High School Filipino Kathleen Ferraren wins Latino Essay Writing Contest in DC
Tue, October 2, 2007 7:37 am
Kathleen’s Dad, Patrick Ferraren (in Virginia), a long lost friend, 30 years ago a co-staffer of The Forward at Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos, after we got reconnected wrote:
“How can a young contemporary Filipina lay claim to Hispanic Heritage, compete with other DC area high school Hispanics in an essay contest about how being Latino is the best of both worlds in the USA, and win? Answer: By weaving a connection that is indisputably valid, drawing on her life’s experiences that enhance the connection, and expressing her feelings about the significance of that Spanish connection-utilizing her unique personal style of literary writing that appeals to her audience. She made it light reading and interestingly anecdotal, with relevant facts. The dozen or so judges approved and gave it to her. Who would have known? Pardon my “estoy muy orgulloso” father attitude, but this makes for an interesting English Lesson because it is true. Here is an example of how to write a winning piece! In the real world!” (I asked Patrick that I post Kathleen’s winning piece as I find this very inspiring for our young Danawanons in California as well as all other young Pinays. – Monching)
SOY LATINA TAMBIEN
Kathleen is my given name but I recall my parents called me by my Spanish name, Catalina, when I was four years old. Both my parents are Filipinos of mixed origin-mostly Spanish and Asian. Having immigrated to America from the Philippines, they brought their colorful cultures to the melting pot that is America. I was brought up in a Roman Catholic household where the Santo Niño and the Virgen stood on an altar.
Although my parents’ home country, the Philippines, is located in Asia, it has a lot to share with other Latino countries. Named after Madrid’s King Philip II, the country was colonized by Spain from 1565 to 1898.
My parents decided that I would grow up learning English only. However, they would often insert Spanish words-embossed into their culture from 333 years of Spanish rule-into daily conversation. I was used to hearing other people muttering about my and other children’s foibles, complaining with sacrilegious words of Jesús y María, and when we were especially clumsy, Jesús, María y José. Refusals to eat my empanada or drink my leche earned me a slap on the arm and an order of habre.
Around this time, when I was about three, my mother and my tía thought that it would be charming to dress up my cousin and me up in matching outfits. Next to my lacy camisetas, beautiful fans from Sevilla, and handed down jewelries, my mother’s favorite outfit for me was a bright red tiered Spanish dress with puffy sleeves and white lace. I hated it and cried often when I was forced to wear it to parties.
“Put it on, hija” commanded my mother.
“No, mamá” I replied defiantly.
“You’ll never go to Nicky’s again,” warned my mother, forcing the itchy heap over my head.
“Jesús, María y José!” I protested, promptly earning me a time-out.
After that episode, my parents considered augmenting my Spanish in addition to the trite expressions. Already I was going around telling my fellow preschoolers that yes, babies could talk, because ga-ga in Pilipino (a language sporadically infused with Spanish) meant stupid. My father especially nudged me to learn Castilian, and he continues to advocate the vosotros conjugation and th lisp to this day.
After seven years, I began to grumble. It irked me when another student was given the Spanish name Catalina. I had to settle for Catrina. The misnomer tormented me, and my interest waned. “Soy Catalina,” I used to murmur. “Why do I have to learn, anyway? In America, people speak English.”
“Huh,” my mother replied. “It is your heritage, and many people in America speak Spanish. Besides, don’t you want to be able to read Don Quixote in its original Spanish?”
That last reason remains my biggest motivation of all. Since I am still not fluent in the language, my second-hand hardcover still lies enticingly on my bookshelf. I will suffer patiently like the steadfast Florentino Ariza. However, I have succumbed to the charms of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, whose words I devour amid sobs and laughter. I have also given way to telenovelas, RBD, and reggaeton.
I finally had a chance to practice my Spanish during this year’s spring break on a school trip to Perú and Ecuador. I spent many happy hours enjoying the warmth and joy of the people, and I nearly leapt out of my chair in a restaurant when local musicians played “Qué sera, sera,” a song that my father used to sing to me when I was very little. Cheering and wearing red, I ran into the celebrating throngs in Plaza de Armas when the local Cienciano team won the South American World Cup. I gaped at the majestic Sacsayhuamán, I ate cuy, and I took care not to use the Sagrada Familia’s names in vain in the beloved Iglesia de San Francisco. My most unforgettable experience, however, was getting lost on the mountain Machu Picchu.
By the time I started to descend, it was already sunset. Anyone who has been up that long, treacherous mountain can understand the terror it inspired in me as I stumbled in the dark, often losing my footing and hearing snakes in the undergrowth. I found myself conversing with the Urubamba below and clutching my Incan cross that I had bought from the tienda. When I finally emerged along with my fellow hikers, our guide tried to calm us down with Inca Kola and stories of his home life in Lima.
“Well, I like to spend time with my wife and daughter,” he began. “And I catch up on telenovelas.”
“Ooh, do you watch Rebelde?” I asked eagerly, and conversed with him in as much Spanish as I could muster.
I returned home victoriously spouting colloquial Spanish and proclaiming myself a Latina. That entire trip, more than anything else, made me realize how much the Spanish culture is ingrained in people’s lives, including mine, albeit not entirely native. I consider myself a far-extended product of Spanish progeny and regale, however vicariously, in its influence and impact to the world. We as a people have a proud history, and our language unites us and defines our culture. Culture is how one lives his heritage: the dances my mother knew, the songs on the guitarra my father would sing, the religion we practice, the wars we fought, and the glorious lands of our fathers that are worth dying for. Everything is filled with our passion for life. And so we are fortunate to live in the United States, who celebrates and integrates our unique culture with her own. Here, we are offered opportunities that we may not have had back home, and our countries stand together in friendship.
My dream is to take a road trip across Spain and to dance the flamenco in the middle of Madrid, amid shouts of Olé from the audience. And then, of course, to eat chicharrones and vindictively spill them all over my puffy and lacy red dress.
Article contributed by James <firstname.lastname@example.org>