#eye #eye
Nicole Cadelina

ur filipiniality is showing


Back in 2013, you asked me “what are you?” over TinyChat. I had no knowledge of how to locate my interests in Year 10; nor did I ever learn how to locate myself. You asked me this on one of my sick days, when I was self-taught Korean through Duolingo and SHINee lyrics. When I returned back to school the next week, one of my classmates commented on how much lighter my skin had gotten after staying at home. Weeks later, it tanned two shades darker during my school campout at Kiama, on unceded Dhawaral land.

You wouldn’t guess that over my webcam, though you did sense that I digressed long enough. You persisted with “Nicole, what are you?” before adding “It’s like how I’m German.” Your surname is Koenig. I should have guessed this earlier.


When I think of Rose Hancock, I am reminded of these words: “she’s after your money.”

In 2015, Nine Network released a trailer for a miniseries featuring Sam Neill and Rhonda from AAMI Insurance. I attuned myself to a NIDA-trained Malaysian actress – her sandy skin and counterfeit accent embodied some limited adjacency to my race. I watched on as the excitable woman shares one too many passionate kisses with her leather-wrinkled husband, lavishing in mining magnate luxury.

This could be me: a wealthy victim-turned-opportunist1, maid-turned-millionaire.2

Two years before, I walked through the crowds of Westpoint Blacktown, on unceded Darug land. I noted every tita-aged wife clinging to their pension-aged husband. I reduced them into fables of citizenship and distant semblances of “love.” I recognised their existence in tandem with these men, my naivety refusing to define them by bloodlines and ancestors.

To be consigned this way seemed reasonable once I entered my first relationship at 21. My entire livelihood belonged to the Hancocks, long before I invented new methods of homecoming.3 My ex couldn’t care less about it. But in a room full of Hills Shire men, I felt the innate desire to join this rift of juvenile punchlines.

On many dates, I likened to being a needy freshie wife as part of our banter. It was easier to trace my existence than it was to study it.


It was 2016 when I entered the train carriage arriving on Platform 18 at Central. My clumsy feminine expressions were limited to grey dresses and knee socks, accented with pin-needled eyeliner and oxidised foundation. As I reached for the furthest seat on the carriage, I spotted a lanky tradie, his duffle bag beaten and as unkempt as himself.

There was a slyness to his eyes as he saw me and smiled. Offering his seat, he asked me “you want to sit here?” He decorated those words with an oriental staccato – a crude mimicry of an Eastern accent. His friend cackled.

I did not respond. I took up the offered seat and kept quiet. I wanted to locate those vowels, the racial ambiguity, the vaguely marked Asian inflections. Was it Chinese? Japanese? Malay? I meditated on this mockery, the same way strangers make riddles out of my moonish face. I grew accustomed to the labour of assumptions; the fascinated a-ha’s that follow when I give away the answer. I would have guessed you were [East Asian descent]. My accent remains Australimerican at large.

I’m on my Macbook Pro many moons later, watching Bill Murray and ScarJo running through arcades for the upteenth time. I leave behind the nameless Japanese woman who asked Murray’s character to “lip my tights” as My Bloody Valentine droned over streetlights. I scroll through the film page on Letterboxd and notice mutuals who pinned a heart next to their reviews. To placate myself, I pretend they all had the hindsight to know better.

Excerpt from a five-star Letterboxd review of Lost in Translation.

I worry all the time – about the prospect of canonising every white girl’s Wong Kar-wai.4 So long as white minorities are tethered to one another in a “foreign” country, Asian bodies will continue to maintain their status as unearthly otherings.5 Was it wrong for me to feel adjacent to these nameless Japanese characters?

Any time the film exalts Bill Murray from casual racism, I think of that tradie again. I wonder if settlers feel just as lonely living in multicultural Sydney.


< keep labelling / until the words run clear 6>

never have i ever

had a      subtle boba balayage
made      subtle sliced fruit metaphors
gone       subtle muzzing with kevin nguyen7
got           subtle long island pre-game on fiddy caps at sanc8
had         subtle tiger mommy grudges
went      subtle snapback swagapino
spoken subtle tsismis9 with the aunties
written subtle essays on stinky ethnic lunches at white schools
been a   subtle crazy rich asian

Tweet from @guacamomole.

someday you/i/we will expend and exhaust enough words to index yourself/myself/ourselves. your/my/our words will run dry together. soon enough your/my/our [collective] fatigue will propagate new words to cycle over again.


Somewhere in Sydney’s State Theatre, on unceded Eora land, I missed the uproar of laughter and applause as “eat the rich” disseminates into capitalism. On the silver screen, a bonfire lights up the hands of an overseas domestic worker. She’s not a nurse for once, but she had lived 300 years in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood10. Cinemas across [Quezon City Manila] the homeland cheer on as she fashions her hunt into [pritong isda] fried fish and calls a puti white man “cutie pie.” These pursuits are not too far from our truths.

