Table of Contents
The 2001 Youth Honor Awards
A Filipino-American Girl
"Are you Hawaiian? Hispanic? Chinese?" I have been asked all these questions, to which I answer, "No, I am a Filipino-American." My parents are immigrants from the Philippines, but I was born in America. Filipino culture was something I took for granted most of my life, until I traveled there last year. Little did I know that in that short span of time, two weeks, my whole outlook on life would be broadened and changed.
Most of the world sees the Philippines, like other third-world countries, as a place of poverty and sadness. Yes, there is poverty, but there is poverty all over the world. If you look closely, you will see an emerging, developing country with a rich culture.
My trip begins in the capital. Driving through Manila is an exciting adventure. Jeepneys, similar to buses but named and painted bright, flashy colors, crowd the streets. Tricycles or motorcycles with buggies attached zoomed past us with passengers happily looking out the windows. In the busy, bustling downtown area sari-sari stores (small stands) line the sides of the roads. At the sari-sari stores you can buy all sorts of delicious snacks like banana-cue, fried bananas on a stick rolled in sugar; freshly-peeled mangoes; lemonade and sugarcane sticks to suck on.
We leave the city and enter the countryside. The low hills and clear blue sky provide the perfect backdrop for my Philippines experience. I am surrounded by lush green rice paddies on all sides. I can hear the caribou grunting as they pad through the long rice stalks. I see the farmers working diligently under the hot sun, with rolled up pants and wide hats to guard their faces. Vendors walk the streets peddling yams, fried banana, quail eggs, buko (coconut juice) and boiled corn.
A mountain, taller than the others, rises in the distance. I ask my mother what it is, and she replies, "Mt. Arayat." She tells me the tale of a rich girl on a plantation and a poor plantation worker who fell in love. The rich girl's father, however, forbid them to marry, and the girl died of sorrow. Where she was buried, the ground shook, and a mountain rose out of the ground. It bore her face. Looking closely at the mountain, I can make out the lovely face that inspired such a story.
At a barrio, fiesta bright lights hang from the trees and poles. A large lechon (pig) is crackling over an open fire, and the aroma floats to my nose. Children laugh and jump as they try to grab the gifts of the pabitin, a board on a pulley with hanging gifts. For the adults, there is the tinikling, the Philippine national dance. Two bamboo poles are rhythmically raised and lowered, and a man and woman dance barefooted around them, imitating small birds courting. One false step and the dancer's foot will be smashed. Great agility and grace is required for this dance.
It's Christmas, and the whole neighborhood walks in the humid streets to church for midnight Mass. After Mass, the congregation walks home where a feast of Filipino cuisine is prepared, and presents are exchanged. Tears are shed, and the trip is over. Now I have a taste of both cultures, and I feel I truly have the best of both worlds. I am an American, but I am also a Filipino.
-- Amanda Mangaser, 12, Goleta, California.
Our Long Lost Land
-- Mia Nardi-Huffman, 9, Norwalk, CT. Mia writes,
More Sugar, Please
I believe that involving kids and adults in community activities is important because it allows them to learn about social issues through first-hand experience. We also have the opportunity to make life a little easier for others. To do my part, I help feed homeless people twice a month at a local church.
Every first and fourth Sunday of the month, homeless people from all over the San Francisco Bay Area gather at St. Mary Magdalen's Parish in Berkeley, California, to eat a dinner prepared by volunteers. My school requires that I complete 20 hours of community service. By the end of my freshman year, I had completed more than 60 hours of volunteer work.
For each Sunday dinner, I walk five blocks from my home to the church. I usually arrive about an hour and a half before dinner is served and stay about half an hour after the last guest has left. During that time, I help prepare, serve and clean up at the parish.
When I arrive, I put on rubber gloves and go to work. I usually wash pots until they are so shiny that I can see my reflection in them. Then I mix the salad until every millimeter of lettuce is covered with ranch dressing. My main job is setting up the drinks at one of four serving tables. I work as people politely move past, eager to fill their dry mouths. Eight columns of cups for milk, six for fruit punch and two for water. Each type of drink is arranged in four rows, creating a mural of white and red circles. Occasionally, I turn my back, and a drink is gone in a second. The "thief" just smiles and thanks me, so I nod back courteously.
When dinner is ready to be served, a whisper and then a murmur arises from the crowd. But they can't eat just yet. They must wait for the cook to walk into the middle of the hall, greet everyone and give a prayer. Finally, the first ticket number is called, and the lucky recipient waltzes up to the tables of steaming food, rich desserts and sweet drinks to fill his or her plate.
When the dinner guests arrive at my drink table, they are often carrying at least three plates teeming with hot food. Most diners take two cups, but one guest always takes at least 15 cups of milk.
For the next 15 minutes I walk around the tables making sure everyone has enough to eat.
"More sugar, please?" one woman asks, and I hurry off to the kitchen to refill the sugar cup.
Occasionally, someone will want a piece of fruit, or the coffee pot will be empty. I fix the problem, and they go back to chatting about life. Some of these discussions are about how "George W. Bush is an idiot," and how "he's screwing up America." The arguments are very clear and, for a moment, it seems like the speakers are college professors, not high school dropouts. At another church where I volunteer, a homeless man plays the piano beautifully during and after dinner, showing that even though these people are homeless, they are still smart and talented.
