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'I am not my circumstances:' Meet Xyza Cruz Bacani, the OFW turned photographer graduating as an NYU scholar

By SAAB LARIOSA Published May 18, 2022 4:54 pm

Xyza Cruz Bacani, a former Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong whose body of work as a photographer earned her a scholarship at the New York University (NYU), is set to graduate today, May 18.

In a span of ten years, Bacani has been featured in the New York Times and CNN had gone from a domestic helper to achieving her Masters in Arts and Politics degree at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, a prestigious program that has seen the likes of Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Lady Gaga.

At 19, Xyza had to quit nursing school to provide for her family abroad. While working in Hong Kong, Xyza started taking black and white photos of her surroundings before her work was discovered online.

In 2019, she published her first photography book about the migrant experience: We Are Like Air.

During her studies, Xyza had written in PhilSTAR L!fe about her wish that Filipino families will no longer depend on migration.

"In an ideal world, a 19-year-old should still be in school, dreaming and hanging out with friends, making mistakes, and preparing for the real world, but then my reality is far from the ideal," Xyza wrote.

"My mother, a domestic worker, needed to leave us to give us a better life, but then I became one myself. Migration has shaped our lives, and up to this day, it is our reality."

Likewise placing importance on her family's migration, Xyza celebrated her graduation by sharing photos wearing the famed purple NYU toga and graduation cap.

"Even without a college degree, NYU took a chance on me," she began. 

"I am a descendant. My ancestors are people you don't read about in history books. They are unseen and unheard. We don't have family inheritance except for the traumas passed on from one generation to another."

"I am an ancestor. As a storyteller in today's world of uncertainty, I need to see myself as an ancestor rather than a descendant."

Xyza concluded that she will always be an artist "because I am not my circumstances."

Filipino-American NYU Biology professor and former Dean of Science Michael Purugganan also praised Xyza.

"NYU was so impressed with her that even without a college degree they accepted her (with scholarship) into the rigorous M.A. in Arts Politics program at the Tisch school. On Wednesday she will be in Yankee Stadium to get her diploma!" the professor wrote.

Xyza is sharing the same NYU stage with Vice President Leni Robredo's daughter and fellow graduate, Jillian Robredo. The youngest Robredo sibling completed a double degree in economics and mathematics.

Meanwhile, the NYU Class of 2022 commencement speech will be given by artist Taylor Swift, who will receive an honorary doctorate.