Strength in vulnerability: Xyza Bacani gets personal in debut book ‘We Are Like Air’

Amanda T. Lago
Strength in vulnerability: Xyza Bacani gets personal in debut book ‘We Are Like Air’
The documentary photographer tells her own story this time

MANILA, Philippines – Xyza Bacani is telling another striking story – and this time, it’s her own.

The street and documentary photographer launched her new book We Are Like Air on Wednesday, March 13, sharing her exploration of the Filipino migrant experience – a story that is deeply personal to her.

The book, Xyza’s first, includes her photography from 2013 to 2018. In it, she weaves a narrative based on her own personal experience as the daughter of a migrant worker who became one herself as an adult. Through photos, old letter exchanges, and Xyza’s own writing, she takes a deep, intimate look at the lives of migrant workers, and all the challenges that come with it.

The title We Are Like Air refers to how Filipino domestic workers are so integral to the families they work for, and yet are wholly unseen. The book is her effort to change that, as she casts her lens on them and documents their lives.

For Xyza, the process of writing the book – which took all of two years – allowed her to confront all the issues in her life that stemmed from having her mother leave her as a child to work abroad.

She said that putting such a personal story out there for the world to consume was both scary and cathartic.

“I’m scared because the world is mean and putting out the story of my family will always have an idiot or an asshole saying something mean over this story and of course they’re my family, I’m always going to protect them,” she said at a Q&A session with guests at the book launch, which was hosted by Fujifilm.

“But then, [it was also] cathartic because I was able to find out that I have a lot of issues in life…I’m not embarrassed to say I have abandonment issues,” she said, sharing that she is seeing a professional to deal with it.

“But the fact that I recognize that one of the things that migration has done to me was [give me] abandonment issues and every decision that I made in my life was because of being left behind when I was 8 is something big. It’s a big step for me, and it’s not a special case. Imagine, children of 10 million Filipinos right now, going through that.”

OPENING UP. Xyza Bacani reads a passage from 'We Are Like Air,' telling the story of how her mother left their family to work in Singapore. Photo by Amanda Lago/Rappler

She also said that writing the book taught her the importance of vulnerability.

“[I learned] that it’s okay to be vulnerable. That we need to embrace vulnerability. Because I think as photographers, when we’re vulnerable, the photos will be more raw, more honest,” she told Rappler in an interview at the launch. “It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but it’s okay.”

The vulnerability can be seen throughout the book – in images showing Xyza’s mother embracing the children of her employer, opening the door to their home, and kneeling in prayer.

Xyza hopes that the book will impact the families that are affected by the migrant experience – and as it turns out, many migrant workers now have their own copies of her book, whether their employers gave it to them as gifts, or they bought the book themselves.

“When I was creating the book, I wasn’t thinking about sales, I wasn’t thinking about if it will make me awesome – I’m already awesome, I know that,” Xyza quipped. “It’s more of – I’m hoping the book will have impact on the children of migrant workers and their families.”

She shared that she wants people to stop seeing migrant workers as victims.

“We need to stop treating them as victims all the time. They are champions – champions of their own families, champions of the families they serve,” she said.

“It’s so easy to celebrate people like me – people who were able to ‘break the ceiling,’ people who are travelling the world, telling other people’s stories. But we forget to celebrate the women who are with us everyday, serving our families, serving other people’s children and still serving their children in the Philippines. We need to look at them as champions, in the Philippines, in Hong Kong, wherever they are,” she said.

We Are Like Air is available online at –

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.