When all the guests have had their fill, they file out the door, expressing their thanks to the workers and volunteers. When the floor is swept and mopped, we can leave. I am relieved when the work is finally over, but on my walk home, I find myself thinking about the gentleness and kindness of the people at the parish dining hall—the homeless and the volunteers. I often feel a sense of gratification because I've performed a service for people who must struggle against many odds every day for basic necessities that many of us take for granted.
According to Food First, 36 million Americans are hungry, and 5 to 7 million are homeless. I believe that hunger is a violation of human rights. I like to think that my work at St. Mary Magdalen's is a tiny contribution to the movement to improve the lives of poor people in our society.
-- Rajiv Smith-Mahabir, 14, Berkeley, California.
The Children of Kosovo
-- Sarah Eisenstein Stumbar, 16, Ithaca, N.Y.
It is difficult to describe the world today without remembering the long caravans of people, walking slowly along black roads, heavy with children, with domestic animals, with their lives contained in a single bundle of luggage gripped tightly in their knuckled hands.
Like ants, they come from south and east, some stacked and suffocated in big trucks, others like seagulls drowned in the waves—escaping war, poverty, genocide or just searching for freedom of mind and expression.
They are looking for the better life, for the promised life, only to discover years and years in closed compounds or remote, poor neighborhoods with no right to work, no right to vote. They are discriminated against, pulled into back alleys by mafiosos, burned and chased by neonazis, used as pawns in political games. Wouldn't it have been better to just lie down and die on the threshold of "home?"
Hundreds of protocols, conventions, charters and resolutions are dedicated to the mass exodus of refugees and displaced persons. They prescribe antidotes for poverty, armed conflict, malnutrition, diseases and many other physical problems. Pages and pages of these documents promote human rights, but in none of them do I find the solution I am looking for. How does one treat the ailing heart of an immigrant? The immigrant is uprooted from the land and life he knows and spends nights and days casting long looks across rivers and into infinite horizons, intensely trying to recall the image of the apple blossom tree of his youth and of his past life. The image has faded, become blurred, like a photographic plate that had too many copies made from it. The immigrant tries to hear the folk songs which seemed so ridiculous and unnecessary in the past. Now they sound like distant ashes, but he remembers them as divine melodies.
Despite the tears of these immigrants, despite their new stifled circumstances, they will never return. Time does not wait. Their cities, villages, families and friends change. Going back would open their eyes to the destruction of their country. They would realize that their memories are idealized, and they truly can never go back to what they remember. Returning means seeing that they are alienated from their culture. It means finding out that they do not fully belong anywhere anymore. It means being lost.
When people ask me, "Where are you from?" I say, "Belgium." It's true. I've lived in Antwerp all my life. I eat Belgian food. I buy Belgian clothes. I even breathe Belgian air. But then there is always someone in the background who cleverly says, "Aren't you something like Bulgarian, or Hungarian or something?" "No!" I quickly say and hope no one will see that I am blushing. No! I do not come from a former-communist country. No! I can not even read that language. No! I do not know their national anthem, No! I don't even know how it feels to have lived there.
But it's true that not all my relatives possess a Belgian passport. And, yes, I suppose my presence in Belgium has caused unemployment rates to rise. And I do not have blue eyes. And sometimes I close the door to my room, and I put on some sad song and cry because I wish I knew where I come from and who I am and what I should say when someone asks me, "Where are you from?" I wish I didn't feel as if I'm only telling a half-truth when I say that I am Belgian.
I've read that in ancient times all lands were one, Pangea. It seems that the continents themselves exhale nostalgia for that state. Louis Debernieres said, "Thus India pushes farther into Asia, ploughing up the Himalayas. The Arabian Peninsula and Africa push toward Europe. Only the Americas hurry away westward, so determined to be isolated and superior that they have forgotten that the world is round and that one day they will find themselves glued to China."
Like the continents, there are people who say that they belong not to a nation but to the world. They demand an international passport and a universal right of residence. I fall into this category, people who do not believe in borders, people who never had a chance to become patriotic.
-- Rada Leenders, 16, Antwerp Int'l School, Antwerp, Belgium.
Autumn is a Sunset
-- Jessica Somers, 14, Gibsonia, PA.
Voices of the Earth
The voices in the wind, Oh! How they speak to me.
Their friends, (the voices of the water)
The voices of the trees, (such as the birds and bees)
The language of the voices of the Earth,
-- Sydney Shepherd, 10, Hickory, North Carolina.
I lay in bed, happy;
I walked down the road;
I swam through the ocean;
I ran through the forest;
"I lay in bed listening to the crickets sing outside. I thought that they seemed to be saying, 'It's me,' over and over. I was thinking about how we, the most precocious of Gaia's children, must be making her very sad, and the two ideas just merged together. 'Sorrow' is a message, a warning, to try to make people think about the pain we inflict on our planet."
-- Ria Bond, 16, St. Maries, Idaho.
Skipping Stones Magazine
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