The resilience of Bamboo Girl: From warrior to healer

The bellicose Bamboo Girl zine editor of the late 1990s has recognizably mellowed. Margarita Alcantara is now a calmer person, an acupuncturist with a private practice and a life she concedes is not as self-obsessed.

By Cristina DC Pastor

TF: Where is the angry, confrontational Bamboo Girl now?

MA: My fire is still there, it’s just not unguided anymore. I’m a lot more aware of my chi. I now know how to back down if I don’t want to deal with certain things. With Bamboo Girl, I was all the over the place, and seriously if I didn’t have my zine I would have been in prison ‘cause I was that angry.

TF: How was the segue from Bamboo Girl to acupuncturist?

MA: It was a good segue. At first I was a little nervous that maybe they’re a little too different. With Bamboo Girl, I was all about female empowerment, feminist queer, mixed blood, Asian Am, Fil Am. I’m not like that anymore. Acupuncture is very healing, working with your body so you can heal yourself. The warrior, healer archetypes are very intertwined.

TF: What has become of your cult following?

MA: People I randomly meet still know who I am. I did Bamboo Girl from 1995 to 2005. People seem to have been impacted by it. Some would say, ‘Bamboo Girl came to me at a very formative time when I was really questioning my strength.’ Some Filipinos who have low self esteem would tell me they got their strength from that zine. Some were in abusive relationships, and because my tone was so unapologetic back then it helped them be a little bit feisty.

It’s the new generation that probably hasn’t read it. Those who have are probably in their 20s, 30s, 40s. I think people might still be excited even with my different voice now.

Then: Margarita as Bamboo Girl

TF: How did the zine come about?

MA: It was a time when sometimes I was bored, sometimes I was angry, I was typing out things and collecting them. Turns out, some people have similar issues. I published it and financed it.

When my parents found out, they weren’t necessarily excited about concept. My dad was like, ‘Why do you even bother, it doesn’t even make money. It’s a waste of time.’  I love my family, but they were not digging my thing. What started with a couple of hundred copies at first became thousands of copies.

TF: Around that time you were also into experimenting with gender identity.

MA: It wasn’t an experimentation. I’m queer.  If you want to be technical about it, it’s like I’m bi. I’ve been with men and women in my life, and it’s been fulfilling and wonderful.

TF: Even your name was different then — Sabrina Margarita Alcantara Tan.

MA: Sabrina Margarita Sandata was part of my pen name. I just picked it for no relevant reason. It’s the whole creating yourself thing. This is me. I define myself, no one else does. ‘Sandata’ means weapon, and my weapon was writing.

TF: Tell me about the tats on your arms. What do they mean?

MA: I have tattoo on my arms and back, all Filipino-related and all done when I was honoring milestones in my life. On the right arm there’s lots of spine, some fierce female figures, some alibata or ‘baybayin,’ (Philippine alphabet) when I realized to recognize my strength as a woman. The left arm is from the Kalinga tribe, which incorporates elements of honeycomb, of nature. It symbolizes women as life givers who are ready to be members of community.

On my back is like a protective prayer,  like my ‘anting- anting,’ (amulet) which I got when I was doing Filipino martial arts, the ‘pananandata’    (weaponry). I was doing sticks, kalesa whips, and the ‘balisong,’ (knife) which is my favorite.

TF: Are you skilled enough to be able to protect yourself?

MA: I think so. I think it’s relevant. As women, we were not taught to defend ourselves, we were taught to give our power away.

TF: What’s your family like?

MA: My father is a radiologist, and my mom is a housewife. They met in Pittsburgh, dug each other, got married and became my parents. That’s where I was born and grew up. I’m the oldest of three siblings. I have a sister who passed away, and a brother in Philadelphia.

He’s got a family. I’m still working on life. I was married before but no longer. Now I have a special somebody.  I’m sure my parents are not minding that I’m with a guy right now.

Now: As acupuncturist. Photo by BJ Formento

TF: How did you become an acupuncturist?

MA: I started acupuncture schooling in 2002 even as I was doing Bamboo Girl. The study, I didn’t realize, was so comprehensive I had to put Bamboo Girl on the back burner for a while, and really focused on my acupuncture practice.

I was fascinated by healing. As an acupuncturist, my strength is dealing with people with emotional issues. I was working in South Bronx dealing with people with drug addiction, some mental issues. I had a patient who was schizophrenic. My dad is a doctor of western medicine, but I didn’t want to go his route.

Margarita Alcantara is a licensed acupuncturist in New York and Connecticut.

 Cristina DC Pastor is the founding editor of The FilAm.


  1. Alexander Yap wrote:

    I remember Bamboo Girl. My girlfriend used to follow her columns.

  2. […] The resilience of Bamboo Girl: From warrior to healer Yours Truly in Union Square. Picture by Cristina Pastor. […]

  3. Doc Gen wrote:

    i guess we all mellow down. i used to do trauma and combat medicine in rough and tumble Africa and Persian Gulf. Now, i’m into cosmetic medicine in superficial but fabulous Las Vegas. Just dont tell my Marines what happened to their “Doc”!!! 😉

  4. AUGUSTA EWING wrote:

    Hm, sounds like a feisty woman to me.

  5. […] The resilience of Bamboo Girl: From warrior to healer […]

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