonder Woman when it’s not even Halloween. It made me wonder if things had changed in the 10 since I moved from the Philippines. I found out that cosplay has become a big thing in Manila over the past few years. And this made me ask some of my cousins what they thought about it and to suggest women cosplayers to interview. My buddy from high school suggested I read the blog of well-known cosplayer, Wilonah Chan:
Wilonah’s blog has a no-holds-barred approach to the geek and cosplay culture in the Philippines. I wanted someone who can give it to me straight and not sugar coat the facts. Plus, being known as the “firecracker” in Sugar Gamers, I associate with her sassiness. So, out of all the famous cosplayers in the Philippines, I decided to interview her.
How long have you cosplayed in the Philippines and can you cite your favorite costumes?
Maybe a year or two, I was really active in the Philippine cosplay scene for the first 8 months. I had stopped cosplaying for a while since I had to make a living to support my independent lifestyle. Got bills to pay, got no money to spend on a costume. My favorites are my first two costumes because of their accuracy. The characters are Misaki Ayuzawa from Kaichou wa Maid-sama! and Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII.
What was your most memorable cosplay event?
Definitely the first cosplay event that I’ve attended, Ozine Fest 2011. It was a wonderland experience and I’ve felt so much sense of belongingness.
Have you won any awards?
I’ve joined cosplay competitions around four times but I never won. The armored and mecha cosplayers usually do. The cash prize had always been my goal hoping that it could compensate for my costume expenses. Even though I have not won any awards, I was really honored to be chosen to judge for minor cosplay competitions. I even went out of town for one. It felt great to give the awards instead.
In cosplay, we often say that, “the struggle is real”, because of how much time, money and effort go into creating our outfits. How do you manage to do all this?
One word: focus. My cosplay preparation is a step-by-step process and I am strict with my time frame. From watching the anime or playing the game (to know the character well) to the execution of the cosplaying itself. I am also particular with the budget so I haggle when necessary.
What is the hardest part of being a cosplayer in the Philippines?
Admittedly, Filipinos are famous for crab mentality. The hardest part of being a cosplayer here in the Philippines is you shall experience crab mentality from your fellow cosplayers and other cosplay enthusiasts. No matter how great your cosplay is, there will always be a group of people who will throw hurtful words at you. You just have to stay tough since they really don’t know when to stop.
Growing up in the Philippines, we experience being raised in a strict and conservative environment. Being demure and formal is usually what’s expected of women. How does cosplaying in the Philippines affect this cultural norm and how do people react to it?
Cosplaying does not directly affect the country’s cultural norm yet. However, the culture inside the cosplay scene has already evolved. They are now more open to sexy cosplay characters and personally, I think there’s nothing wrong with that. I have not tried cosplaying a sexy character though, I don’t exactly have the suitable features to do it. How do people react to it? Well, they have mixed reactions but I can say that most of them take it negatively.
Kitty Paws wrote back in 2013 that famous Filipina cosplayer, Alodia Gosiengfiao underwent plastic surgery sighting that it took place between 2005 and 2011 when she became more involved with cosplaying. What is your reaction to this? Are cosplayers under pressure to do things such as undergoing plastic surgery in the Philippines?
My reaction to this, honestly, is that I am not surprised. Alodia is just so pretty that people tend to think she’s retokada. Here in the Philippines, we are not exactly blessed with the perfect nose. When I saw Alodia in person, her nose is really nice, it’s small and pointed. I could go figure why they question her nose then. As for her eyelids, she can easily change the look with circle lenses, falsies, eyeliner, and eye shadow. Plastic surgery is kinda a big deal here in this country so cosplayers are not exactly into it. You don’t want your before and after photos to be everywhere in social media. We could always use makeup and other tricks to look like our characters.
Have you ever being harassed while cosplaying? How did you react?
Yes, numerous times, and for all of those instances I was not able to react at all. Why? It all happened so fast that the culprits got away already before I could even snap out from state of shock. There was one time when a random hand blatantly groped my butt but it was too crowded I wasn’t able to identify the one who did it. Harassment comes in different forms. I still call it harassment when somebody puts his arm around my shoulders/waist, or when his elbow touches my boobs, or even when somebody takes a picture of me (or my body part) from a questionable angle.
Is there awareness in the Philippines regarding harassment for people who cosplay? If so, are people doing anything about it?
After every event, there will always be posts about the recent harassment incidents. We are aware of it, indeed. People are doing something about it, somehow. Not really by physically hurting the offenders but more of sharing their photos via social media to inform everyone regarding their identities.
“They hate us ‘cause they ain’t us!”, is a famous quote from the movie The Interview. This seems fitting to say to all the cosplay haters out there. But in your own words, what would you say to people who don’t fully understand cosplay and react negatively to it?
That quote really made me laugh a lot of times while watching that movie, if you know how they really pronounce it. Haha! I got nothing to say anymore to the cosplay haters. That’s exactly the point, they don’t fully understand cosplay so no matter how much you try to stop them, they won’t. Even if you try to show them how wonderful this craft is, even if they get to understand it, if they still cannot accept or like it, nothing would change. Honestly, even though I am a cosplayer, I do believe that it is us cosplayers that should stop insisting that we should all be accepted by non-cosplayers. We could not please them if it is not really their thing. It does not matter if they call us freaks, weebos, and weirdos, as long as we are happy with cosplaying, all is well then. We must not seek validation from the cosplay haters.
If you were to name 3 of the most influential cosplayers in the Philippines, who would they be?
Apologies but I could only think of two who made it into the cut, since we are talking about the “most influential” here. Definitely the Gosiengfiao sisters, Alodia and Ashley. The reasons are obvious for Alodia and as for Ashley, even though she’s focusing in the music industry right now, her cosplaying is still highly influential. Any cosplay character that these sisters pull off, is always the next trend in the Philippine Cosplay. When Alodia cosplayed Haruhi Suzumiya, everybody did as well. When Alodia and Ashley cosplayed some K-ON characters, everybody also did. They are the trendsetters.
Do you have any favorites?
Hmmm… I think I don’t exactly have any favorites here. I have one but she’s not a Filipina. It’s Linda Le a.k.a. Vampy Bit Me.
Do you see cosplay as a trend/phase or “uso” in the Philippines and do you think it will die down soon?
Well, cosplay has become mainstream here. Cosplay itself is not a trend/phase, it will always be there and shall continue to grow and evolve, but it being mainstream or uso is the thing that we are all hoping to die down. The crowd nowadays is insane. We all want order and discipline back especially at cosplay events.
Aside from your experience being a Cosplayer, what’s it like being a female in the geek culture in the Philippines?
I haven’t paid much attention to myself but based on what I usually see, people spend their time finding out whether you’re a legit “gamer girl” or not. When you are a self-proclaimed gamer girl, you are perceived as a fake geek who just pretends to love gaming so you could get a lot of attention from the geek boys. The same goes with all the other geek stuff.
What is the best part of being a cosplayer in the Philippines?
The best part of being a cosplayer here in the Philippines is that you get to be different, in a good way. Compared to other Asian countries, cosplay is not exactly part of our national culture. Unlike in Japan, you won’t see people wearing their cosplay costumes in the streets. Due to that fact, you get to showcase your creativity and talent through cosplaying which separates you from the usual.
You can check out more on Wilonah Chan in the following websites –
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