If South Korea has Squid Game actress Jung Hoyeon, then the Chinoy community has Reins Mika.
Sneaking a peek into the world of Philippine modeling, CHiNOY TV’s Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart returns to CNN Philippines with a brand new season, continuing to provide insightful dialogues with Chinese-Filipino personalities from all over the country. The documentary series, with its theme of going #BeyondBorders, illustrates stories of those who have explored being a modern Chinoy beyond tradition, geography, and convention.
One such example is Reins Mika Melitante, professionally known as just Reins Mika, one of the few young Chinoys to make a name for themselves in the exclusive global modeling scene. Having started at the age of 15, the Chinita fashion figure is the first Filipino to nab the Digital Creator Award at the 37th Elite Model Look (EML) World Final Competition.
Aside from representing the Philippines at the contest organized by the globally renowned Elite Model agency, Reins Mika has also been featured in multiple spreads and features across Preview, L’Officiel Philippines, Lifestyle Asia, Stylish, and more.
On modeling and growing beyond the mold
The truth is that Chinoy communities can often be considered to be conservative and traditional. This is part of the reason why Reins Mika found it hard to enter the world of modeling when she was scouted at the tender age of 15.
“I think no one actually knew what modeling was in the Chinoy community. Now, the popular ones are bloggers. You know, like Camille Co, Liz Uy, Laureen [Uy]… They were doing fashion, and everyone fell in love with it. But with modeling, it was different. Probably, it wasn’t as big as the bloggers. So when I did modeling, I think I was one of the [few] who introduced it to the community, and I would say it’s actually something I did well in,” said Mika.
Although Mika initially had reservations with the career and her potential, she decided to grab the opportunity to model with the full support of her parents. Interestingly enough, this also revealed a past that Mika herself didn’t remember — being a baby model!
“[My mom] is the type of ‘momager’ who would like to bring me where she was when I was young. She used to write for magazines, and she would bring me as the baby model, but she stopped because I think she wanted me to focus on my studies. So when she heard that I was going back to it at 15, she told me, ‘You’ve been doing this! I’ve been bringing you to this. When you were young, you just weren’t aware of it.’ And then, I said to myself, ‘Oh, okay.’ Then she taught me how the process went, and she was fully supportive.
“My dad took a little adjustment. He was very unsure about [modeling] because this type was professional, and it’s very unconventional. It’s not traditional in nature,” Mika continued. “It took a while for my dad to understand what I was doing and how it made me happy.”
And modeling did make her happy. But it took time. Mika had to face stereotypes and insecurities for her career to evolve into something that she loved. “Until now, I don’t think I’m pretty. I feel like I’m very ordinary because, when you’re in the Chinese community, you all look alike. We all have chinky eyes and cute smiles,” Mika said.
“But when I went out, when I did modeling, I realized I actually [looked] different. I was standing [out] more [among] the mestizas, and I didn’t know if my look was actually for modeling because I didn’t feel like I belonged. I felt like they were more after these kinds of girls. Then someone told me, ‘You know, your looks are so edgy. It’s so different, and it’s oriental. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, this is a powerful weapon to use,’” she continued.
But like a double-edged sword, weapons could hurt her too. For a while, Mika leaned into the Asian girl stereotype. She would stretch out her eyeliner, style her hair with bangs, and wear a general compilation of other characteristics that would identify her as an Asian. Perhaps, it worked. Sometimes. However, that advantage soon turned into an anchor. It stopped Mika from being seen as an individual.
“Looking back, I really felt sad for myself. I felt like I was this girl who really wanted to be seen in this industry, and that’s hard,” Mika admitted. “Modeling is more [than] that. It’s showing [your] personality more. It’s being your unfiltered, authentic self. You don’t need the bangs to like me. You don’t need the bangs to look Asian. You know, if your heart tells you — well, my heart always speaks for being Chinoy.”
On Chinoy representation and values
“I wanted to see Asian girls on the runway,” said Mika. “When I watch fashion shows, and they [include] an Asian woman on the runway, it means so much. It’s like the feeling that you know you’re proud. You’re proud that someone there is representing you in this industry and it goes back.”
Aside from Reins Mika herself, one would be hard-pressed to find another Chinoy name wading around the international modeling sphere. This is why it feels very important for Mika to actually represent the Chinese-Filipino community in the industry. “Actually, I haven’t seen any Chinoys on the runway,” admitted Mika. “It’s actually Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, you know?”
“When I joined the [Elite Model competition], I thought it was an achievement unlocked. I would say I’m really happy. I brought honor to what being a Chinoy is because during the competition, like in every challenge I did, I applied the values I learned from being Chinoy,” said Mika.
Discipline. Perseverance. Creativity. Resourcefulness. Because of the business-minded mentality of her family, Mika was able to mold her own personal branding through social media. Because of all the gymnastics, ballet, and swimming classes that her high-achieving Chinoy mother had enrolled her in when she was younger, Mika found herself able to stand out on set. Everything that she has been raised with throughout her Chinoy upbringing has proven to be valuable. However, if there was one lesson that Mika treasured all throughout her career, it would be the one that her father had given her:
Finish what you start.
“When I started [modeling], I was so confused. I didn’t know what was going on and where modeling would take me. Sometimes, there were days I didn’t like modeling at all because it was also harming my health. [It was hard to] balance school and studies. But that “finish what we started.” My mindset. It got me to think that, if I started this journey in modeling, then it’s something I [can] successfully achieve. So having this mindset really propelled me to do more, to be more determined, to be more masipag in attending castings, [and to] get more jobs,” Mika explained.
“I look at myself now, and I’m so happy about the crazy journey I went through just to get where I am in modeling. I did what I did — [to] model internationally, which was my biggest goal. I definitely say I’d finish what I started, and I can’t thank you enough for my dad who put that in my mind.”
Be sure to catch Reins Mika on Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart on CNN Philippines! The series airs every Sunday at 8PM. Stay tuned on CHiNOY TV’s and CNN Philippines’ Facebook pages for further updates.