First-Genration photographer is “Moving with Meaning”
FOR THE QC
Although fourth-year Regina Valencia is used to being the one behind the camera, her visible impact on campus — from her photography on display in the art department to the Mental Health Alliance’s advertisements — is something everyone can see. Valencia’s personal mantra is “move with meaning,” which means “acknowledging other’s perspectives and trying to understand to better compromise with each other” — appropriate for the Founder and President of the Mental Health Alliance club, three-time winner of Whittier College’s Greenleaf Slam, photographer, and multiple-time film festival winner.
Despite being a leader at school, you are more likely to know Valencia from her initiating conversation with you. With her natural smile and soft-yet-firm hugs, Valencia wants to “connect with everyone” and “facilitate that feeling of wholeness.” Her only caveat to this goal has been her “student lifestyle,” but her determination to overcome this time constriction and past experience overcoming hardship, led to her development of a secure space to communicate.
Such past hardship is revealed in her short film “For My Person,” which showcases her close relationship with her late grandmother, Lola. Tucked between a compilation clips of Lola is a shot of Regina, younger but still attentive, carefully sliding Lola’s glasses through her white hair, Regina’s forearm tattoo, “my dear,” not yet drawn. The irony is not lost in this image; Regina gained more perspective from Lola’s presence, or lack thereof.
“The lesson to have loved and lost let me gain so much more,” she says.
Valencia struggled to cope with her grandmother’s passing in 2014, her last year of high school. This loss left Valencia devastated and without her “person,” as she struggled to finish high school without proper accommodations to cope with her emotions. She was diagnosed with both clinical and situational depression and Bipolar II Disorder, both stigmatized diagnoses her Filipino family had trouble accepting. Still, devotion to her grandmother’s wish for her to graduate and to continue pursuing an education as a first-generation college student led Valencia to graduate in a cap that read: “This is for you, Lola.”
However, her final push out of “rock bottom” occurred from her self-realization in college after studying abroad in Brazil and the Philippines (where her family commemorated her grandmother’s legacy with the laying of her ashes).
“[I see] who I am on large scale, what I mean to the community, my impact. [I] understand the purpose of the individual and the reason we exist among context . . . how someone’s best decision can have a ripple effect,” said Regina. “[Understanding] where I come from gives me clarity in knowing where I want to go.”
In overcoming her tragedy and finding inspiration from it, Valencia went on to showcase her story in an awarded video series dedicated to her “first muse in life.” “My Dear” and “For My Person” both depict her relationship with her grandmother, her death, and Valencia’s process of acceptance to emerge into a stronger, more empathetic person.
It was this personal growth that allowed Valencia to develop her Mental Health Alliance club, which supports intimate peer discussion to combat threats to mental health. Her dedication to the causes of “bring[ing] as [many] people as possible together” and leaving behind such a “great resource . . . for anyone” was reflected in her grant award from Active Minds, which advocates for mental health awareness across college campuses. With this grant, Mental Health Alliance club will host weekly Wednesday meetings and “work with more large-scale events at Whittier.” Valencia was even invited to a national conference for Active Minds in Washington D.C. as chapter president, which she will attend — if granted a travel scholarship — and implement ways to “impact [her Whittier College] surroundings through good . . . the closest feeling to love.”
Valencia’s current project showcases the private lives of five students, one professor, and one dining hall staff member to capture “what makes [us] human” when we are alone, without labels like majors or job titles.
As she prepares to leave Whittier College, Regina describes her ambitious yet ambiguous future plans, including her role as an alumni advisor for her club. “This sounds insane but so do the most successful people,” she said. “The thing I want to be isn’t a position. I want to open a nonprofit that acts as the main national or international [mental health] resource . . . and work with public figures to use their platforms.”
Valencia has lists of things she wants to accomplish, but her goals will be hard to measure in our society valuing monetary success. Quoting American actor and rapper Donald Glover, she remarks that while “success is the ambition, happiness is the goal.” She does not measure her worth on success, which is “why [she] feels so happy and so whole.”
“I want to make a big enough movement as possible and connect on an intimate and large scale,” she said.
“What are the odds we’re here together talking?” she asked me. She said it is for a reason: to understand. “You have to question why people are how they are, be empathetic and aware, [and] be mindful.”
Despite popular claims that technology isolates us, Valencia believes these mediums can connect us through mass communication, which is why she works with cameras, computers, and uses Instagram to showcase her photography.
“I create meaningful [art] and want others to find meaning in it, too,” Valencia said. She wants other people to find confidence as well. “Confidence is more about finding meaning because you’re sure of yourself. The challenge is not to be perfect but whole. Learning that we do what we can to feel close to yourself should connect us to others.”
Carrying on with the lessons she has learned thus far, Regina will be graduating with majors in Anthropology and Sociology and a minor in Gender Studies this May as a first-generation student and child of Filipino immigrants, making her grandmother Lola proud. Though she is leaving, it is definitely not the last we will be seeing of Regina Valencia.