Tropa: The Life and Times of Pauline Prieto in New York City

super sari-sari pauline prieto brooklyn new york city tropa series

12 years ago, life hit Pauline Prieto with a force so incredible, it shifted her whole world in a flash.

On a simple errand to pick up her sister Patricia from a photoshoot, Pauline was suddenly discovered by the onsite photographer, causing a domino effect that very soon led her to tackle the brutal, competitive, yet utterly exciting world of modeling.  

 I was fortunate enough to have met Pauline via a mutual friend. She is one of the most eloquent, driven people I've ever had the chance of meeting, and I'm so glad that she willingly agreed to share her story with Super Sari-Sari.

As a current model slash interior designer based in Brooklyn, New York, Pauline shares her experience as a model both in the Philippines and the United States of America, as well as her personal woes as a white passing member of the BIPOC community. 

SSS: When did your journey start here?
PP: I moved here for college back in 2013. I've kind of only really been part of the workforce for the last 3 years, and I'm still getting a good sense of what I want and where I want to be.

My full-time job is technically "Windows Coordinator" for Prada. Pop-ups are part of them, whatever special events they have. I'm a glorified handyman, is how I explain it to people. But I still work as a freelancer—I can do drafting with
Autocad, I've been learning Rhino. Woodworking and metalworking, I know. There are other things like modeling that I still do, but, you know, it's kind of
just like a mixed bag.

I would like to possibly take everything I've learned, and—within the next 2 or 3
years I'm hoping—I can promote myself into just being an independent designer of my own.

SSS: How did you start modeling?

PP: 12 years ago, I was picking-up my older sister, Patricia—the famous one. Patricia is the one with the blue checkmark. So I was picking up Patricia from a photoshoot, the photographer sees me and he's kind of like, "Oh, you look like a 'can't-be-fucked' kinda girl!" and I'm just like, "'Cause I actually can't."

Eventually, a reputable stylist saw me and she was like, "Oh, why don't we put you in the show?" So before I knew it, it's down to the wire, they squeezed me into the lineup. I don't even know what I was feeling, but then I did it anyways. It ended up being the best decision of my life.

SSS: How has modeling impacted your life?

PP: Modeling has really turned me from a very shy person to the person I am today. A lot of the things I do are things I've never been trained to do, but because now I have this sense of self that I found through it, I can just ask.


SSS: What's something about modeling that everyone should know?
PP: There is like an artfulness to modeling. You work with different people, and you kind of really have to imagine yourself as like a piece of marble, and everyone's input is like a chisel digging deeper into the material, or like a layer on the canvas. As much as they're directing you and trying to bring something out of you, you also kind of have to riff with them. I learned that a little late in the game. I think I've gotten on the record saying that it's also like some form of acting. The photographer is suddenly like, "Your lover left you and then this is some rebound whatever and you have to be so passionately in love with them." And you're like—I've never met this dude...or this lady! And I have to get to a place of intimacy with an absolute stranger? Weird! But you still do it.

 I think I modeled at the wrong time. I was working in a time where they're like, "You're not white enough, and you're not Asian enough." And it was horrible, especially as somebody who grew up in the shadows of her older sister who's like, "You're so beautiful!" And then being told by my grandma—and I love her to death—but she'd be like, "Your ears are so big." I love them, by the way. I've learned to love all my quirks.

SSS: How is the modeling industry back in Manila different from the industry here?
PP: I think there's this problem back home—this sense of beauty—and how it is this very specific and dialed-in math. You have to fit it within such a tight tolerance that there's no room to be you sometimes, and I think that's so unfair. Being informed that you are not enough of something for a role or what have you—it's defeating. You just kind of have to learn to love yourself and bolster yourself, because you're not gonna change.

I mean, I noticed now that the trends have changed where now you don't have to be freakishly tall and you also don't have to be freakishly short! You can actually be somewhere in the average—I'm in the average. I'm mixed race! I mean, I identify as a Filipino, but I am very much—I mean, thank you, colonizers (not really), but I'm part white-ish.

SSS: How is it like being part of the BIPOC community in New York City?

PP: I've been finding myself engaged in the conversation as a white passing member of the BIPOC community. Being white passing sucks.

I went to an all-girls Catholic school growing up in the Philippines. I remember—and I'm not gonna name names—but I know she remembers who she is. I had a group of friends in the 7th grade and I thought we were so tight, and one day they were all just being so shitty towards me. I just had to be like, "What the— what gives?" This girl was like, "Oh, we're just being this way to you because you're white." And I freaked out. I freaked out without even really knowing why it hurt. It hurt for sure. And everyone was like, "What's wrong? We were just joking around." and I was like, "It's not funny." There's absolutely nothing about what you're saying that's making me feel good about myself.

Being a member of the BIPOC community is of huge importance to me. I've struggled with so many instances where I was upset. I wasn't equipped with the reasoning to know why. In the Philippines it's like you're not Filipino enough and then in America it's like you're not American enough. And it's like, why are you perpetuating that I'm "The Other" always? I don't wanna be "The Other" anymore, I just wanna belong. I just wanna find a home.

SSS: Would you want to go back home to the Philippines?
PP: Yes and no. Yes, I do, because my family is there. I find it very sad. I'm watching my sisters get closer, I'm watching my parents age—it's the scariest and saddest thing—and I can't be there. So I do wanna go home.  But I also don't, because if I wanna keep learning in the ways that I'm learning, and if I want to be doing in the ways that I want to do, I feel like I have to be here. I'm more encouraged that I can be recognized for what I do and what I make if I am overseas.

SSS: What are some of the things you love about being a Filipino?

PP: I have a core group of Filipina friends here. It makes the homesickness more manageable when I have them because there are things that foreign friends or my partner will not understand. The food? I LOVE the food. And our sense of humor is also spot on. I am loudest when I'm with those group of Filipinas. We will always be the loudest people anywhere we go. It's beautiful but it's also horrifying. Makes me want to have a good time.

SSS: If you had all the resources, what's one thing you would do for the homeland?
PP: I would encourage urban farming. All forms of farming practices, I'm a huge fan of—primarily permaculture—but I know that urban topographies cannot particularly sustain it. I've been looking into  studies as to how to find a marriage between it, which I know is almost contradictory, but there seems to be a potential for something bigger and better than most of the urban farming techniques. I wanted to design a policy and run a study of hypothetically taking up space within an urban desert close to possible means of transit, where I could essentially work within the community to bring sustenance to them.

SSS: Any last thing you would like to say?

PP: I mean, if there's any takeaway from my life so far, like, if it was a movie, I think the one lesson I would learn is that you're always enough. You might not feel like you're in the right place, but you probably are and you just don't know it yet. You're going to make mistakes, and you're also going to have your own successes, but that's all part of it. Just be okay with yourself, be okay with how you feel, be okay with how you identify. At the end of the day, it's always going to be okay. 

For more, watch her IGTV episode now @supersarisari.Thank you for sharing your story with us, Pauline! Follow her on Instagram at @paulinecamille.

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