LatinoUSA on NPR

I had an amazing thing happen to me last week: I was invited to be a guest speaker on LatinoUSA on NPR. Yes, that’s right…this opportunity meant I’d be part of something HUGE. I received an email from the producer of LatinoUSA in Harlem, New York, asking if I’d like to be part of a panel discussing body image with the Latina and pageant industry. I was so in shock because NPR was something all of my journalism classes listened to at SJSU and the prominent journalists, in my eyes, were definitely high and mighty-celebrity like. After the initial pre-interview phone call, we finalized last minute details and like a child excitedly waiting for Christmas morning all year long, November 1st, my Christmas, finally came arrived.

Once my sister and I showed up to the station, we quickly set up shop and began mic checking and as soon as I knew it, the segment had begun with journalist and moderator, Maria Hinojosa, introducing me as “Blogera* Kassandra Peña, Miss San Jose Latina.” The conversation also included proud feminist and “Blogera” Patricia Valoy in which we all discussed how body image has changed over the years and what we think the future holds for Latinas. Eventually, the segment came to a final close and it was such an amazing feeling to hear my blog address and more importantly, my name be announced on air. Participating in an interview like this just made me even more determined to make a name for myself within the Latina social media community. I felt as if I were doing exactly what I was meant to be doing in life and I truly was at my highest self of fulfillment.

Though the conversation will be edited and aired within the next two weeks, I am so grateful the Miss California Latina organization exists. I would have never had the opportunity to be on NPR if it weren’t for the pageant and my creation of this very blog-how LatinoUSA contacted me. The “Big Day” is now just 26 days away and up to this point, I have had many great opportunities with just my title alone that no matter what happens, I still am walking away as a winner.

Ps- Please visit my “Photos” page to view a picture at the studio

*Blogera is the latest and trendiest “Spanglish” name given to a Latina woman who is a blogger.

Love,
Kassie P.

Dia de los Muertos

Over the weekend, I made a pageant appearance at National Hispanic University for their annual Dia de los Muertos* celebration. Not only was seeing the alters and amazing art work in remembrance of past loved ones a beautiful sight but I also had the opportunity to meet and speak with young girls and their families about what it means to be a “beauty queen.” I was approached by a supportive father whose daughter was a bit too shy to personally ask me pageant questions but nonetheless, I was so happy I could inspire the young girl to go for her dreams. The father let me know his daughter was an aspiring model and actress but needed that extra boost of confidence. As I was telling the young girl this had been my first pageant ever and I had made it this far, she began smiling with a twinkle in her eye as if she was thinking that she too, could someday have the same possibilities.

Aside from meeting local vendors and doing some retail therapy, I also got to spend the afternoon with some very talented musicians and friends, Raul y Mexia*. The brother band (and sons of Hernan Hernandez from legendary group Los Tigres del Norte) performed for the audience and of course rocked the house! The brothers, who I met through Claudia Candelas*** (wife of Raul and my co-founder of “Stiletto Girls,” my next blogging project) have been touring throughout the United States so I was happy I got to spend some time with them while promoting my title.

Now that Miss California Latina is just around the corner, I’ve been reflecting a bit more on this entire year. I feel extremely proud of myself because I’ve gotten out into the community more than ever and have had some amazing opportunities come my way with just the current title I have now. I don’t know what the future holds for me pageant wise but just as the little girl saw that “I’ve made it,” I see Raul y Mexia living out their dreams who most likely at one point of their lives looked up to their dad with that same twinkle in their eyes… thinking of all of the possibilities.

*To view a view a video project on Dia de los Muertos I filmed, produced and edited while at SJSU please click here

**Please visit Raul Y Mexia to view pictures and hear some amazing Latin beats!

***Please visit Claudia’s blog

View some pictures from the event under my “Photos” page!

Love,
Kassie P.

Operation Safeway

Though this pageant life is a new and an unexpected experience for me, I must say I am quite content with all of the opportunities that have come my way. I have met so many people and have gone to exciting events with my sash but one of the greatest perks of being a titleholder is being able to create and promote causes. As you know from a previous post, Santa Clara County definitely has its fair share of poverty and in a somewhat bittersweet feeling, I’m happy I get to work directly with some of these low income community members every single day. These fun, emotional, “too-cool-to-talk-to-you teenagers” constantly remind me how blessed and fortunate I am, and I’m probably 99.9% sure they don’t even know it. When a student tells me she wakes up at 5am because her mom couldn’t afford their house anymore and now travel from a distant city or how a family of five lives in a motel, I’m reminded but more importantly, motivated, to use the resources I have to help in any way.

