Agnes Constante

Journalist & Blogger

Work Samples

How the Philippines’ colonial legacy weighs on Filipino American mental health

LA Times
Oct. 12, 2021

Daniela Pila spent an hour after school one day scrubbing her brown skin with a bar of papaya soap, hoping it would turn white.

She was 12 and had never really cared much about the color of her skin. But the negative comments she had received about her physical features throughout her life had started to weigh her down.

She remembered a family member saying her nose made her look like a pig. Her classmates called her fat, ugly and damak — a Filipino term that means filthy. She saw that her peers with lighter complexions were showered with compliments.

“I was so tired of having people comment on my body and my skin tone and my body parts — things I had no control over,” said Pila, now 32, a postdoctoral researcher in critical race studies at Fordham University. “And I thought, ‘Maybe if I’m lighter skinned, people will leave me alone.’”

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Gambling addiction can be silent struggle for Asian Americans, with few culturally sensitive solutions

NBC Asian America
Feb. 22, 2021

Jimmy Wong was in his early 20s when his older brother kicked him out of the house.

Wong was working at a supermarket in Southern California at the time and was spending the majority of his income at casinos he frequented with his friends.

Gambling had been a social activity they turned to during their spare time. But it was one that took a toll on him. He grew so addicted to it that he often found himself with no money to buy food or pay for transportation, leaving him with no choice but to walk wherever he needed to go.

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Mental healthcare for Cambodian, Vietnamese refugees limited by shortage of bicultural, bilingual providers

Sept. 17, 2020

Paul Hoang moved to Orange County in 2007 after a taxing work year as a mental health clinician in Illinois.

In the Midwest, he had seen clients who drove up to six hours once a month — even through blizzards — for his services. Demand was high because there was a lack of providers serving the Vietnamese community, he said.

It was something he tried to remedy by getting involved in local politics to advocate for more resources.

But after a year, he burnt out.

Hoang had hoped to find more groups that served the Vietnamese community and more support for providers in Orange County, given its Vietnamese population of approximately 200,000, according to the 2010 census. He said he arrived surprised to find that neither of those things existed.

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In musical ‘Supportive White Parents,’ first-generation struggles get set to song

Nov. 4, 2019
NBC Asian America

Joy, a Filipino American student at the University of California, Berkeley, wishes on a shooting star for supportive white parents when she feels pushed to the limit.

Just moments earlier, the main character of the musical “Supportive White Parents,” had told her Asian parents that she was switching her major from molecular biology to Southeast Asian studies — causing a major riff. They tell her she owes it to them to stick with studying biology because of everything they’ve sacrificed for her, including leaving their native Philippines to give their family a better life.

Joy’s wish is met, and the play unfolds with songs like “Utang Na Loob,” a Filipino phrase that translates to “debt of the heart” or “debt of gratitude,” and another titled “We Hug in This Family,” which explains how physical affection in Asian families is not as common as it can be in other cultures.

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As Cambodian deportations resume, community looks for ways to cope

NBC Asian America
April 20, 2018

Sothy Kum learned that he was being deported to Cambodia an hour before he boarded the bus that took him from an immigration detention center to an airport in El Paso, Texas, he said.

The 43-year-old didn’t have time to call his wife or change clothes beforehand, he added, and after more than 20 hours of travel, arrived in an unfamiliar country his family fled when he was about 2.

“Everything here is just totally the opposite in the U.S.,” Kum said. “The traffic, the way they ride their moped and go the wrong way. There’s no stoplight.”

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In California, Asian Americans find growing political power

NBC Asian America
April 19, 2018

LOS ANGELES — When Rob Bonta became California’s first Filipino-American state legislator in 2012, he wanted to show that someone who understood the Asian-American community could be a champion for it.

In his first year, he introduced a bill requiring schools to teach the Filipino-American role in California history, including in the farmworkers labor movement. That measure was signed into law the next year.

“That was very much inspired by my Filipino-American heritage, my family’s own personal experience in the movement, and was something I wanted to share more broadly with the larger Filipino-American community and the larger Asian-American community and the larger California community,” Bonta said.

