Wednesday, May 11, 2011


May is the month when flowers bloom and with it the stream of pageants that celebrate beauty and virtue. Filipino communities all over America will be staging dozens of contests in the next couple of weeks that will feature bubbly teens as well as radiant matrons because they’re a link to the past, to the home Filipinos left behind.

One such pageant in Virginia is the Miss Teen Philippines-America that is now on its 26th year. Organized by the Ilocano Society of America, this year’s crop of aspiring queens come from a diverse background and varied interests.

It’s going to be Heather Carlson’s first pageant. Chessa Taboada is the daughter of Filipino teachers in Baltimore City public schools and as a 3rd grader, was chosen muse of St. Anthony’s School in her native Cebu City. Silver Spring high school student Joyce Mata thinks the experience will boost her dreams of being a successful event planner, just like her father.

Choosing symbolic kings and queens for May festivities is a custom that harks back to ancient Europe. The first modern American pageant was staged as part of an 1854 circus and the first “bathing beauty queen” was chosen in a pageant in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

There are “Miss America” pageants within the Chinese, Indian and many other Asian-American communities. It’s a way for these groups to celebrate their own unique cultures and foster a sense of unity and accomplishment, especially among the contestants.

In the Philippines, the Flores de Mayo is a unique rite of summer where the town’s most beautiful men and women wear their best barong and terno and parade around city streets. It is a religious festival in honor of the Virgin Mary but has since evolved as an extension of the Filipinos’ penchant for pageants.

Carlson, 18, said she wanted to learn about her roots. Her mother, Helen, hails from Manila. She goes to Rockville High School. She heard about the pageant from a cousin and for someone entranced watching the Miss Universe show it was short hop to joining one herself. Carlson is also a fan of “So You Think You Can Dance” and is exploring schools for the performing arts in New York and California when she graduates from high school.

At 14, Erika Cronin is the youngest of the lot. She’s a freshman at Northwest High School in Germantown, MD. Her mother, Rosa, comes from Davao City. “I want to be a good model for younger kids,” she enthused.

Taboada, 16, speaks with an English twang that sounds like she’s lived in America all her life, but her family actually arrived here only in 2005. Her parents Vilma and Alfredo hail from Cebu. Vilma Taboada belonged to the 2nd batch of teachers hired by the Baltimore public school system to fill the shortage of mentors and help meet federally-mandated learning standards.

She’s a high school sophomore in Catonville, just outside Baltimore. It’s her first real pageant and says “I just want to see if I’m any good at it.” Chessa wants to pursue a degree either in pharmacy or law when she goes to college.

Mata’s family immigrated to the US when she was just 6 years old. Now 18, she goes to Blake High School in Silver Spring, MD. She said the pageant was an “opportunity to learn more of the Philippine culture” although she insists she still speaks fluent Tagalog. Her parents Vic and Lourdes both hail from Manila.

Joyce said she still remembers weekends spent in the Philippine’s famed beaches, hanging out with cousins and “not worrying about the cold”.

The Miss Teen Philippines-America pageant will be held May 28 at the Fairview Park Marriott Hotel in Falls Church, VA.

Another longstanding Fil-Am beauty pageant is held yearly in Virginia Beach. The Miss Philippines America pageant is one of the oldest and most prestigious for the Filipino communities in America’s eastern seaboard, running for nearly 30 years and drawing contestants from as far away as Florida in the south and Canada in the north.

While the celebration of beauty certainly lives on in the Fil-Am community, these events also serve to raise funds to help countrymen in the Philippines.

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