Back to the Basics

If you were to ask my family how I studied for exams and presentations during elementary and early middle school years, they’d probably cringe at the very thought of those oh so memorable years, right Mom?! You see, many of those pre-test-nights consisted of me bawling my eyes out laying faced down on the kitchen table literally suffering trying to memorize facts and those horrible irrelevant math word problems! My mom (who I’m pretty sure wanted to strangle me a few times during these melt downs) patiently tried to help me figure out new ways to study and when her patience ran out, in came the switch-a-roo and boom!…my older sister was there for the rescue, that was until she’d toss the papers in the air out of frustration and say, “Mom, it’s your turn.” Eventually, I learned my personal style of studying and once high school and college came around, I hardly ever asked for help and was always above a 3.0 GPA.

When I at last figured out writing in sections, dividing questions and answers in parts and circling and boxing in phrases was my style of remembering, I wasn’t surprised since after all, I’m a writer. I learned when I began writing down notes or key words that needed to be remembered, it was imprinted in my head. Once the test or presentation came, I was then able to visualize my study guide and know exactly there had been three key points about that one subject on the left hand side of my notes and four facts about the other topic underneath of it, circled. I remember multiple professors asking me during tests if I was okay since I’d have a burning look within my eyes staring at the whiteboard or at my classmate’s shirt, when in reality all I was doing was visualizing my notes. 

Over these past few months, I’ve had the great opportunity to discuss my personal beliefs on politics and world and local issues with my family that I feel I may be asked during pageant weekend. In my head, I’ve kept tabs on certain key points I’d like to hit just in case I am asked those questions but since almost anything is game, obviously that’s a whole lot of key points I’d need to store in my memory bank! Then, it dawned on me…why not keep a small journal of all my pageant related thoughts, beliefs and facts?! I knew this was going to be ideal for pageant weekend and I’d “study” and review everything throughout the weekend. Though I will not of course memorize everything word for word, I know having my journal will help reduce the nervousness. My journal will symbolize everything I’ve done thus far to make it to the pageant and it will be the ultimate reminder that I already have all of the answers…for my writing pieces are not ordinary things to simply be memorized;  they are what is written inside of my heart.



But I Am Latina!…

I remember my mother telling me stories at a very young age about her life and all of the accomplishments and struggles she went through in order to get where she was at that point of her life. She would tell me how she learned English in the 1st grade since my Nicaraguan grandmother and Salvadorian grandfather were constantly working to make ends meet while still being able to afford to send my mother and her two sisters to receive private school education. My mother would tell me stories about how once she made it to a prestigious private university, she lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for both lunch and dinner and would have to stick her hand out of the car window on raining days and use a rag as her windshield wiper. I remember constantly asking my mother to tell me stories about her youth, as I found them so fascinating, but I remember I used to find myself confused when she’d tell me stories about her difficulties being a fluent Spanish speaking Latina at predominantly white institutions. My mother told me many stories of how she was often called “Coconut” from both her white friends at school and her Latina friends, outside of school. I learned at a very young age, that my beloved mother had been a victim of racism but I never really thought that I too, would soon be able to pass down my own stories of racism to my future children.

I started preschool when I was one years old because like most Latino parents, mine had to work. I literally was raised by my preschool teachers, whom I loved very much, who also happened to only speak English. Though both of my parents are fluent in Spanish and learned English while in school, I can remember Spanish only being spoken at home, from time to time. Spanish music, Latin cuisine and Spanish speaking babysitters were a regular at the Peña household, however, for some reason the Spanish language was not made a priority to know. Spanish was something I knew was part of my culture but I had put it off to the side knowing that I at least knew the basics.

As time went by, I started realizing that though I identified myself as full Latina, others were quick to point out that perhaps I was not, as my Spanish grammar or conjugations were incorrect. Friends from all different walks of life referred me to being “white washed” and sure enough, it was something that became part of the norm. I would find myself in an identity struggle because in my heart and mind I did see myself as a Latina who loved reading Latin novels, listening to Mexican ballets, and traveling to Latin American countries but to a person who was quick to judge, I was a “white washed” Latina who didn’t speak, act or dress like the “true” Latina. In fact, in my Latino Identity class in college, my professor for some odd reason during a class discussion decided to ask the entire class to raise their hands if they felt I was “white washed.” Even though about everyone except for 3 people (me included) raised their hands, I felt no embarrassment as I quickly stated, while shrugging my shoulders, that it didn’t matter what others thought of me because I knew what I identified myself as.

As I continue with the pageant process, I know I may come across obstacles and those who oppose of me winning solely because my Spanish may not be up to par, however, this is the exact reason why I do want to win Miss California Latina. I believe there are thousands of other Latina women in California who are exactly like me: who identify themselves as Latina but who may speak little to none Spanish. I believe these women like myself, need to be represented in a professional way to show others that what matters most is what you truly believe in. I believe these Latinas are caught in an identity struggle as we are both judged from people in and out of our cultures. I’d really like to win this title because I think this would be a great platform for me to reach out to as many people possible, both males and females, who want to express their love and devotion to the Latin culture but may be embarrassed because they don’t know the language for whatever reasons they have.


Kassie P.