New Maharlika is a creative nonfiction essay collection by Vianna Mabanag. Each piece explores modern issues surrounding women in the Philippines: work and motherhood, beauty standards and belonging, fetishization and sex tourism. This project is funded by the Raab Fellowship at UC Santa Barbara.

Maharlika (ancient Tagalog for “freeman”), is a proposed alternate name for the Philippines, alluding to the country’s heritage during pre-colonized times.

Vianna Mabanag is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative studies, where she earned a B.A. in Writing & Literature with a minor in Multimedia Professional Writing. This is her senior capstone project. 

Praise for New Maharlika:

In her Raab Research Fellowship project, creative writer Vianna Mabanag has merged research-based narrative nonfiction with memoir writing in an insightful and probing look at conditions facing women in, and from, the Philippines. Using first-hand reporting carried out on a trip to the country of her early childhood, Mabanag has demonstrated in her writing a sophisticated command of the personal essay form, infused with colorful reportage… With this essay collection, Mabanag has entered the world of literary journalism.

Nomi Morris, Writing Lecturer and Journalism Track Director in the Professional Writing Minor at University of California, Santa Barbara

Working Mothers Abroad

Homesick in London and on behalf of a request from my mother to visit a friend she had not seen in almost two decades, I took a forty-minute train ride north and found myself walking to meet Irma Soriano, my mother’s best friend from high school. It was 2019, the year I studied abroad in Europe and the year Irma finally reunited with her daughters after working abroad for fourteen years.

Continue reading “Working Mothers Abroad”


When I was fourteen, my family rented a sleek, modern bungalow on a tiny island in the Philippines, where a bright blue swimming pool lay flat on a bluff and overlooked a vast unmoving ocean. We stayed for a week in that bungalow, and I spent each day in that pool, diving down and swimming up and back again, jumping in cannonballs and pretending to have died, floating in circles until somebody noticed. 

Continue reading “Colorism”

Sex Tourism

In the middle of the street on Fields Avenue, a woman stands alone in a thin short dress and platform sandals. It is a narrow street with congested air that smells like sewage, sweat and exhaust from motorcabs that rumble nearby. Neon strip clubs and run-down bars dominate the dull, low-lying architecture. Only a few people are outside, but the street waits for sundown. Known to locals and visitors as “Walking Street,” only people are allowed to walk through, and only foreign men are allowed to enter the clubs. 

Continue reading “Sex Tourism”


Thank you to my parents who give me love and support in everything I do.

To my project mentor, Nomi Morris––this project exists because of your encouragement, line edits and journalistic expertise. To Diana Raab for graciously funding my travels and Ljiljana Coklin for your dedicated instruction. 

Continue reading “Acknowledgements”