Tuesday, November 14, 2023


 Justine Villanueva presents the Introduction to


ROOTED IN PRACTICE: PINAYS IN LAW edited by Justine Villanueva

(Sawaga River Press in collaboration with PINAY POWERHOUSE, 2022)


I first thought about publishing an anthology that centers the stories of those who identify as Pinays in law when I attended the fourth (virtual) Pinay Powerhouse conference in March 2021. I had not attended a Pinay Powerhouse conference prior to that. My only engagement with the collective was through the monthly circles which I had started to attend, quite randomly after stumbling upon a Pinay Powerhouse post on Facebook, during the first year of the pandemic. I had no idea how life affirming the conference was going to be and how it would stir my heart to set in motion this collaborative process that has resulted in this anthology. 

During the two-day conference, I sat and listened to many Pinays in law—attorneys, law students, judges, activists, cultural workers—share their stories. Many centered on the joys and challenges of the practice of law. However, many other stories were not related to the law but were centered on matters of the heart, body, and spirit. We celebrated the ways we navigated and resisted against colonialism, patriarchy, racism and other oppressive structures in our careers and personal lives. We honored our past and future ancestors, our selves, and the land we live on. Most importantly, we manifested the Indigenous Filipino spirit and practice of kapwa, our interbeing, and told of the ways we thrive and care for each other, not just as attorneys but as whatever roles we hold in our lives. By the end of the conference, I was surprised to realize that there are many Pinay attorneys that are on a similar decolonization journey as I am, though several did and do not label their journeys as such. For the first time in my decade or so of being an attorney, I felt like I belonged with my Pinay sisters in law. 

In August 2021, I proposed my idea about an anthology to Christine Start, co-founder of the Pinay Powerhouse collective and then-facilita- tor of the Pinay Powerhouse monthly circles. Christine was immediately supportive, as were other members of the collective. We formed a core committee and proceeded to create a group call for submissions. In our effort to be as inclusive as possible, we invited anyone who identifies as a Pinay in law to submit their first-person narratives—stories, essays, poetry—on any topic that their heart desires. 

Our ambitious initial goal was to have the anthology published in six months, by March 2022, to coincide with the fifth Pinay Powerhouse conference in Seattle. When the conference was moved to August 2022, we decided to instead host a reading of the 16 submissions we had al- ready received to encourage more submissions and to celebrate Women’s Herstory Month. That reading event connected many Pinays in law and provided a joyful and safe space that allowed us to intimately share and witness each other’s stories. 

By our submission deadline at the end of June, we received 28 pieces from all over the United States. Though we didn’t ask for specific themes, the pieces we received converged on similar themes: our wishes/dreams/ hopes; our thoughts on being Filipinx and Filipinx-American; our gratitude for the women in our lives; and our lessons learned from navigating various legal careers. 

Our Dreams

Like many who shared their stories during the conference, many of the contributors dare to be vulnerable and offer us their desires, wishes, and dreams. 

I, for one, dream of kapwa, “of being in good and caring relationships with myself, my children, and all other beings whose existence and well-being are intertwined with mine.” 

Christine Start, in a letter to her baby daughter, writes, “I wish for you to love and worship your body as a place of refuge and infinite bliss . . . I wish you (the same): to discover and embrace your body’s limitless capacity to feel and experience the pleasures and joy when you lead from your womb embodied in surrender.” 

Chris Gunn writes, “As I continue with my decolonization practice, I learn to fly as I cook. I seek to transport my family and my kapwa with me with the ease of a bird gliding near shore on warm tropical winds. Resting while I fly.” 

Melani Tiongson, in her poem, writes about longing for home. “For a second, Trisha thought she was home. That her one-room apartment somehow transformed into the boundless landscape of home. She swore she could hear her mother calling her in the distance. And she cried—drowning in droplets deeper than the floods outside.” 

Romae-Anne Aquino longs for her family’s show of affection and love. “I often wished my family loved me by helping me with my law school curriculum . . . I often wished my family told me they believed in me, that they understood I was doing the best I could . . . I often wished my family loved me by gifting me with resources that would have made law school life easier.” 

Joey Badua writes about his fraught but evolving relationship with his mother. “She just asked me to go fetch her a banana leaf to wrap the fish she is cooking / I oblige. / I ask her if she loves me. / And she’s vague. / At least it’s not a no. / And I can live with that. / I live in the future when she will say yes.” 

