Levi's releases a special collection of blogs dedicated to AAPI Heritage Month on their Off the Cuff newsletter. They recognized three Filipino-Americans. They are Levi's staffers Gem Mateo, Sr. Global Brand Creative and Melissa Ladines, Director of US PR and Entertainment Marketing and Paul Ocampo, Director of Development at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

Gem Mateo is from Daly City, California. He mentions growing up with a large Asian community and just a melting pot of different cultures. Mateo expresses his gratitude in being exposed to different cultures and family backgrounds.

"I wanted to make a Trucker that not only represented me as an individual, but all Filipinos. So my design incorporates a barong, which is a sheer, ornately embroidered overshirt that’s traditionally worn to formal occasions like weddings. Levi’s® was a symbol of the USA, and my cousins in the Philippines would always ask us to bring them jeans when we visited. I mashed up the two together to represent Filipino Americans and my own cultural background."

Gem Mateo, Sr. Global Brand Creative

Melissa Ladines was born in Manila and at 7 years old she was sent to boarding school for 2 years in the U.S. Eventually her family moved to the U.S. to help her sister receive better health care. She shares the challenges in immigrating to a new country. "It took several years and financial sacrifices to become not only a legal immigrant but a United States citizen. It makes you realize that carrying an American passport is a privilege." 

Growing up, I would always see family members wear a gown with these sleeves (butterfly sleeves) to weddings or formal events. I always thought it was a bold fashion statement for a Filipina woman. I wanted to incorporate the sleeves into a Trucker Jacket to achieve the same statement and strengthen Filipino pride. 

Melissa Ladines, Director of US PR and Entertainment Marketing

Paul Ocampo was born in Cavite, Philippines and migrated to the U.S. at 11 years old. His family left the Philippines during the President Marcos' dictatorship and at the height of martial law. They looked to seek opportunities for a better life. However like Melissa Ladines mentioned, it came with challenges. Paul shared he struggled to fit in as people made fun of his accent. He worked hard to fix it and to be accepted by peers. This was his way to close the gap of his proximity to whiteness through language.

"As I reflect on the long process of accepting my identity as a first-generation, queer Filipino American, it seems like my whole life has been a constant struggle and journey of coming out. I now don’t take for granted coming out as gay, as an artist, or as an activist—coming out has been a process that enabled me to know myself more deeply. Each stage of acceptance led to another, and ultimately, to where I am today. Full acceptance of my complete self, living my life on my own terms, is the song of myself."

Paul Ocampo, Director of Development at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus

Check out all their stories and more on Levi's Off the Cuff.

Cover Photo Credit: Kollective Hustle Facebook

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