#PinayCrush: Nina Santiago-Escalante
When asked who inspires her today, Nina Santiago-Escalante mentioned “Tayo”. In Tagalog, “tayo” means “we” and that “we” for Nina is her art family in Toronto, Canada. Through TAYO Collective, Nina and her friends are able to create their own art as well as bring visibility to their artistry.
After attending the same mentorship program together, the group continued to produce art together when the program ended last summer -- per Nina’s proposal, as she says at the time she was experiencing separation anxiety from the program. Thus, TAYO Collective was born and nurtured into a Filipinx-Canadian multidisciplinary art collective which has been an independent collective since 2016, planning their own programs and movements within the Toronto scene. But Nina, who personally doesn’t like labels that can form hierarchy within the group, wouldn’t call herself the sole creator of TAYO Collective as she says the group is “a collective idea between a collection of magical, amazing people” who are “learning who they are.”
“We are unpacking our greatest gifts,” she adds. “We will continue to create and destroy ideas as a fam and I wouldn't want this journey to happen with anyone else but with them.”
One of the ideas brought forth by TAYO Collective is 187 Augusta. Co-founded by Cathleen Jayne Calica and John Smith, 187 Augusta is a creative space that has also become a physical home for TAYO Collective’s events such as a recent embroidery class on November 6th that was taught by Nina. In the class, Nina examines how her embroidery is influenced by her culture while the class also serves as a gathering for others to therapeutically release anxiety through creating textile art. TAYO will also have an upcoming show at 187 August from November 17th to November 19th. Nina reveals the show is “inspired by the ideas surrounding masculinity, the toxicity of hyper-masculinity, the ways to navigate masculine energies and the healthy ways of minding our masculinities.”
And what else can we expect from TAYO? Nina shares that the group will be launching a website soon as their personal digital home for their projects, featuring information about the members and future events.
We interviewed Nina about her immigration story, the Pilipinx scene in Canada and what being Hella Pinay means to her.
What is your family's migration story from the Philippines to Canada?
My mom and dad were both born in Manila. They met in their 20s and the household was very matriarchal. The story was your typical Pinoy teleserye of the rich girl meets the boy from the streets. Anyway, a few years down the line, my parents realized that opportunities in the Philippines were hella minimum (almost nothing) so [my mom] decided to apply for a permanent residency in Canada because the North American lifestyle provided more opportunities for work. We waited 5 years for our papers to get approved, and I was blessed to say that the family got approved [together] and nobody was left behind. I never fail to mention to my fam how grateful I am for their patience and hard work for bringing my sister and I into this first-world lifestyle. I also never forget to check my privilege as a Filipinx-Canadian to be able to have a say on how to live my life.
Where in the Philippine does your heritage draw from?
My parents are both Manila kids. My dad's ancestors are from Visayan region. My mom's ancestors are from Northern Luzon? My connections to my indigenous ancestors are very blurred because of colonization.
What is the Pilipinx scene like in Toronto?
Fire. Fire. Fire! There is no other way to say it but straight up fiyah. The Pilipinx scene in Toronto is very empowering because the youth are taking over! We are creating spaces for ourselves. We are fighting for our visibility. I also love that the OG Pilipinx artists that have been in the game way longer have been nothing but supportive to the new generation. There is also the silent mentorship going on between peers, OG's and new gens. I am so thankful to be able to know who I know in the creative scene and how supportive we all are of each other! All love and fire!
And what was it like growing up in Toronto after having migrated from the Philippines?
Weird. Strange. I moved to Toronto (Scarborough to be exact) at the age of 14. At 14, you don't have a good sense of self, maybe some do? But I certainly didn't. So having to go through that pubescent teen angst then having to stop everything you knew about your life and start over? It was very confusing for me. I tried really hard in my teens to fit in, to erase my roots, and I didn't like that version of me at all but the universe gives you these life experiences for many reasons. Knowing my way of thinking then, to the me now is definitely a whole other long story I need to unpack.
Can you tell me a bit about your creative journey?
Where do I even start? My artistry is very multi-defined. I started getting into the arts through photography. Then, realizing that photography in Toronto is very male-centric and so I didn't feel like I fit in? So I switched it up to textile arts. However, I still missed photography and the way the universe can give you exactly what you need when you need it is amazing to me. So I found a way to combine all of my arts into one. At this moment, I am creating art installations/spaces that consist of photography, textile arts, visual arts, with an interactive element to it. I say “at this moment" because I find that my creative journey is always changing and evolving because that is the human condition.
Who are the Filipinas you looked up to or still look up to?
I live my life as creatively as I can for my Lola, Ofelia Santiago. She passed away recently but I know she's with me all the time because of all these blessings that are coming through my way. I have so much love for my healer mama, Jennifer Maramba. She has taught me so much about emotional and spiritual growth that only make my creative processes better.
What makes you Hella Pinay or what does that mean to you?
Hella Pinay equals the strength of Filipinx womxn found within decolonization, the fire our ancestors have gifted to us, the unwavering connections we have with Mother moon and Mother earth, and the unconditional love we have for ourselves. I am Hella Pinay.
Kristina Bustos is a freelance journalist with a decade of experience covering fashion, entertainment, food, wellness and women of color narratives. She also has worked with older adults for more than four years, currently creating and teaching educational programming such as Filipino American Studies and Women’s Activism in the U.S. You can see more of her writing in The Riveter, Paste Magazine and Essence Magazine.