Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani is now also an NYU graduate


Jill Robredo isn’t the only amazing Filipina to graduate from NYU this week

ANCX staff | May 18, 2022

While people are talking about Vice President Jillian Robredo’s daughter graduating from New York University this week, there’s actually another Filipina doing the same who is just as deserving of a spotlight: renowned documentary photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani.

Bacani is known for her powerful, nuanced and intimate images of Filipino migrant workers in different parts of the world. His photographs have landed on the pages of reputable international titles such as The New York Times and CNN. Bacani herself was an OFW, working as a domestic helper and nanny in Hong Kong with her mother when Filipino photographer Rick Rocamora “discovered” her black and white photographs online. The review got him featured in a New York Times profile and things just weren’t the same afterwards.

Xyza photographed for ANCX in 2019. Photo by Joseph Pascual

“I didn’t dream of being a full-time photographer,” she told ANCX in 2019. “It wasn’t on my to-do list. My to-do list was to survive , to help my family, to work, and then to start all over again.

Bacani graduated from a master’s program in arts policy at the Tisch School on Wednesday. “Two years ago, NYU was so impressed with her that even without a college degree, they accepted her (with scholarship) into the rigorous [program]wrote Michael Puruganan, professor of biology and former dean of science at NYU, in a recent Facebook post.

Bacani tells the ANCX the Master’s program was intensive – which had to be postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

“The most formidable challenge is the adaptation period,” adds the photojournalist. “Not having a college degree to get into the college program means I have to work harder to keep up with the program and my cohorts. It’s fun to be part of TISCH. It is a humbling experience. The best times are getting grades on my grades and spending time with my cohorts and faculties. They are all accomplished people, and I learned from their offerings.

With his mother Georgia.  From @xyzacruzbacani on Instagram
With his mother Georgia. From @xyzacruzbacani on Instagram

Joining Bacani at Yankee Stadium for the graduating rites is her husband Nicholas Papananias, a photo editor, and the representative of the person who gave her the Tisch Scholarship. However, her parents will not be able to join her.

“I wish my parents were there to celebrate with me,” Bacani recently posted on Facebook. “Next week, I will officially graduate. I realized a dream, not only mine but that of my parents. A farmer and an OFW had a daughter with a master’s degree in arts and politics from NYU. I always wish they could see me wearing a purple dress that doesn’t compliment my complexion but wears it proud and loud. It is for my descendants. I broke the chain mom!

Bacani’s parents are in Nueva Vizcaya. She says she will just film the ceremonies and send them the video. “Tulog na sila this time,” she tells us. “Medio melancholy kasewala ang parents. Dream din nila see you huh. Papatarpolin na lang daw (if Papa). Hahaha.”

What are his immediate plans after graduation?

“I’m going to rest a bit because rest is also an act of resistance. I will go back to Asia for some projects,” says Bacani. These projects include a non-fiction novel set in Hong Kong. “It’s about the seeds of family, post-colonial memories and love.” This follows his debut “We Are Like Air” which was launched in 2019, a book of photographs about migrant workers, and inspired by the story of his mother Georgia Bacani.

Xyza Bacani
His first book, a portrait of migrant workers all over the world.

Xyza was eight years old when her mother moved to Singapore to become a domestic helper. Her salary as a laundress in their hometown was simply not enough to support her three children. She was unhappy in Singapore – she got there through a human trafficker, she also had an abusive employer– but that didn’t stop Nueva Vizcayanon from taking another chance to work overseas.

Georgia found a job in Hong Kong working for a wealthy widow who would become her friend. It was this widow, Kathryn Louey, a philanthropist, who would encourage Xyza to pursue photography, offering the young woman an advance so she could get the SLR she wanted. Xyza’s camera would become her mother’s eyes to the outside world. “My goal then was to show my mother what Hong Kong was like. She never went out. She worked seven days a week (at her employer’s home) because she chose to get paid instead of going out. and to rest.

On Wednesday morning, Xyza posted a moving message to her Instagram along with photos of herself in a graduation gown taken by her hubby. “I am a scholar and I am grateful to the people who paved the way for me to dream, who saw my potential and extended their generosity,” he says. “I am in awe of your beauty and grace. I am grateful to my mom and dad who taught me kindness and courage.

To learn more about the story of Xyza Cruz Bacani, click on this link.