Reina Trazo agonizes, “Will the clients come” to her “office of dreams?” “As I look around my small office, I can’t help but be teary-eyed. Though the days ahead are still uncertain, my cup is filled to the brim with grat- itude.” 

Gloria Ochoa, as a girl, dreamt of “one day coming to this promised land. This dream kept me focused on my studies, because my father often told me, the first-born, that I was the one with the obligation to help the rest of my seven siblings finish their education. To me, the only way to fulfill that obligation was to make it to America. And now, fourteen years after I first thought of studying law, my dream had rematerialized.” 

Charmaine Kennedy wishes for opportunities to stay at home, in the Philippines. “Filipinos are all over this earth, doing good work, and earning an honest living so that they can provide for themselves, and their family. If we keep this up as a culture, and clean up the corruption in our home country, maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to leave home anymore just to find work. And we will no longer serve an amo.” 


Filipino Family and Community

We also share about the Filipino family and community who support us through our struggles and celebrate with us our joys. 

Jeri Gonzales Abrams reminds us that we are here “to celebrate each other in times of success, and champion each other in times of adversity. We must all help each other and lift each other up to shine. And what a beautiful and brightly lit night sky we will create when we shine collectively.”

Tracy Badua further reminds us of our power. “There is beauty in the wide range of who we are . . .[R]emember that we come from rulers, warriors, healers, survivors, those bold enough to see beyond their known horizons and cross oceans. You are the embodiment of generations’ worth of strength, intelligence, respect, and a sense of care about the community.” 

Jennifer Sta. Ana implores us “to never forget our history because when that happens, we forget those who fought, bled, and died for us to live a life so blessed.” 

Gretel Ness believes that “[e]ven though I am still mastering how to gracefully navigate these two identities, I have come to realize that I can love my adopted country and be patriotic about America, but still be proud to be Filipino. I don’t have to choose one over the other.” 

Rohanee Zapanta understands that “[w]hen I ask myself, who am I?, [t]he answer is simple for me—I am everyone . . . I had everyone in me and with me as I embarked on this journey to the bench. The strength of bayanihan carried me through these unchartered waters and gave me a confidence in living my truth.” 


To the Women and the Sisterhood

We also write odes and letters of gratitude and love for our grand- mothers, mothers, sisters, cousins, and all the women in our lives who have shaped us to be who we are now. 

Katrina Durek lovingly recalls her Mamang’s letters. “You fostered my love for reading and writing, which led me to law school, to my husband, my career, and my family. In a way, everything that I am is because of you. So, thank you for always writing to me. I love you Mamang, my best pen pal.”

Ruthe Catolico writes a grateful ode to her mom, “the original fierce warrior woman in the Catolico family...I see the fierce warrior woman coming out in both my daughter and granddaughter...You live on in all of us!” 

Andrella Gonzalez knows “I will continue to face challenges as an im- migrant, Filipino-American, and a Pinay in the law. But I will persist. Despite all obstacles, my mother never abandoned sipag, pakiramdam, and kapwa. I hope to weave her spirit in my own path.” 

Titania Buchholdt reminisces about how her mother had wanted lawyers in the family, but she and I shared a more important activity: we were cultural workers.”

Monica Howell laments over a missed connection with a cousin: “Heard you dropped out of school / Sayang, so much potential / No time to touch base / I’m trying to get my credentials / And yes, I took the road not taken / No parties and no weed / If I only knew your story / Would have made my heart bleed.” 


Some specifically write about being sisters in law and the personal meaning of Pinay Powerhouse.

Dyanna Volek praises My sisters in law / Ever present, ever inspiring / Carrying with us the spark of progress / The infinite march towards the divine.” 

Jamie Juni testifies that “[w]hen I heard personal, professional, and inspirational stories from new and familiar sisters in law with whom I could deeply relate and connect, those stories reaffirmed my faith and my whys, and reignited my purpose.” 

Mari Bandoma Callado is grateful to be part of the movement that created this sacred space, where I am able to be my most authentic self; where my intersectional identities—as an immigrant and as a Pinay attorney—are celebrated.” 


Sharing Wisdom

Finally, we cheer each other on and offer the lessons we’ve learned in our own journeys.  

