Filipino-American trader and social worker Alma Quintans-Kern never thought that one day she would speak in the provincial capitol that her grandfather built almost a century ago.
But on April 5, she addressed a big crowd led by the province’s officials as guest of honor during the 433rd Agew na Pangasinan (Pangasinan Day) commemorative program in the capital Lingayen.
“I never thought that this would ever happen. To do it at the steps of the provincial capitol was very meaningful. It was the best experience of my life,” said Kern, granddaughter of former Governors Daniel Maramba, who served from 1916 to 1922, and Pedro Quintans, who served for three months in 1928.
Maramba built the capitol from 1916 to 1917.
“I want you all to know that I come before you today as a true-blooded Pangasinense. Just like my grandfathers, I love Pangasinan and I’m a proud daughter of Pangasinan,” Kern said.
She said that when she was a child, she would shudder when her mother or grandmother would tell her, “Agabangatan ya ugaw (Stubborn child)!”
“I never really understood why their anger was inevitably accompanied by that word until I was way into adulthood and had realized that teaching me the values and beliefs that they held dear was the most important legacy they can leave me,” Kern said.
“Those values, traditions and beliefs would become the core of my being. They would form my self-identity, the raison d’être of who I am and where I belong,” she said.
Kern said that although she was born in Manila, she spoke only Pangasinan until she entered kindergarten. She said her father had repeatedly told her that she had to speak the language so people would know that she was from Pangasinan.
“When I was growing up in Manila …, I was constantly being teased about my Pangasinan language…. They laughed when I pointed at a mouse and shouted, ‘Utot!’ or, when I said, ‘Antotan (What is that)?’”
Kern finished her elementary and high school education at
St. Scholastica’s College. She earned a degree in social work from the University of the Philippines and later, a master of public health degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
“Now, I speak [Pangasinan] with pride any chance I get and to anyone who is willing to listen,” Kern said.
“And contrary to what President [Manuel L.] Quezon said about the beauty of Tagalog, my parents taught me that there is no language more beautiful than Pangasinan. Because what other language has 20 or more words for ‘crazy’?” she said.
Kern said since she migrated to the United States in 1974, she made it a point to come home to Pangasinan once or twice a year. “But it was not until the 1990s that my visits to Pangasinan became more than just a vacation,” she said.
In 1996, Kern and then Washington State Rep. Velma Veloria established the Washington-Pangasinan Sister State Association to develop a close cultural relationship with Pangasinan and to help the province in the field of environmental conservation and educational scholarships.
“So for the past 20 years, I have paid close attention to what was happening in Pangasinan,” Kern said. “I have come to two conclusions. First, I have not seen a much clearer proof than what I have seen in the past five years that Pangasinan is on its way to becoming the most respected province in the whole country,” she said.
It was also clear to her, she said, that the people share and appreciate the vision of its officials “to make the province the number one place to invest, work, live and raise a family.”