After the State Theatre screening, nobody urged me to watch the Palme d’Or winner of 2022.

“if she had a family, she would not even think of that dilemma. If you have a family, of course you want to go back home, right?”11

I am told to perpetuate this prism of trope; this cult of the unquestioned; the phenomena of pride. This world tells me to beckon towards provincial gestures of the babae12 – never grasped, only approximated. Anything to compensate for these forgotten years of homecoming. I take comfort in these uncanny impressions, as most dispossessed born-again’s13 would.

Remittance is a grievance to the domestic worker. I stare into that morena skin, worthy of rejecting kapamilya14 at the hands of liberation. Do I have faith in thee? Am I betraying myself if I were to choose against thee?

“this woman with such strength and such a sense of leadership and power… how could she not have sex appeal?”15

I watch this image corrupt the canon of subservience and invent a new legacy of deceit. It is not a regression if my people find solace in the signifier – these hands belong to [an archipelago tita lola ate] an instrument. Such patriotism for the country can never be defined in accordance with our own devices.

It is enough to reclaim and resist these tokens in abundance. It is enough to reinstate, to lust, to exploit a man. It is enough to be blinded by pride. I am told it is all enough.

“I hate to generalise but I'd like to think that when [Filipinos] get into a relationship, they can't help but fall in love.”16

This connection leads into the path of knowing love17 – this love can be democratic too, no? So long as this pride prevails, my anger disseminates into the tides of La Niña.


Parting ways with my bus stop on my street, I walked home in my athletic kimono, which spared very little shade under the feverous sun. As I crossed the road – only less than a minute away from my house – a Toyota Hilux drove by. The car honked at me, and with perverse, blink-and-you’ll-miss precision, the driver howled, windows down.

I arrived home, assessing the orange bike shorts and pink sports bra I wore in front of my mother’s bedroom mirror. I wore that same bra a week later. At a different bus stop, another esteemed gentleman flashed his lights at me and smiled before driving off. At least he rolled his windows up.

I assumed these men were all bark, no bite. It was less than a year ago when I signed a petition to take down Stuart Cooke’s “critical”18 takes on Manila women. In the eyes of Cooke and his publisher, it was never systematic to be reduced into simple, anonymous play-things.19

Wrote Cooke in June 2020: “I perpetuated clichés, racism and sexism, and a privileged, colonial male gaze. The Filipinx community is right to be appalled by these representations, and to call me out.” In a later paragraph, he added: “If those harmed would like to engage with me further about this issue, then I would like to assist where I can.”20

I cannot win. When I remain candid and poised in comfort, an immortal gaze will remain paralleled to my canvassed being. The pacific sun will glare at car windows with a blinding glow – it is not enough to disrupt these wanton eyes. I cannot find peace. I can only imagine it. When I try to sigh and disrupt your gaze, there is no safety net to nurse my exhaustion – a mirrored floor will catch my fall. The looking glass begs me to fight back and co-opt my antagonists; to take advantage, to abuse, to activate my love language.

The laws of visibility are right and [un]just. I want to divorce myself from you and the centre that cannot hold. But I know I cannot win. I will never win.


Quote Todd Field in conversation with Dazed: “Power has no gender. Power has no race.”21 A post-colonial theorist tuts away at their desk.

Meanwhile, you saunter over towards the fish bowl at the massage parlour. In front of you beholds an ensemble of women, homogenised into white robes and docile postures. The manager interprets your disbelieved silence as one of indecision.

You raise your hand in front of you. You’re unsure what part of this inquiry deserved to be rationalised – the uniformity, the submission, the myriad of options per woman, per client, per “East Asian.”22 Only one woman chooses to look up and lock eyes with you. Her face maintains a facade of stoic professionalism.


That morning, when we sat cross-legged on kitchen tiles, I told you I couldn’t see a future with you. You replied “Good, me neither. You wouldn’t want that for yourself.”

You lived in [REDACTED], on unceded Bedegal land, a suburb with sister cities located in southern China and central Japan. Your girlfriend is loyal enough to validate your thoughts on Lulu Wang and Jia Zhangke. In the dark, you pulled my fingers close to your lips while your girlfriend slumbered in libations. We kept quiet because you said so. You took breaks in your relationship before I emailed your girlfriend – I wagered this was true from the Mandarin Instagram handles you kept in close tabs.

A week after your tongue traced my fingertips, you told me to “leave out the partnership” with your girlfriend for your professional discretion. I studied my hand under the shower last week, discerning the gradient honey-to-ivory tan across my forearm. I examined the parts of me that map out blemishes I’ve yet to trace. Someday, I will be labelled properly.

