Filipina Elsewhere: Petra Magno

Read the series introduction.

I met Petra in person during my short stint in advertising back in 2011. (We were copywriters in the same agency, and shared a mini-breakdown in the parking lot of our office. Oops.) I am a fan of her poetry, and I hope she writes more. Here she talks about ennui, going through a slew of sundry jobs, "suddenly being brown" in New York, and the luxury of looking at a city instead of letting it sweep you away.

Go ahead, Petra.
I added emphases (boldface type, italics), links, and photos throughout the text.

Name: Petra Magno
Current Location: New York City
Age: 27

What was your job back in the Philippines? 
I was writing for a bunch of local publications, notably Rogue and Preview, and running about three thousand blogs. Professionally, though, I was working in advertising as a copywriter.

What are you doing now?
I'm a copywriter again! I went through a slew of sundry jobs here in NYC -- photocopy queen, bewildered accountant, social media admin, park ranger -- before wrestling my way back into advertising. I missed it, and I also missed having a stable income and zero debt.

Why did you decide to study/work abroad?
I don't truly know. I'm a dual citizen, so the easiest answer is the smug one: "because I could," but that's not the complete answer. I'm in the process of figuring out why I decided to uproot myself -- was it early-onset mid-life crisis? Ennui? The same beautiful faces at the same artsy parties? -- but it was in the hopes that life would be better somehow over here.

What was your biggest challenge when you went abroad?
Suddenly being brown. I mean, I've always been brown, but in a country that's mostly homogeneously brown. Now I'm brown amidst a bunch of people who run the gamut of color, and I'm figuring out what that means. The US is also currently going through an upheaval of racial and identity politics, so I've been trying to locate myself -- my middle-class upbringing in a developing country, that I didn't grow up identifying myself as "Asian-American" or being bullied in high school for bringing adobo to lunch, my aunts who are nannies and my reluctance to be a nanny despite it being the first job offered to me -- within the shifting discourse. American "equality" and its premium on "hard work" also made me take a good hard look at my burgis self.

Also, small talk.

And what was the best thing that happened to you?

I'm learning how to be alone.

If I were to go fly to where you are, what would you say is:
    the best place to eat?
For pizza -- Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, Roberta's in Bushwick, and specifically the gorgonzola/walnut/pear pizza from Numero 28

Paulie Gee's. Photo from here.

Pizza from Numero 28.
Photo from here.

Mission Chinese, Spicy Village, and a bacon-egg-cheese on a roll with mayonesa from the food cart guy on the corner of 41st and 3rd.

Mission Chinese.
Photo from here.

Being a lush, I'm way better at recommending places to drink, so: Cafe Ghia's kimchi bloody mary, the Witching Hour from Leyenda, and mezcal from Rosarito's Fish Shack. 

Cafe Ghia's Kimchi Bloody Mary.
Photo from here

    the best place to visit?
The museums are all pretty wonderful but my favorite is the Tenement Museum -- which is an old building on the Lower East Side composed of restored apartments from the 1900's, where thousands of working-class immigrants lived. Sobering, fascinating look at who really made New York City into what it is today. Other faves: the Rubin Museum, and the New Museum.

Tenement Museum.
Photo from here

Levine Family Kitchen, Photograph by Battman Studios. Photo from Tenement.Org.

    the best thing to do?
There's a small park I go to whenever I feel like I'm fed up with NYC. It has an amazing view of Manhattan, both by night and day, and a pier where you can walk out onto the water and look at ducks and passing ferries. At night, the bridges on either side of you light up. I think the best thing to do in NYC is to just look at it, rather than letting it keep sweeping you along. It's a goddamn luxury, though. When you come visit, I'll take you to the park.

Would you consider returning to the Philippines? Why? 
After some time, and then maybe not to the capital. I hated the soul-crushing traffic, hated the trains, and I sincerely believe an efficient public transportation system is the first step to trusting your city. I don't trust Metro Manila -- even less so now that Duterte is our president -- but I care about it. Right now I don't know how to serve my country; I'm trying to figure it out while I'm far away.

Your #1 tip to those thinking of studying/working outside the Philippines:
Constantly wonder: this thing I am currently experiencing -- be it third wave coffee or the horizontalism of Occupy movements or a great view from a pedestrian bridge -- why wouldn't it work in the Philippines, and how could the Philippines do it better? How do I inspire this to grow organically out of the current scene, rather than simply ripping it off and marketing it solely to the burgis?

Thank you, Petra!

Photo by Sonny "Chocolate Bear" Thakur (


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