by Rose Churma
Last month during the final reading of the top ten letters submitted to the Letters to my Parents Contest in Hawaii, Zhodell Magaoay read part of a poem he wrote more than 30 years ago when he was a student at Kalakaua Intermediate. He recited:
“I’m just an ordinary Filipino boy.
Why do people say
that I talk weird?
I just have the accent.
It’s hard to adapt
to standard English,
when half of your life
was spent in the Philippines.
People also say I talk too loud.
It is better to talk loud
This way I can
express my feelings easier…”
The students in the audience were able relate to his poem, particularly those who were recent immigrants. The teachers that came from Hawaii’s schools who were there that day readily realized that the anthology provided a glimpse of the feelings and aspirations of Hawaii’s youth.
As stated at the back cover—In 1990, the Filipino Association of University Women (FAUW) published an anthology of literary works written by public school students of Filipino ancestry entitled Voices of Youth—a rare publication that gave voice to the young Filipino-Americans’ experience in Hawaii.
Their voices in their poems were crystal clear, sometimes filled with pain, at other times with humor and laughter but always with honesty and integrity. The original anthology served as a small window to the lives of the Filipino and Filipino-American youth.
Thirty years later, the FAUW decided to reprint the anthology and added literary works written more recently by the youth of Hawaii. Also included are the winning entries of the Letter to my Parents contest—one of the programs the FAUW initiated in 2013 in collaboration with Reiyukai America.
This literary anthology is permanent and tangible: it documents the timeless and relevant experiences of the youth. Through the art of writing, the students found emotional release and self-discovery and the opportunity to communicate candidly and fearlessly with peers, parents and teachers.
The book consists of four parts. Part One: “The Power of Language” contains the more recent poems of students. Two seniors from Farrington High School reached out to their teacher Norman Sales (now the school’s director of strategic planning) in 2019. Both students were working on their Global Action Project for the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council (PAAC).
They wanted to collect and publish an anthology of student writing. So, during the dark days of the pandemic, literary works were solicited from students who wanted to participate.
Part Two: “Letter to my Parents” is a compilation of the most “share-worthy” entries culled from the letter-writing contest that was first implemented in Hawai’i in 2013.
An essay writing competition of teenagers and young adults addressed to their parents or guardians, it served as an opportunity for the youth and their families to maintain healthy relationships and improve communications within the family.
The organizers have received entries from all islands and from various ethnic groups, but the number of entries significantly increased when educators were invited to participate as a “great way to learn more about your students.”
It became an informative tool for teachers to know and better understand their students.
Part Three and Four were from Voices of the Youth, first published in 1990 by the FAUW. Part Three contained poetry while Part Four was comprised of short stories and other works of fiction.
Part Five called “Pandemic Poetry” was a project of the Genius Hour Class of Waialua Intermediate School. The school’s 7th grade “Genius Hour” is a passion-driven semester course covering a variety of topics.
Students were encouraged to jot-down their deep thoughts and real feelings about their lives during the COVID-19 quarantine and lockdown through the written word. Their completed works were virtually presented in class in 2020 when the pandemic was in full swing. It had a profound impact on each individual as each one grappled with the realities of the pandemic.
As the final presentation of the 2022 Letter to my Parents contest came to a close last November, the finalists were all presented copies of this anthology. Each and everyone of the audience can attest that a subtle “change” has occurred.
For the students, the act of writing a heartfelt letter becomes a magnet that bonds a family that may be in distress–because each letter is a portrait of the images inside the young author’s mind.
The same holds true for the power of the literary pieces. During the initial publication of the anthology in 1990, copies were requested by outreach workers serving the immigrant youth because it provided a small window on how the young people thought, dreamed and hurt.
The book was also requested by several universities with Asian American Studies programs because of its value to both teachers and students. Their voices in the writings were crystal clear, with honesty and integrity. The students were able to grasp the importance of literature—the importance of writing without fear.
It is interesting to discover the changes, if any, the 30-year difference has brought, not only to our Filipino youth but to all the young people of Hawaii.
The book is available via Amazon.com or locally. Send inquiries via email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMAestablished Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at email@example.com.
by Rose Churma