It’s usual for afternoons in Naga to be this hot—on this side of the country the sun is at its hottest before or after quick, intermittent rain pours. The smell of rain drying up in concrete, vehicles congesting tight little streets and maybe the lack of trees nowadays make a humid afternoon such as this not exactly the best time to head out for a feature interview.
But Dominique plays her cards very well: she drove for about an hour from her hometown Iriga City with a few outfit changes, her own makeup kit, and had the same sunny, sultry charm she has been known for over the years. We got introduced over lunch many years ago in Manila as part of a branding research for a restaurant that was soon to open, then in Naga. Spending a good one-thirds of my life in Manila then made me unfamiliar of her work in regional TV. The first few minutes with her lead me to chance upon her impressive resume: top-notch TV and events host, a pageant veteran, a background in social media and brand management and on top of those, she is eloquent, intelligent and also stylish but not uptight. I immediately stalked her Facebook account for two essential information: her zodiac sign (Taurus) and our mutual friends (over sixty). The statistics were sizeable enough to assume that I already like this morena girl in front of me enjoying her dessert.
Many TV episodes, brand/digital marketing meetings, events, outings for United Nations, a swimsuit line and Sorsogon mornings later, Dominique is finally moving on to a new chapter in her life and we’re here for all the tea she’s about to serve.
Paolo: Welcome back to Bicol, well, briefly. You got married recently! We know few childhood sweethearts in the world get the chance for a happy ending. Spare us the details of your love story here—but what are the three words to describe your story?
Dominique: Well if I am to describe my love story, first it’s “peaceful,” “resilient” and last, it’s “destined.”
P: That sounds like a pageant answer but okay! Feel free to elaborate?
D: It’s peaceful because di mo maikakaila (it is undeniable) that I’ve been in past relationships before but I think this one is the most, like, I found peace. Hey sabi mo dai personal (you said this isn’t going to be personal)! (laughs) But yeah, I’m really happy now. At the same time it’s resilient because through all these years, he’s there. He is the first boy who I took notice of—I was eleven when I met him and didn’t expect that in the end, I’d marry him. That’s why I think it’s destined.
P: The knot-tying came in perfect timing as you ended your year in sabbatical, 2018, spending it mostly in one of Bicol’s most beautiful gems—the province of Sorsogon. Why Sorsogon?
D: Dati kaya nagwork ako sa TV in 2012/2013(I was working then in TV production) and during one of our travels we stumbled upon this place. Dai pa siya Lola Sayong (it isn’t called Lola Sayong yet) but we used to call it Gubat Bay and then we interviewed surfers. At one point, aram mo ‘tong garo mayo ka sa Bicol, dai ka makatubod na ‘wow, igwa palan arog kaini sa Bicol na very rustic, peaceful, raw at the same time’ (you feel like you’re not in Bicol, it is unbelievable that a place like this—rustic, peaceful and raw at the same time exists in Bicol). Tapos sabi ko ‘pag ako talaga, na-stress, na-burn out, (I promised to myself that if I ever get burned out, stressed), I’d move here. One night in December of 2017, without any belongings, I drove to Sorsogon, and looked for it. And the rest is history.
P: What are some of the things you’ve discovered in Sorsogon, maybe about the people, the place?
D: Pero initially, paghiling ko sa Sorsogon it’s very raw (I’ve always seen Sorsogon as very raw), almost like the world in the film Avatar. During my stay there, mas napansin ko that people there, especially sa laog kan camp, people there are very dignified and this I can say with pride talaga (during my stay I noticed how dignified the people were inside the camp, and this is something I can say with pride). Waking up every morning with them, nakakaibanan ko sinda pirmi (I am with them most of the time), and these people they are not after money, they are after peace of mind, living a dignified life. “If you do me good, I’d do you good, even better.” Second is ‘hardcore simple’. You know, si tinuturugan ko duman (where I sleep there) and this thing I’m really proud na i-istorya ini, called an A-type small kubo, paglaog mo higdaan na. Duman ako nagtuturog for one year. (I’m proud to tell this story where I slept at this A-type hut so tiny that it only has a place for sleeping. I slept there for one year.) This is something I myself can be proud of. I had friends who were suspicious of this fact but when they came over they saw it! I think with confidence naman dai ko sinda binigo na mayong utik duman sa mga pi-nost ko (With confidence I can assure them that all of the things I shared is real). Edited maybe for color/filter purposes pero si experience, yes iyon talaga (the colors may be edited but the experience, real).
P: That’s some shade for us Lightroom presets users! (laughs) What did you learn about your own self, your principles?
