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.

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.

 

The Platform I Need

I have one of the greatest jobs (aside from writing) which is working with middle school aged youth. Everyday is such a different experience and though times can become absolutely chaotic I have an amazing time with all of my students. Our teens come from various backgrounds and all walks of life but one thing that remains constant is their need for stability. Our program is designed to allow all families to feel welcomed regardless of their income, so it isn’t very surprising to know that over half of our students are being sponsored or are receiving financial assistance to be in a safe, well structured environment. Thankfully, many outside programs like free after school bus drop offs are available for the teens but unfortunately they interfere with our program times not allowing those students to participate in our program. Students who would perhaps be interested in joining our activities and know they will be provided with a California State Board Standard nutritious snack are unable to attend and are often forced to find other means of keeping busy without trouble finding them first.

There are moments in life when you get hit with a big reality check and every worry, complaint and any other negative mindset quickly dissolves in an instant…and today was one of them. School officials at work were exposed to what a young boy had been hiding: no soles on the bottoms of his shoes along with dirty ripped white socks. School officials only took notice because he had asked for duct tape so he could piece what was left of his shoes just in time for P.E class. Immediately, the Principal and other officials were notified and money from the school’s “Families in Need Fund*” were taken out and brand new shoes and socks were provided for the innocent child who had had a complete emotional breakdown the class period prior. To make matters more heartbreaking, the new pair of shoes he received were a size 6, when his worn down shoes were a size 4-and-a-half. Though this child falls under the category of not being able to participate in our program due to free transportation, he is just one of the many other children at our school who live with devastating secrets of poverty.

Though there are various fun and exciting reasons why I’d like to be crowned Miss California Latina, I feel this opportunity would give me the perfect platform I need in order to reach out to those in need. I believe having a title, anywhere you go, has so much power and if you properly use that power for the goodness of others, so much success and positive change can occur. As mentioned in previous posts, I was raised to always give to others, especially if you have the capacity and means to do so. Though I haven’t yet experienced the big pageant weekend, I feel I’ve already been able to reach out to many through this very blog. Whether it be inspiring another to enter a pageant or help raise $100 for a San Jose gang related funeral, I feel this pageant experience has already given me the type of platform I’m looking for.

*To help other families in need, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/4n3nn0 and donate! All proceeds will go directly to the “Families in Need Fund”

Love,
Kassie P.

Mexican Heritage Plaza

Last night, I had the great honor of attending San Jose’s Mexican Heritage Plaza for a guest appearance. The Mexican Heritage Plaza is a cultural center in the heart of East San Jose showcasing the Latino/Chicano culture through performances such as theater,singing and dancing. During my college years, my sorority Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc., was heavily involved with the Plaza volunteering as ushers and guides for annual events so when I received an email from the director asking if I’d be able to attend upcoming shows, I was more than delighted to say yes. As soon as I arrived to the center, I was greeted by giddy elementary school girls who were in awe of meeting and taking pictures with a “beauty queen.” My parents, who also joined in the fun, offered to take behind the scenes photos* while I mingled with guests and promoted my title.

As I was speaking with guests and taking pictures, I had a feeling of such great fulfillment. Everyone who walked by and noticed my sash either complimented or congratulated me on my title. Having my family supporting me for such a small, local event meant so much to me because I could tell they too, were proud of my pageant accomplishments. Though I don’t know what my pageant life fate lies ahead of me, I’ve had an amazing time being involved with the community and a city I deeply adore.

*To see some photos of last night’s event, please visit my Photos page.

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

What’s You Platform Miss San Jose?

Though I can name over hundreds of reasons why the city of San Jose is so great, I must admit my city is sadly experiencing some troubled times. To many of us in San Jose, it’s been no surprise that we have been plagued with an up-rise of gang violence. With the most recent and largest gang sweep in Santa Clara County history of indicting 48 “Nuestra Familia” members, gang activity is no longer just in prisons. It has now has spilled over into our streets, rapidly affecting our youth, many who happen to be of Latino decent. In most recent times, a 16-year-old boy was beaten and shot to death in broad day light in the city’s highest gang activity region: East San Jose.*

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in the philosophy of gangs and its members. As a matter of fact, in high school, the day after I got a concussion during a softball game, I ignored doctor’s recommendation to stay home from school only because I had worked so hard on my class speech and PowerPoint presentation on the history of gangs. Though I was never personally exposed to the gang lifestyle, I had multiple friends in the public school systems who were manipulated into the gang life, many who would fall through the cracks and end up in and out of jail, never to be heard of again.

Today I was doing my regular online news check when I happened to stumble across an article from the San Jose Mercury News about a mother who is struggling to pay for her son’s funeral costs. After reading further into the story, I realized the story was about the boy mentioned earlier in the post. The funeral is set to be scheduled this Friday only if the family can raise the balance of $5,000. According to the non-profit organization, Mother’s Against Murder, the Urzua family has yet to come up with funds leaving the devastated mother unable to give her son his final respects. Moved by this story, I wanted to help in any way possible so I decided to create a GoFundMe page for the family. GoFundMe.com** is an online fundraising page for different causes where people from all over can donate money. Though I have only set up the page today and have not yet received any donations for the family, I am hopeful I can help in any way.

Though pageant contestants are known for having platforms, I personally believe all people should be advocates for a cause. Yes I’ll admit, being a representative of San Jose for Miss California Latina is pushing me that extra mile to get more involved in the community but I think when there is an issue that is starting to make headlines left and right, action must be taken and that, I can not ignore.

* To read more please visit http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_23591787/san-jose-mom-struggling-bury-teen-son-killed

** To donate to the Urzua family please visit http://funds.gofundme.com/index.php?route=fundmanager&url=3h682w

 

 

 

Love,
Kassie P.

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