Writing New Zealand’s first Filipino-Kiwi play, Marianne Infante creates history with her story. Proudly Asian Theatre’s PINAY is a semi-autobiographical tale centred around Alex, a young pinay who challenges notions of tradition, identity and culture as her family moves from Pampanga to Christchurch. Before heading along to the show, I sat down with writer and actress Marianne Infante and director James Roque to talk about our struggles as third-culture kids, what it’s like to be Filipino in a Western society, and how those experiences inspired the making of PINAY.
“They called me a ‘White Filipino’ because I sounded different.” —Marianne
Discussing what it was like growing up in New Zealand, Marianne described how quickly she adapted to her new cultural environment, despite passionately holding onto her roots. She recounted how she began to speak, think, and act more like a Kiwi, and I remembered how I also went through a process of negotiating both my Filipino and Kiwi sides. I was old enough to remember the former, but young enough to adapt to the latter. Trying to retain both resulted in maintaining neither in their ‘full’ form.
Watching PINAY felt like watching my life story unfold before my eyes. As a 1.5-generation migrant (born in Davao, but raised in Avondale), the nostalgia that came upon me throughout the play was incomparable to any other sensation I have ever felt. Within those 90 minutes, I walked with Alex. I sounded like her, thought like her, felt like her. I had been shocked with the news that we were moving to New Zealand, leaving our old home behind. I wondered what kind of drink ‘morning tea’ was, or who my friends at school were going to be. I watched Alex grow as an independent woman, building a quilt-like identity that was similar to my own: isang diwang pilipino, patched with elements of Kiwiana and te ao Maori. The once-foreign land became her tahanan. But all throughout her journey, I couldn’t help but struggle with the same conundrum Alex — and Marianne — faced head-on: was she still a pinay? What did it mean to ‘be a pinay’? What even is a ‘pinay’?
“They’re not the antagonist.” —Marianne
Whatever ‘being a pinay’ meant for Alex was certainly very different for Mariella, Alex’s ina. This clash of values is found within typical Filipino migrant households — including mine and the play’s creators. What was notable, however, was their response to these differences. “There’s a reason why they moved you all the way here from home,” said James, commenting on the seemingly over-protective attitudes of Filipino parents towards their independent-minded children. “What’s unfair is that they uprooted their lives to give you a better future.”
The play vividly captured the tensions between first-generation migrants and their third-culture sons and daughters (who are shaped by modern ideologies, multicultural worldviews and a foreign, first-world environment). But however much Alex’s views were highlighted, her parents’ views were conveyed with honour, respect and integrity. PINAY’s sensitive portrayal of the older generation’s perspective — not with judgement, but with empathy and integrity — is highly admirable. The parallelism and symbolism employed by the play captured the shared essence between these generations: that despite the gap, they are not that different after all. Rather than expressing bitterness, the play emphasises the importance of compromise when you no longer share the same language, literal and metaphorical, with your family. Rather than exacerbating these differences, the play unifies these gaps. It reminds the Alexes of the audience that their parents are not the antagonist. PINAY reiterates a true Filipino principle: at the end of the day, family is family.
Photos by John Rata, courtesy of Proudly Asian Theatre
“We are the invisible minority.” —James
Still, some scenes were too difficult to watch. The rift between Alex and Mariella was at times too heavy to bear. But as I watched, heart-stricken, my silent gasps (that I thought were too quiet to be heard) were echoed by the gasps of my fellow pinays in the audience. Suddenly I realised that this was not merely my story, and these were not simply my experiences — they were all of ours. In that moment, we shared a second when we could all take a deep sigh of relief: “Finally someone knew, finally someone noticed.” At that point I realised that I was not alone. We were not alone.
From the moment I stepped into the theatre, I was greeted by a strangely familiar energy: the stage, laid out with banig, had a dining table topped with an all-too-familiar foil food tray. VST and Side A played on the karaoke machine while everyone laughed and belted out the lyrics. The subtle touches were incredible — snacking on SkyFlakes, cringe-worthy harana, early Christmases, family nicknames (“Leklek”), getting someone’s attention with “ssst!” — everyone I sat with couldn’t believe how relatable this all was. Instantly, I was home. As James had said, we are the invisible minority. Being Filipino, it’s hard to feel like you’re seen. For many of us who moved from the Philippines to Aotearoa, we had to adapt to survive. Assimilation meant that our Filipino-ness was drowned out by elements foreign to us. We forgot who we are as a people and it became hard to embrace who we are. This play allowed me to embrace my Filipino-ness. From the shadows, the Filipino experience emerged to the spotlight. In a society where we felt othered and alien, Basement Theatre became a space where we could be ourselves. Once silenced, now staged. Our struggles seen, acknowledged, validated, shared.
“I learned to takahia and sway my hips. I am proud of Aotearoa.” —Marianne
PINAY is not an exclusively ‘Filipino’ show. It acknowledges the importance of Aotearoa in forming a third-culture pinay’s identity. Unlike assimilation where one blends in at the expense of one’s inner essence, PINAY pursues an ideal of being ‘100%’ Filipino and New Zealander, all at once. While respecting and upholding ancestral Filipino origins, it honours the land of Aotearoa, strengthening bonds and paying homage to its Maori roots. Alex found a home in Aotearoa, just as Marianne did when she moved to Christchurch. She found a space where she could belong, particularly in hip-hop and kapa haka groups at school, where she realised how similar Filipinos were to Maori and Pasifika peoples: “We eat with our hands, we go to church on Sundays, we’re family oriented too.” I couldn’t help but recall my own experiences in Rosebank Primary and Avondale Intermediate, and how all those years of after-school feeds, band practices, jam sessions with neighbours and listening to hip-hop and R&B were how Maori and Pasifika influences helped me integrate into a Pakeha-dominated society that seemed to treat me as an outcast.
These strong links are embodied in Alex’s best-friendship with Tane — a friendship that is not only strengthened by their complementary personalities, but their shared struggles, as Tane is also forced to reconcile similar questions about his own identity. Rounding off the play is a well-crafted trilingual epilogue, harmoniously tying together these distinct cultures. Though not foreigners, Maori also attempt to carve out their own space of belonging within Aotearoa amidst growing diversity and discussions about what it means to be a New Zealander.
. . . .
After watching PINAY with a group of Filipino friends on opening night, we are still discussing it. We are still thinking about it. Many of us are still emotional about it, and others mustered the courage to begin difficult conversations with their families. PINAY is not just a play — it is the beginning of a conversation about culture, identity, and what it means to be Filipino. I can’t wait to watch this again with my parents on our 13th-year anniversary since moving to Avondale, and who knows: maybe our rifts will be healed.