(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has announced that Jia Ross Nicdao of Admiral Herbert G. Hopwood Middle School and Camille Torres Hocog of Marianas High School are the winners of the 2021 Northern Marianas Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Essay Contest.

A group of volunteer judges chose Nicdao and Hocog’s work from among 23 essays submitted by middle school students and 21 essays submitted by high school students in the Marianas. 

“Congratulations to Ms. Nicdao and Ms. Hocog for winning the first-ever Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Essay Contest hosted by the congressional office,” said Sablan. “Their essays highlighted their unique individual experiences as young Asian and Pacific Islanders here in the Marianas, while also expressing the importance of embracing the diversity that exists in our islands and learning from one another.”

Jia Ross Nicdao, an eighth grade student at Hopwood, wrote an essay titled “My Experience as Asian American in the Northern Mariana Islands.” Nicdao’s essay discusses her experiences growing up in the Northern Marianas as a young Filipino born to immigrant parents.

In her essay, Nicdao stated, “I struggled to find a label that I connected to, so I decided to research Filipino culture. At that moment was when I found out about the ethnic group that I was unknowingly part of, known as Asian Americans, who are Americans with Asian ancestry and/ or children of immigrated parents. This community was something I finally related to. On the island, I never felt indifferent because of my ethnicity, which was opposite to my other feelings. I was surrounded by other Asians, so whenever I was around them, I felt like I belonged with them.”

Nicdao also calls for the community to learn about the different cultures present in the Northern Marianas by stating, “I believe one of the best ways to respect and celebrate diversity in this community is by educating ourselves on each other's cultures. We can set an example for other communities to participate in Asian American and Pacific Islander appreciation month by first doing it within the community. Sharing about our experiences; getting to know each others' viewpoints is an expressive way to understand each others' lifestyles.”

Camille Torres Hocog, a sophomore at MHS, wrote an essay titled “Diversity and Unity.” Hocog’s essay discusses how reflecting on her roots, her experiences of building friendships with people of different cultural backgrounds, and participating in a cultural exchange program to Japan helped her realize that diversity exists even within the broadness of the term “Asian and Pacific Islander.”

In her essay, Hocog highlights how her Chamorro identity is a source of empowerment by stating, “As a young Chamorro woman who is indigenous to these islands, this place means a significant amount to me. I take great pride in my roots and where I come from, for it is a source of my values, confidence, goals, and morals. But there’s one thing about my Chamorro identity that has always stuck out to me; I am a result of the perseverance of my people. Among the Pacific Islands, the Marianas has the longest history of colonialism. To this day, we are still experiencing its lasting effects. As I grow and learn even more about my heritage, the more I have an understanding of who I am in this world. Each moment of understanding reminds me that because of my ancestor’s resilience, I want to live my life in fulfilling ways that would make them and my islands proud today.”

This is the first year that Congressman Sablan hosted the Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Essay contest.

“Thank you to all the students who submitted essays for this year’s essay contest,” Sablan said. “I hope that you will all continue sharing your stories and your experiences, so that we, as one community, can continue to find solidarity amongst one another.”

Nicdao and Hocog’s essays will be published on the Congressional Record and can be read online at https://sablan.house.gov/serving-you/api-heritage-month-essay-contest

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