Seven years ago, I met my best friend. My family had moved second semester of Senior year of high school to a new city (yes, I know, horrible!) and Felicia was the only person who gave the new kid any type of attention. We immediately clicked, mostly due to our faith, and our friendship blossomed and it wouldn’t be much longer until I’d learn exactly how many great connections pastors make throughout their community. Grocery stores like Safeway for example, would donate TONS of food on a weekly basis to her parent’s church so members including myself always left with some yummy treats. Fast forward until present day, it only made sense that I’d bring the “Safeway leftovers” to my work and have it distributed to the teens listed under the “Emergency Funds for Families”*. With the school’s permission and gratitude, “Operation Safeway” was underway. Unfortunately, the past few weeks didn’t pan out as planned: either a miscommunication amongst the Safeway distributor and our church member food picker-upper occurred or some other mishap took place, causing me to come to work empty handed. Luckily this week was different. Safeway must have known I had a ton of kids to feed because it took me a good 20 minutes to pack and stuff my Honda with over 200 loaves of healthy whole wheat bread, french rolls, and baguettes!

As school officials helped me unload all of the bread onto a golf cart, they couldn’t stop thanking me for sharing all of the food. Though I was happy they were happy, I honestly didn’t feel a sense of pride that this was my doing or my idea…I thought, “Well of course I’d bring this food, how could I not? Is there another choice I could have made?” We started dividing all of the bread into baggies for the teens in need when some of the office ladies decided we should start a weekly pantry system for our kids. I’d be in charge of bringing the majority of donated food and they’d provide pasta and sauce and other non-perishable food items. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to physically pass out the bread to the students since I needed to be elsewhere in the school but I was told the kids had looks on their faces as if they had been awarded 1 million hall passes. I was told the teens were overjoyed and it had been an unexpected surprise for many. According to the school Registrar, one student said, “My mom is going to be so happy…we’re going to eat.”

Love,

Kassie P.

*To read more about Emergency Funds for Families, please scroll down to “The Platform I Need”

“MGPTF”

Today I had the most amazing opportunity to be part of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s “Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force” (MGPTF) Community Town Hall meeting. As mentioned in a previous post, San Jose is plagued with youth violence and though city statistics show gang related crime is down 18 percent from last year, it still remains an issue for the nation’s fourth largest city. The meeting was held at a high school in the East Side of San Jose, where one can usually find some type of gang related graffiti or tagging on almost every street corner. Dozens of San Jose residents, young and old, poured into the gymnasium where the facilitators introduced themselves and stated what department they were associated with (SJPD, SJFD, Parks & Rec. etc). We later broke into groups where we could voice our opinions and desires of what needs to change to keep our communities safe. At the end of our team discussions, we were then to present to the entire body our top concerns.

I’ve always heard when groups of passionate advocators come together for a good cause, positive changes are made. So it wasn’t surprising to see out of seven large groups, six groups felt the number one factor the city of San Jose needs to focus on is educating parents on the overall notion of gangs. Presenters stated parents need to be more involved and more aware of what’s happening within our communities and more importantly, to their children. Many felt San Jose should hold parent programs paralleled with schools that focus on gang prevention and include other avenues of awareness like alcohol abuse and mental health issues. Today was the first of four MGPTF meetings that will be held in various districts of San Jose and once all Town Hall gatherings are completed, Mayor Chuck Reed and Council Members will compile all of the notes and ideas and will create a strategic plan that will be implemented by 2016.

At the end of the gathering, I also had the opportunity to be interviewed by Peninsula Press on why I showed up and what I hope for the future of San Jose. I talked about my Miss San Jose Latina title and platform and though the interview was short, I felt it prepared me for when it’s really my time to shine during pageant weekend.

Love,
Kassie P.

What’s all the Babble about?

My good friend, Claudia Candelas, and I met up earlier this week to discuss our future blogging venture collaboration: Stiletto Girls. Claudia and I met through mutual friends at San Jose State University and we instantly hit it off because of our passion for media and all things related. Working while surfing the web for content ideas at Santana Row, I happen to come across a link to Babble.com*. The site was calling all bloggers to enter a chance to be named one of “Babble’s Best 100 Bloggers 2013.” I immediately signed this very blog to the list under the categories: Latina and Humor & Entertainment…and within hours, my stats blew out of the water. Though Babble editors and staff will end up selecting the final 100, just having my profile on another platform gives me that much more exposure to my pageant experience.

