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Image: EOP E-Newsletter. Educational Opportunity Program, California State University, Long Beach. (group of students)
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A Royal Experience

Jennifer Sarreal

Jennifer Sarreal


Since I graduated from CSULB with a bachelor’s in anthropology in May 2006, I’ve been involved with new projects, exciting trips and experiences that have ultimately changed, and continue to change, my life. Through EOP, my time spent at CSULB prepared me both mentally and emotionally for the course of events that have led to a life transformation. I am amazed how far preparation and a little serendipity has taken me, and I am convinced that there are no impossibilities. While no paths are without adversity, I feel fortunate to have embraced the wisdom that comes from my experiences—both good and bad equally—that made me who I am today.

Shortly after graduation, I became ill and was bedridden for three months. Immobilized and unable to walk or work, I was depressed and pessimistic. During this period, I learned to slow down and live life one step at a time. Slowing down demonstrated the importance of patience and determination.

This slow period became a hidden blessing. As I grew stronger, I began publishing articles in a dance magazine, organizing and producing Artists for Humanity (which is on its way to becoming a non-profit), being a featured artist at a women’s festival, starting world performance art educational programs in Los Angeles and being crowned Queen of Miagao during the Salakayan Festival in the Philippines.

Of these experiences, my trip to the Philippines was the most rewarding. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to the Philippines in such a unique way. With “Gigante” competitions, boxing matches, dancing in the streets, new museums, on-the-spot mural competitions, volunteer medical missions, tribe competitions, historical re-enactments, boat parades, blind masseuses, religious ceremonies, television airings and meetings with governmental officials, it was beautiful to see an entire town come together to celebrate its solidarity and sense of community, yet it was very overwhelming for me to be at the center of it all.

During the trip, assimilating to social norms was the most challenging. I walked a fine line between being the girl from Long Beach and the “Queen of Miagao” the town expected me to be. I was not allowed to walk across the street alone and often prompted by interviewers on national television. Locals saw me in two extremes. To them, I was either the idealistic American girl who didn’t speak Ilonggo—and had every reason to be laughed at—or I was the Filipino-American who was giving back, as is the Filipino custom, and needed to be overaccommodated. Oddly enough, the over-accommodation was much more unbearable than the jeering at my humanitarian and feminist actions.

In finding peace with this situation, I also found the balance necessary for the duality of my life in Miagao—public and private. I am very grateful for these experiences as they guide my path today and are a constant reminder that life is growth. I began to see the sunshine after the rain, and I embraced the privilege of performing for the tribes, meeting government officials, doctors on medical missions, an ambassador of Great Britain and a Peace Corps volunteer, and seeing parts of the Philippines I never knew existed. Most importantly, I made wonderful friends.
At the close of the Salakayan, I was elated to explore other parts of the Philippines. I spent time in Boracay where I taught dance to local high school students and I visited other towns on the island of Panay. Finally, I traveled to Cavite in Luzon where I fulfilled a lifelong wish to see my father’s birthplace, my family’s hometown and the grave of a grandfather I have only known in stories. It was in Cavite that I met the late Emiliano Sarreal, Jr., my father’s first cousin, who I was fortunate to have laughed and lived with while he was still here with us.

My trip to the Philippines was a beautiful experience. I am humbled and honored to have discovered, firsthand, the mother islands of my ancestors. Though I leave nothing but footprints behind, I carry with me memories and wisdom to be cherished forever.

— Jennifer Sarreal, Class of 2006

For more information about Jenniferís community dance and educational programs, visit www.DancingTehani.com.