A Filipino American woman from Texas talks about finding comfort with other Filipinos while in a popular West Coast city.
On May 15, Melannie Millan Keys, (@longanisaarms) took to TikTok to talk about a recent experience she had while in Los Angeles. Keys, who is Filipino American and lives in Houston, went to a bar with some friends in West Hollywood. Feeling uneasy in a densely populated venue, she felt an anxiety attack coming on — but what she heard next brought immediate comfort.
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“I was notified that it was a drag queen gay bar, and I was really excited, but when we got there I was a little overwhelmed with the population. Like, there was, like, a lot of people, and I was like, ‘I gotta go,’” Keys explains. “I went to the bathroom fully prepared to leave from anxiety but then I stopped myself because I could hear people singing in Tagalog.”
“I had to listen because I was like, ‘That can’t be Tagalog,’ but it was. It was a crowd of people singing in Tagalog, and I was wondering, ‘Am I in my homeland? Like, am I back in the Philippines? Like, where am I?’ she adds.
Keys then surveys the bar and realizes something else — that she’s actually among a ton of Filipinos.
“I look around and I’m like, ‘Oh s***, 80% of the people here are Filipino,’” she claims. “And, like, the Filipinos that I witnessed were a different breed. Like, think Bretman Rock, but, like, all the genders. The shoes were on point, the fits were on point, the hair was immaculate … and just everything, the energy was so good.”
‘I’ve only seen, like, one model of Filipino here, so I’ve never felt like I fit in’
Living in Houston, Keys notes that the Filipinos she’s surrounded by are quite conservative.
“I’m from Houston where, like, you know, it’s very conservative, and so the Filipinos that live here are here to build a family,” she says. “So we have a lot of, like, Christian, like, Catholic, Methodist Filipinos that are nurses. You know, I’ve only seen, like, one model of Filipino here, so I’ve never felt like I fit in.”
Keys was born in New York City and raised in Manila. She relocated to Houston with her family around the time she started high school.
“I’ve only known a certain brand of Filipino. May I even add super judgey. Like, I’m a tatted up b****, like, I never get complimented by other Filipinos because it’s just too much. I’m a lot for, like, the average Filipino,” she says. “But in LA, people complimented my outfit, people were complimenting my sleeve, they were like, ‘Oh my god, b****, who did your tattoo?’”
This warm welcome has Keys contemplating a move to Los Angeles.
“And I’m, like, low-key wondering if I need to move to California and be with my people because Houston is not giving,” she admits.
What Keys desires from the place she lives is the ability to be immersed in Filipino culture, to be surrounded by art in an LGBTQ-friendly environment and to live in a bustling, metropolitan city.
“I feel like LA Filipinos are all of those things, and I just wish we had that here in Houston,” she says.
With 3.8 million people, Los Angeles has the largest Asian population of any county in the United States, according to the U.S. Census 2021 estimates. Per the same estimates, Filipino Americans are the largest Asian American subgroup in Los Angeles, with 129,754 residents. Los Angeles County is home to the second-largest Filipino immigrant population in the world, surpassed only by the country’s capital city, Manila.
Should Keys move to Los Angeles, in particular, she would be in close proximity to the city’s Historic Filipinotown, which in 2022 was granted a new landmark: a gateway arch spanning 82 feet across and 30 feet high along the neighborhood’s eastern entrance designed by Filipino American artists Eliseo Art Silva and Celestino Geronimo Jr.
‘Move to California! LA or the Bay Area! Be with your people! It’s so good for your mental health’
Fellow Filipinos are urging Keys to make the move and prioritize her mental health.
“CA has the highest population of Filipinos in the entire US. Come visit the Bay Area too. Much to love and feel connected,” @stephaniequilao wrote.
“California Filipinos are different period. I am in Dallas & it’s different here too. You are beautiful,” @kiane1965 commented.
“Move to California! LA or the Bay Area! Be with your people! It’s so good for your mental health,” @shevallreads urged.
Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Filipino diaspora continues to fight for visibility within the city itself.
“One reason we don’t have ethnic enclaves is that we’re not dependent on an ethnic economy to survive,” activist and historian Joe Bernardo told NBC News, while noting that because Filipinos are fluent in English, employment can be found anywhere in the city. Another reason, Bernardo explained, is the fact that establishments within Historic Filipinotown don’t look distinguishably Asian — which is due to the “legacy of U.S. and Spanish colonization in the Philippines.”
Should Keys decide to move to Los Angeles, it seems she’ll be among a more like-minded community of Filipino Americans.
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