As you know from previous posts, I’ve been getting myself mentally prepared and doing everything else in between that will make the “Big Day” a success but to be honest, it hasn’t really hit me that it’s just around the corner! To think that exactly one year ago in September I had my initial pre-selection phone interview amazes me. Even though I didn’t create my blog until long after claiming the title of Miss San Jose Latina, I’ve had an amazing time documenting this experience because it’s something I’ll always be able to look back and reminisce on, with or without that Miss California Latina crown.

*To visit my Babble page and leave a comment, please visit: http://www.babble.com/babble-100/babble-100-readers-choice/kassandra-pena/

Love,
Kassie P.

Little Miss Sunshine

By now, you’re quite familiar with the fact that this whole pageant experience is a new thing for the Peña family. I don’t think anyone ever really anticipated that someone in our family would be part of a pageant but there’s always that one special person in a family that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional (of course said with laughter and loving intentions).

Ever since I was little, my parents instilled the importance of maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. Soda and cookies for example, were hardly stored in our cabinets and usually after the every-once-in-a-great-while McDonald’s Kid’s Happy Meal, I’d hear my father’s repetitive lecture of being mindful of what I put in my body given that Diabetes runs on both sides of our families. Pre-divorce family outings actually consisted of us stretching together before mile runs followed by picking fresh wild berries by an abandoned railroad track. I began playing various sports like basketball and track at the age of 8 and was on a team every year up until my junior year of high school due to a head concussion during a softball game. Nervous to get back on the field the following year, I opted to take a Weight Training class instead, which has stuck with me to this day.

Now we all know one of the main highlights of any pageant is the swim wear portion and although I will not be able to view or try on my swimsuit prior to the weekend, I am on a mission to get in the best shape of my fitness career. Though in my conscious mind I am fully aware of what that means (no sugar, processed foods and all other delicious goodies) the evil Kassie on my left shoulder speaks to me on an average of 3 times a week saying, “Eat that, it tastes great!” Thankfully my family is just as supportive of me and my first pageant goals as Olive’s parents were in the movie Little Miss Sunshine and they’ve decided if I will have to skip out on Halloween and Thanksgiving meals and treats, they will do it with me! We’ve decided to stock up on fresh pie and all other not so healthy foods for the remainder of September because once October 1st comes, it’s GO TIME…bikini bodies 2.0 for the entire family!

Without my family’s support throughout this new experience, I don’t know how confident I would be going into pageant weekend but to know they are behind my every move verifies I’m exactly where I need to be at this point of my life…and to thank them I’d like to shortly present them with fluffy oatmeal chocolate chips cookies straight out of the oven!

Love,

Kassie P.

Community Service

It’s no surprise that most, if not all pageant women are philanthropists and are very active within their communities. Engaging in community service shows you care about positive change and aren’t expecting a stipend for your good work (unless of course if a Girl Scout badge could be added to my vest). For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been involved with some type of community service events and paying it forward has continued to be part of who I am to this day. My parents taught me the value and importance of helping others mostly because of their own hard upbringings knowing that if it weren’t for others helping them along the way, I probably would not be living the type of lifestyle I have today.

Present day, I am involved with various types of community service projects but I primarily focus on advocating Lambda Theta Nu, Sorority Inc., national philanthropy: Latino Literacy. We believe without proper literacy skills, Latinos will be held back from receiving adequate help in whatever field they seek and it is our duty to promote the awareness of Latino Literacy through various activities like Book Drives and raising thousands of dollars for our cause. To further promote Latino Literacy, I also am a guest blogger* on LatinitasMagazine.com. This website is an online digital magazine geared toward the Latina youth empowering young women through the use of technology and media. The Texan site is dedicated to help young Latinas, primarily ages 10 through early 20s, help find their voice through annual conferences and creative expression.

Though I don’t necessarily have one specific community service avenue, I believe dipping my hands in various assignments and projects allows me not only to help where it is needed but I also get an opportunity to meet people of all walks of life that give me another realization of just how lucky and blessed my life truly is.

Love,
Kassie P.

*To view my bio and articles please click here: http://laslatinitas.com/yeab-bios

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