Interview: Xyza Bacani, the Pinay domestic helper in HK who won the Magnum Foundation scholarship

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“Please email me, my boss is here,” Xyza Bacani instructs us early Friday morning. We’d just gotten word about her inspiring feat — she was chosen as one of the 7 fellows for the prestigious Magnum Foundation Human Rights scholarship — and we just had to speak with Xyza.

We found her on Facebook, where she is rather accessible, maintaining a personal account as well as a page dedicated to her photography.

This is the first time the 27-year-old photographer tried her luck in a contest, a scholarship, the like. “And it’s awesome because I got in,” Xyza says. “They emailed me for an interview, and the confirmation came yesterday.”

Can you tell us more about the Magnum Foundation program? How did you learn about it? Who encouraged you?
Magnum Foundation human rights fellowship is a 6-week intensive program in NYU by Magnum Foundation. [Photographer] Sim Chi Yin of VII encouraged me to join. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn and get a formal education in photography.

When did you learn about getting accepted?
They emailed me for an interview and the acceptance was confirmed just last night.

What does your boss have to say about it? Your parents?
Yes, my boss knows and she’s okay with it. My parents are very excited. They were crying [when I told them]. They are very proud, and for me, that’s the best thing.

How often to you go down and photograph?
I try to shoot every time there is an opportunity. But lately, I’ve been busy with the kids, so now I only get to shoot during my day off.

Xyza Bacani

Which area of Hong Kong is your go-to, no-fail place?
Everywhere is no fail. You just need to observe and be part of that area. As long as I have the time too shoot, I will shoot. I like darkness, though. I think the personalities of people change when the sun goes down, and the neon lights are on.

It’s good you’re not dead-tired from work to keep shooting!
I’m always tired, ha-ha. Most of the time, I pass out while editing my photos. But photography for me is always surprising and exciting. It suits my personality, so I always shoot. It’s a need, not just a want.

So we can say that photography is almost like an outlet for you. When you’re having a tough day at work, you turn to photography.
Yes! This is my zen. It’s free therapy to survive the city and life of being an OFW.

Who do you look up to in photography?
Jonathan van Smit. I adore him and his work. He is a very good friend of mine. Sim Chi Yin of VII, who encouraged me to apply for the Magnum Scholarship. I want to be like her someday. Of course Manong Rick, and all the photojourns in Oarhouse.

Xyza Bacani

What are you plans for the future? The world just opened up, it seems!
I want to continue documenting the life of OFWs. I want to tell their stories — our stories — and plant seeds of awareness in people. I want to be a photojournalist, a photographer with a purpose. I am part of “Unpredictable, Unscripted” exhibit that Manong Rick is fixing. I’m looking forward to books and an exhibit soon.

Yes, tell us about Rick Rocamora. He discovered you, right?
We became friends on Facebook. He started noticing because I post every day.

Any words of encouragement, especially to OFWs who now turn to you for inspiration?
All dreams are valid as long as we work hard and be passionate about it. It’s all about hard work. It always pay off!

Photo: Xaxaphotography Facebook page


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