D: I learned that burnout is real. Akala ko it’s something lang na hyped online or because pinaguulayan na siya on social media, on TV, it brought up a lot of discussion on mental health issues (I thought it’s something that’s only hyped online, or discussed on social media and TV). Kang yaon ako duman I met a lot of people na ang gusto lang palan ninda is to take a break (when I was there I met a lot of people looking to take a break). So ang na-realize ko kaipuhan palan dai kita pirming work, work, work (so I realized we shouldn’t work all the time). You have to know na may purpose ang work mo (you have to know your work’s purpose). Because if you work without a purpose, maybe to earn money, yes that’s okay but you have to take care of yourself. Don’t just be nice to other people but be nice to yourself as well.
P: On many instances, the regional social media has made you a “social media star.” I’m saying this now because I’ve seen you skyrocket into fame not just because of your effortless promdi beauty but because of your wit, sensibilities, and an overall demeanor that’s truly representative of the modern Bicolana. We’ve seen many influencers from the region but your brand takes the cake. What is the Dominique Henry brand?
D: The Dominique Henry brand is a platform, not for me but for other people. I have visualized that this Dominique brand is going to be a mirror of the real, the authentic Bicolano life where we wake up in the morning, we work, we deal with everything around us like Mayon’s eruptions and typhoons digdi sa satuyang rona (here in our region). In a nutshell, it’s not going to be about me but the voice to tell the story of how resilient we Bicolanos but at the same time we are prayerful. We are also scared but we choose to be hopeful everyday.
P: Being the on-and-off camera girl that you are now has lead you to try the region’s best cuisine—cuisines which, unlike the laing or bicol express, most Pinoys didn’t grow up having. What are your favorites, where did you have them, and what did each dish remind you of?
D: In Lola Sayong in Sorsogon they have the so-called ‘Smoked Fish Out Of Hell.’ It’s smoked fish or tinapa cooked in gata (coconut milk) and sili (chili). The story behind this is that kan time na mayo pang camp, the surfers from Sorsogon, during their breaks, an dara lang ninda is mga maharang na niluluto lang ninda (back when Lola Sayong wasn’t a camp yet, surfers would only bring dishes that are spicy). The spicy dishes would give them energy. When you’re in the water, the waves are addicting, dawa paha or gutom ka na (even if you’re thirsty or hungry), you can’t leave it. There’s really no such thing as ‘taking my last wave,’ because once you say that, may magayon na naman na wave na maabot (a new, better wave is coming). The waters can be cold. Pag igwa kang (if you have) smoked fish out of hell which is spicy, you’re good.
Second is timitim, mahihiling ini sa centro kan (you can find this in) Gubat, Sorsogon. It’s like maja blanca but thinly sliced, fragrant and delicious. Another of my favorite is the tinuktok in Rinconada, which reminds me of my childhood. Coconut meat mixed with fish or shrimp and wrapped in taro leaves. It’s nice to know that restaurants like Qué Pasa Naga have this. I also like laing pizza (my Instagram handle!), which I tried one time in a watersports complex. I also love Que Rica’s laing longganisa! I think it made laing look (and taste) cool to young people like me. I’m really proud that we have a brand such as Que Rica that offers products outside the usual Bicolano dishes. I mean wow, may i-oopresir pa an Bicolanos (the Bicolanos are able to offer more).
P: The last question for this interview will delve on the power of the ‘Bikol’ branding and its ability to position us as the epitomes of ‘cool.’ What’s cool about being a Bicolano?
D: A Bicolana is very resilient. Countless na bagyo na naabot sa satuyang rona (Countless typhoons have passed by our region). Namo-mold kita na dawa ano pang mag-abot (We are molded to think that whatever comes), we can rise above them. Maski sain kita mag-abot, kayang-kaya tang magsurvive, ta aram tang ‘hm, isyu ka lang, maagi ka lang,’ bulkan, bagyo, pinag-agihan ko na (anywhere we go, we can survive, we tend to look at issues as temporary, knowing that we’ve been through catastrophes like volcano eruptions and typhoons). Also, we are not easily swayed, we have our own beliefs that people need to present us facts first before we agree.
P: What would you want to say to the young Dominique reading this interview?
D: I’d tell the young Dominique na be hopeful pirmi (be hopeful always). Trust in your heart that one day, you’d be proud of yourself. Gabos palan na bagay, maski pa si mga bagay na pangit, mga nakakulog saimo (Everything, even the things that aren’t so good, the things that hurt you), even people that you trusted and may sinabi saimo (said bad things about you), they will be put in the right places. Sometimes it’s not about you making the effort to put them in the right places, but it’s the Universe. You just have to wait but also take action. Do your best. Shine.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why we listen to and watch Dominique on our phones.
Photos by Grace de Luna. Shot on location at Qué Pasa Naga.