Sonia Delen advises that “[w]e must insist on being included at the table. If not, we must create our own table and embrace inclusivity and diversity.”

Emelyn Rodriguez asks us to shake it up, “not only because there are so few of us in positions of prominence (although thankfully this is chang- ing) but also because at times, our upbringing and cultural programming holds us back from fully exercising our power.” 

Givelle Lamano reminds us of the importance of owning our power and living a life that is not beholden to “everyone’s opinion” about “how life should be won.”

Charina Garcia advises us to create a raft of bitches (who) keeps me afloat and steers me in the right direction when I am in rough waters, am tired, and feel like I can’t keep going. I know I can always count on them, and they tell me to get over myself when I start wanting to take on more and remind me of what I already have and what I don’t need!” 

Amanda Kat realizes that “[t]he law is not that tool in my belt” but for now she “must be content with the law as the means / For my survival un- der capitalism. / Perhaps, liberation from debt. / Not a means to an end, / But an intersection of / Necessity of capitalism and / Necessity of soul. 

Leilani Holgado spells out for us Sariling Akin, leaving us with words to potentially live by. 


For a long time, I struggled with the way the practice of law compart- mentalized me, my body from my thoughts, my attorney self from all other facets of me: writer, mother, realtor, caregiver, dancer, friend, busi- nesswoman, wife, activist. I felt drained, unseen, and disconnected. I felt alone in my struggle to show up whole . . . until I started hearing the stories during the circles, and later at the conference, of other Pinays in law who felt similarly. 

This anthology is a manifestation of a space to share about ourselves, not just as attorneys but as mothers, daughters, immigrants, women of color, multiracial, multi-generational Pinays who worry whether we are enough but also know in our hearts that we are gold and we dare to reign. 

As we navigate our way in a space that is shaped by colonization, we resist by telling our stories about us, Pinays in the practice of law. I hope that in the process of remembering ourselves, feeling our emotions, telling and hearing our stories, we better understand ourselves and our roles in the web of life, not only as Pinays in law but also as agents of change towards care and right relationships with our kapwa and kin. 


A few more notes: 

As mentioned before, in the spirit of inclusion and diversity, we opened the submissions to anyone who identifies as a Pinay in law. We also decided to go lightly on our editing. We tried our best to keep the pieces as close to their original form as possible, editing mostly for clarity. This, we feel, is consistent with allowing all the contributors to express their stories in the way that is true to their ways of being and how they move in the world. Contributors were encouraged to consult with their own editors if they felt that it was necessary. 

Additionally, we decided to incorporate Tagalog, Bisaya, and other Fil- ipino words as they are, i.e., unitalicized and not translated within parentheses, unless we deemed it necessary. We feel that to do otherwise would otherize these words and ourselves. We seek to reclaim and acknowledge the multiplicity and the wide range of the languages we speak as Filipinx-Americans. 

Thank you to the Rooted in Practice committee members: Christine Start, Mari Bandoma Callado, Gretel Ness, Emelyn Rodriguez, Andrella Gonzalez, and Chris Almerido Gunn; our illustrator and graphic designer, Angel Trazo; our copy editor, Jean Vengua; our law student volunteers, Romae-Anne Aquino and Rizelle Dizon; our supporters: Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWA), Filipino American National Historical Society-National Chapter (FANHS), and Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies; our sponsor, Union Bank; the affiliates of the Pinay Powerhouse Collective from whom we draw our strengths and who are represented in this anthology: Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC), Philippine American Bar Association (PABA), Na- tional Filipino American Law Association (NFALA), Sacramento Filipino American Lawyers Association (SacFALA), Texas Filipino American Bar (TFAB), Philippine American Lawyers of Pennsylvania and New Jersey (PALS PA-NJ), Oregon Filipino American Lawyers Association (OFALA), Hawaii Filipino Lawyers Association (HFLA), Filipino Law- yers of Washington (FLOW), Filipino-American Lawyers of Orange County (FLOC), Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego (FALSD), and Filipino American Lawyers Association of New York (FALA New York); and lastly, my husband, Mike, who willingly took on more responsibilities at home so I could devote the many necessary hours to complete this project. 

May these stories inspire you to share your own. 

Justine Villanueva 

Sawaga River Press founder  

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