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International Speaking Champion Honored For Speech Highlighting Filipino Identity

Updated: June 28, 2004 05:00 PM GMT
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A Catholic school for girls near Manila has honored a graduate who won the 2004 International Public Speaking Competition in London with a speech that deals with local identity in a borderless world.

Saint Theresa´s College high school for girls, run by Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, honored the champion June 28 during the traditional Mass of the Holy Spirit that opens a new school year.

Patricia Evangelista, a 19-year-old college sophomore, topped 60 students from 37 countries who competed May 15 for the annual international speaking competition sponsored by the English Speaking Union. "Borderless World" was this year´s theme for the competition that started in 1981.

Following the Mass June 28, Evangelista presented her award-winning speech, titled "Blonde and Blue Eyes."

According to Maria Teresa Bayle, principal of the high school, the speech set the tone for the theme of the new school year, "Reclaiming Our Filipino Values." Evangelista "is a perfect example of Filipina for our students to follow," Bayle told UCA News. "We teach our women to be critical of the situations that surround them," she added.

The principal remembers the public speaking champion as someone who showed "pride in her being Filipino, but who also felt it easy to adapt to any situation she found herself in."

Evangelista graduated in April 2003 from Saint Theresa´s, where she attended primary and secondary school. She was a member of, and has continued to help out with, the high school debate team.

Following is the complete winning speech she presented at the school:

When I was little, I wanted what many Filipino children all over the country wanted. I wanted to be blond, blue-eyed and white.

I thought if I wished hard enough and was good enough, I´d wake up on Christmas morning with snow outside my window and freckles across my nose! More than four centuries under Western domination does that to you.

I have 16 cousins. In a couple of years, there will just be five of us left in the Philippines; the rest will have gone abroad in search of greener pastures.

It´s not just an anomaly; it´s a trend: the Filipino Diaspora. Today, about 8 million Filipinos are scattered around the world.

There are those who disapprove of Filipinos who choose to leave. I used to. Maybe this is a natural reaction of someone who was left behind, smiling for family pictures that get emptier with each succeeding year.

Desertion, I called it. My country is a land that has perpetually fought for the freedom to be itself. Our heroes offered their lives in the struggle against the Spanish, the Japanese, the Americans. To pack up and deny that identity is tantamount to spitting on that sacrifice.

Or is it? I don´t think so, not anymore. True, there is no denying this phenomenon, aided by the fact that what was once the other side of the world is now a 12-hour plane ride away. But this is a borderless world, where no individual can claim to be purely from where he is now.

My mother is of Chinese descent, my father is a quarter Spanish, and I call myself a pure Filipino -- a hybrid of sorts resulting from a combination of cultures.

Each square mile anywhere in the world is made up of people of different ethnicities, with national identities and individual personalities.

Because of this, each square mile is already a microcosm of the world. In as much as this blessed spot that is England is the world, so is my neighborhood back home.

Seen this way, the Filipino Diaspora, or any sort of dispersal of populations, is not as ominous as so many claim. It must be understood. I come from a Third World country, one that is still trying mightily to get back on its feet after many years of dictatorship.

But we shall make it, given more time, especially now, when we have thousands of eager young minds who graduate from college every year. They have skills. They need jobs. We cannot absorb them all.

A borderless world presents a bigger opportunity, yet one that is not so much abandonment but an extension of identity. Even as we take, we give back. We are the 40,000 skilled nurses who support the U.K.´s National Health Service. We are the quarter-of-a-million seafarers manning most of the world´s commercial ships. We are your software engineers in Ireland, your construction workers in the Middle East, your doctors and caregivers in North America and your musical artists in London´s West End.

Nationalism isn´t bound by time or place. People from other nations migrate to create new nations, yet still remain essentially who they are. British society is itself an example of a multicultural nation, a melting pot of races, religions, arts and cultures. We are, indeed, in a borderless world!

Leaving sometimes isn´t a matter of choice. It´s coming back that is. The hobbits of the Shire traveled all over Middle Earth (in J.R.R. Tolkien´s "The Lord of the Rings"), but they chose to come home, richer in every sense of the word.

We call people like these "balikbayans," or the returnees -- those who followed their dream, yet choose to return and share their mature talents and good fortune.

In a few years, I may take advantage of whatever opportunities come my way. But I will come home. A borderless world doesn´t preclude the idea of a home. I´m a Filipino, and I´ll always be one.

It isn´t about just geography; it isn´t about boundaries. It´s about giving back to the country that shaped me.

And that´s going to be more important to me than seeing snow outside my windows on a bright Christmas morning. "Mabuhay" and thank you. (Editor´s note: "Mabuhay" is a Filipino term used in greeting or farewell.)


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