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Hollywood is having a #MeToo moment. Women of color have fought this battle for decades.

NBC News
Jan. 28, 2018

Growing up, Farah Tanis was told she could expect two things once she decided to settle down: either her husband would cheat on her, or he would physically, sexually, or financially abuse her.

It was a message she said she received from women in her family who themselves had experienced abuse in their lifetime. She had relatives who were raped at 12 years old; others were as young as 5.

Tanis grew up in a home where she lived under sexual and physical terrorism, she said, and when she was a child, she became among the generations of women in her family who were victims of sexual violence.

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Wisconsin Teen Convicted of Homicide Withdraws Request for New Trial

NBC Asian America
May 18, 2017

A Wisconsin Hmong-American teenager convicted in the 2015 fatal stabbing of another teen has opted not to seek a new trial.

Dylan Yang, 17, who was convicted of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of 13-year-old Isaiah Powell, withdrew a motion for a retrial on Tuesday. The motion was filed in March by Yang’s attorney, Harry Hertel, who argued that his client’s first lawyer was ineffective.

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‘Never Too Late to Change’: In Deportation Limbo, Tung Nguyen Wants to Help Fellow Felons

NBC Asian America
Jan. 23, 2017

Every day, Tung Nguyen lives in uncertainty.

A resident of Orange County, California, he works as a construction helper and takes on random jobs to make ends meet. His income is unstable.

But it’s not his financial insecurity that worries him most: It’s the fact that any day, he could be torn away from his wife and stepson and deported from the United States.

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Critics Accuse Disney of ‘Culture Theft’ Ahead of ‘Moana’ Release

NBC Asian America
Nov. 18, 2016

While many are looking forward to Disney’s “Moana” hitting theaters Thanksgiving weekend, some Pacific Islanders are not excited for the film. Ahead of its debut, “Moana” has become the subject of criticism from some who say it inaccurately depicts Polynesian culture and exploits it for profit.

“Through this project, Disney reached into the entire Pacific region and cherry picked here and there to create this fantasy of Polynesia,” Anne Keala Kelly, a Native Hawaiian filmmaker and journalist, told NBC News. “Polynesia isn’t a race and so that already is very problematic. There are millions of people in the Pacific, hundreds of languages.”

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How a Second Chance Led Ex-Con Jay Ly to Some Stinkin Crawfish

NBC Asian America
Oct. 27, 2016

For Jay Ly, every workday is different.

Sometimes, he gets up at 6 a.m. to meet with contractors at the two currently under construction locations of a Cajun restaurant that he co-founded with friends called Stinkin Crawfish. Other times, he’s at the restaurant’s three existing branches, fixing the occasional clogged drain or broken power outlet.

He’s also busy coordinating with a friend and business partner about the two new locations, which are slated to be up and running by early 2017, perhaps even sooner.

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Korean-American Org Turns Faith Leaders to ‘First Responders’ with Domestic Violence Training

NBC Asian America
Nov. 16, 2016

Many Korean-American survivors of domestic violence go first to their faith leaders for guidance, a nonprofit found in an in-house survey, but when the survivors approached those leaders, the leaders were unprepared.

That finding prompted the Los Angeles-based Korean American Family Services (KFAM) to host a Korean-language training about domestic violence targeted at faith leaders, the first of its kind in Southern California, according to the organization. The first leaders to finish program graduated earlier this month.

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California Governor Signs Bill Granting Overtime to Domestic Workers into Law

NBC Asian America
Sept. 13, 2016

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that grants permanent overtime protections to privately hired domestic workers in the state on Monday, in a victory for Filipino-American advocates who had pushed for the legislation.

“I am very thankful that SB 1015 was signed into law by Gov. Brown,” Emily, 57, a Filipino caregiver who declined to give her last name, told NBC News. “With SB 1015 making AB 241’s overtime provisions permanent, I don’t have to work as much to get so little pay. I get more of a choice on which shifts I want to take and I now have some breathing room between bills as well as more time to also care for my own health.”

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