“Read, read and read,” former international beauty queen and writer Gemma Cruz-Araneta told students on Friday at the third Lecture Series on Journalism at The Manila Times College in Intramuros, Manila.
In fact, reading history had helped her win the Miss International title in 1964 in Long Beach, California, becoming the first Filipina and first Asian to capture the beauty crown.
“That year, there was this Vietnam War [which hogged the headlines until the early 1970s]. I told them that I feared I won’t be able to make it to the pageant. ‘Why?’ they said.
I told them there was this war in Vietnam. And they all nodded,” the daughter of well-known journalist Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil said, apparently proving that reading about the war paid off for her .
Cruz-Araneta, who was appointed director of the National Museum in 1968 (her first job), advised students of journalism to read history and classical literature.
“Select your model in writing. Practice his writing style. Write daily. Always name your source. Never copy.”
She narrated to students–from various universities and colleges in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, including journalism students of the University of the Philippines–her coverage of the Vietnam War. The visit produced a book titled Hanoi Diary in 1968 and was republished in 2012.
But before she learned how to write books–she has authored and co-authored six books–she said her mother had taught her how to write short stories. “She would tell me to interview my classmates. I would ask them what were their hobbies. I would describe a hobby of my classmate in at least two paragraphs and then submit [the resulting piece]for publication to a women’s magazine, which had a children’s page.
Cruz-Araneta said a serious journalism student should master at least one language and be curious of what is happening around him, always asking, understanding and analyzing.
“Be observant,” said the great-grandchild of Maria Mercado, sister of national hero Jose Rizal. Leon Maria Guerrero, translator of Rizal novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, is her maternal uncle.
Cruz-Araneta said her mom would ask her to read newspapers when she was in grade school.
“Read not just fiction. Read Philippine history. It will give you the right perspective,” said the former contributor to The Sunday Times just like her mother who was once a writer for the oldest English-language daily newspaper in the country–The Manila Times, whose weekend edition carries The Sunday Times.
She gave the inquisitive young students a quick peek at Hanoi Diary, her out-of-the country journalist’s experience as a 25-year-old “fearless” reporter. She was accompanied by her husband, Antonio Araneta, during the trip to Vietnam’s former imperial capital to find out what was really happening and then tell Filipinos about it.
“Discipline, resourcefulness and don’t get disappointed right away because that is part of being a journalist. But, I must repeat read…read…read especially our history, practice writing, write something everyday and be observant,” Cruz-Araneta said during an open forum.
She saw then that it was difficult for the Americans to defeat the Vietnamese people, a belief that she said was strengthened by interviews she conducted with a mayor, the people’s military and a women’s group.
“The women told me about their three responsibilities, namely to take care of their children, take care of the food and to take care of what their husbands had left after they died in war,” she said.
At the time, according to Cruz-Araneta, it was a struggle to reach Vietnam via Hong Kong, then Laos to Hanoi, where her group stayed at Victory Hotel.
She narrated also the creative ways of the Vietnamese in the countryside who converted bomb craters into fish ponds and grow kangkong (water spinach). “How can the Americans defeat these people?” she wondered, saying it is a fact that countries where the United States had intervened ended divided such as Korea and China. “But not Vietnam because the people there opted to live united, [they are]a determined people.”
Years after that youthful journalistic experience, Cruz-Araneta recalled an event in Manila City Hall in 2012 where she met the then-Vietnamese ambassador who encouraged her to release a second edition of Hanoi Diary.
She remembered her visit to Hanoi where at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel it was discovered that there was a bunker below a bamboo restaurant.
“The restaurant manager discovered that I once hid in that bunker. He invited me to grace the reopening of the restaurant, whose renovation was handled by a Filipino engineer.
“So, when I went back for the inauguration. I saw the bunker coming to life anew. They even placed some pictures of me, showing that I also hid there,” Cruz-Araneta said, adding that the restaurant is now a Unesco World Heritage site.
Today, she is very active in preserving history and culture.
The former beauty queen heads the Heritage Conservation Society of the Philippines, a fitting job for a former director of the National Museum and former secretary of Tourism.
The Lecture Series in Journalism, as The Manila Times Executive Editor and President Dante Francis “Klink” Ang 2nd said, is the school’s way of letting aspiring writers to learn “what they could not learn from textbooks” direct from successful journalists themselves.
Friday’s lecture was attended by students and professors from The Manila Times College, University of the Philippines-Manila, Baliuag University, Emilio Aguinaldo College and Lakandula High School.