Nicole Cadelina is an artist, writer, and digital producer living and working on unceded Dharug land (Western Sydney). A Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts graduate at UNSW Sydney, her work has been featured in Tharunka, PULP, and FBI Radio. Nicole has also published poetry in the UNSWeetened Literary Journal in 2022, where she received the Runner-Up Prize in Poetry. Across her creative career, Nicole was a recipient of the Varuna WestWords Fellowship and Blacktown Arts Residency Program.

Nicole is currently developing her debut short film at Testing Ground, a creative mentorship program run by CuriousWorks. She is a contributor to the community-based media platform, The Western, and co-founder of Filipino-Australian community group, Bayanihan Sydney. Her influences as a creative include Louise Glück, Robert Bresson, Tsai Ming-Liang and Sasha Marie Radio. Nicole's favourite genre of film is SBS World Movies after 9pm.


1.  I refer to Gloria Demillo’s engagement with Australian media portrayals of mail order brides at the height of Rose Hancock’s fame. According to Demillo in The “Mail Order Bride”: Orientalism, Intimacy, and Gendering Experience (2017), the constructions of victim and opportunist within the culture of mail order brides meant Rose could not exist outside this binary.
2. G. Demillo, ‘The Unusual Suspects: damaging for Filipino stories,’ Screenhub, 28 September 2021, https://www.screenhub.com.au/news/opinions-analysis/the-unusual-suspects-damaging-for-filipino-stories-1474540/.
3. This line was once again prompted from Demillo’s thesis: “I am reduced to my racial identifiers instead of being approached as a person.”
4.  Referencing Sofia Coppola’s acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004, who cites the Hong Kong filmmaker as inspiration among many others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skit7AZtuw4.
5.  L. Jae Min, ‘Not Racist, Just Lonely: The Rampant Use of Orientalism in ‘Lost in Translation’ (2003),’ Flipscreened, 8 September 2022, https://flipscreened.com/2022/09/08/not-racist-just-lonely-the-rampant-use-of-orientalism-in-lost-in-translation-2003/.
6.  E. Andrada, ‘Subtle Asian Traits’ in Take Care, Sydney, Giramondo, 2021, pp. 12.
7.  “Kevin Nguyen” is a humorous term to describe an Asian equivalent to hyper masculine frat boy archetypes, believed to be popularised on the Facebook group Subtle Asian Traits.
8.  A nod to Town Hall’s Sanctuary Hotel, a bar renowned for Asian Australians who identify with LG/LB culture (Little Girl/Little Boy). See also: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/28/world/australia/young-asian-australians-carve-out-an-identity-of-their-own.html.
9.  Filipino word for “gossip.”
10.  A common Filipino adage describing the legacies of Spanish-American colonisation in the Philippines. This phrase is believed to have originated from Stanley Karnow’s book, In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines, New York, Random House, 1990.
11.  I. Murray, ‘Love And Power: Dolly De Leon On Triangle Of Sadness,’ Girls on Tops, 28 October 2022, https://www.girlsontopstees.com/read-me/2022/10/28/love-and-power-dolly-de-leon-on-triangle-of-sadness.
12.  Filipino word for “woman.”
13.  I refer to a specific type of “born-again Filipinos” penned by Filipino academic Leny Strobel. A born-again Filipino describes first-/second-generation Filipinos – typically of college/university age – who reconnect with their culture and identity through decolonial discourse and education on indigenised Filipino culture. More on this topic can be found in ‘“Born-Again FiIipino”: Filipino American Identity and Asian Panethnicity,’ Amerasia, vol. 22, no. 2, 1996, pp.31-53.
14.  Filipino word for “family.”
15.  I. Murray, op. cit. 2022.
16. ibid.
17.  b. hooks, All About Love, New York, HarperCollins, pp. 177.
18. Referencing Verity La’s heavy-handed preface to Stuart Cooke’s controversial short story, ‘About Lin’: “we believe the piece addresses difficult issues relating to male white privilege in order to critique — rather than exploit — them.”
19.  ‘On Verity La and ‘About Lin’ by Stuart Cooke – some receipts,’ Likhain, 18 August 2020, https://likhain.net/on-verity-la-and-about-lin-by-stuart-cooke-some-receipts/.
20.  B. Schwarzkopf (@butwhychoy), ‘So, Stuart Cooke has finally issued an apology for his piece…’ Twitter, 30 June 2020, https://twitter.com/butwhychoy/status/1277927191972438017.
21.  N. Chen, ‘Is Tár racist? Director Todd Field weighs in,’ Dazed, 16 January 2023, https://www.dazeddigital.com/film-tv/article/57949/1/tar-cate-blanchett-todd-field-interview.
22. TÁR, dir. Todd Field, USA & Germany, Focus Features, 2022: “Made on Location in New York, Germany, and East Asia” (2:37:40).