Marianas High School freshmen Olivia Hirsh and Liza Atalig and Rota’s Eskuelan San Francisco de Borja’s Tyra Reese A. Calvo garnered first place in their respective categories in the Northern Marianas Humanities Council’s 10th Annual Valentine N. Sengebau Poetry Competition at the American Memorial Park Wednesday night.
Hirsh and Atalig bested 12 other duos and individual recitals from Saipan, Tinian, and Rota in the senior-division with their original poem, Our Culture: Me, You, Us, Family, Strong.
Both said their poem’s message is very close to their hearts.
“I have so many different types of blood running through me and, to know that so many [cultures] make up this island, I feel that I am part of something so different but connected,” Hirsh said. “The Marianas islands is made up of so many different cultures and many of those cultures run in our blood.
Atalig expressed the same sentiments. “We really wanted to express our voice. Most of my family members and friends are different ethnicities and we’re all bonded to each other and we got to use each culture. We can’t actually call ourselves one culture because we are actually many different cultures all combined into one.”
Their coach, Bobby Cruz, shared that the students wrote the poem in just one day but practiced for weeks to know it by heart.
“They put this piece together and it is amazing. I am really excited.” Cruz said.
He noted that Hirsh had a fear of public speaking but broke out of her shell and gave it her all.
“The fact that I could facilitate this and see it come in full circle, to see them win is just icing on the cake,” he said.
Rota’s Dr. Rita H. Inos Jr./Sr. High School senior students Mona Manglona and Randee-Jo Barcinas-Manglona won second place in the senior-division.
“This event is more than a competition. It is important because we get a chance to showcase our talents and how we feel about our culture and identity,” Manglona said.
The Rota duo won third place in last year’s edition of the competition.
Barcinas-Manglona said she feels like the event gives her “a chance to embrace culture.”
Saipan Southern High School sophomore Mikhail T. Alcantara won third place.
Rota schools dominate junior division
Three students from the island of Rota bested 19 other students from Saipan and Tinian in the junior division of the competition. This division required participants to recite a poem selected from Sengebau’s compilation of poems, Microchild
Calvo, who won first place, said she “gave it my best” and recognized the importance of paying tribute to the late Sengebau.
“It is important to honor him because he is a great poet and he wrote many amazing poems that bring meaning to our culture,” said Calvo, a 7th grade student at Eskuelan San Francisco de Borja.
ESFDB principal Carmen H. Atalig flew to Saipan to watch her students perform and shared that she is proud of all her students who presented and was impressed by the caliber of the young poets.
“They worked hard and they deserve this win,” she said.
ESFDB’s Angelica S. Lucero won second place while Rota’s Dr. Rita H. Inos Jr./Sr. High School’s Richelle Mae Aldabe got third place.
Local historian Don Farrell, Guam Preservation Trust program officer Rosanna Barcinas, and CNMI Motheread Program designated site coordinator Brian Manabat served as the judges.
“The performances today were outstanding,” Farrell said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. Their demonstration and courage to perform and the creative work recited is just outstanding.”
The winners received $250 for first place, $150 for second and $100 for third.
The event is organized by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council and is named after the late Palaun poet Valentine Sengebau who composed poems that expressed the personal joys and sorrows of his life and the issues of the day.
“This is one of our signature programs,” said Eulalia S. Villagomez, NMI Humanities Council program officer. “I am happy that we have many schools participating in this competition and spreading the work of Valentine Sengebau.”