Small, tropical, and awe-inspiring. Terms that fit the typical concept of an island.

When I moved to the island of Guam in first grade, I was enthralled by the mesmerizing aura I had perceived. Other than the soaring buildings my father designed as a prominent architect in the island, I found time to enjoy nature and the serenity that the beaches brought.

When I attended Stanford University for the Junior State of America program last July, I was so captivated to meet people around the world, especially those who came from different islands in the Pacific and Atlantic. Conversations occurred and compliments were given, but the one thing that unified each one of us is the mystical eccentricity and beauty that our islands possessed.

“Dikiki’ yan gatbu I islan Luta, lao mas importtanti, esta gui’ I tano-hu.” (The island of Rota is small, beautiful, and most of all it is my home). Xanthus Manglona, a 16-year-old, was raised on the tiny island of Rota, located just 54 miles northeast of the more well-known sister island of Guam. Rota is just one of a chain of 14 total islands called the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

“Rota is the least developed of the 3 major islands in the CNMI, but I feel that it is a part of its charm. We don’t have a mall, major highway, or a fast food restaurant like some of the other islands. However, we make it up with our crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, lush green jungles, and diverse array of wildlife, which some could not be found around the world.”

Photo: Xanthus Manglona

In the CNMI and Guam the native culture is Chamorro. Manglona came from an ancient line of healers, and in fact, his grandmother was one of the very last healers in their culture.

“She would venture into the jungle, guided by the spirits of our ancestors, to find herbs that she would grind into medicine. The spirits would then grant her a safe passage through the treacherous jungle, protecting her from harm.”

Living up to his grandmother’s throne, Manglona wants to learn how to become a healer and keep this practice alive. One day, he would want to pass this practice to his children and spread it across to the other islands.

Photo: Xanthus Manglona

On the fun side, Rota’s top tourist hotspots include the numerous wildlife, historic, and coastal sites. The Taga Stone Quarry was where the ancient Chamorro built a giant Latte Stone to lay the foundation for their huts. Teteto Beach possesses a unique type of white sand and blue waters that make it a perfect place to have a barbecue. The Bird Sanctuary is a lookout into the ocean as numerous sea birds fly overhead. Sasahayan Bay, where the reef is located and where fishing is restricted, is the most beautiful among them all.

“Rota is a virtually untouched island where nature outweighs human development. On Rota, you mostly do outdoor activities such as hiking, scuba diving, hunting, and etc. Rota is my home. It is small but beautiful, and I would never want to live anywhere else in the world.”

Photo: Xanthus Manglona

Reica Jucel A. Ramirez, a 16-year-old, lives in Saipan, which is also a part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

“I am passionate about helping our islands find a voice and representation. Additionally, I care about protecting our environment and climate changes that affect all the islands, which people are not talking about often.”

Coming from the Philippines, she learned to integrate the island lifestyle into her life. She learned the value of respect and was able depict it by learning to love her island in the Pacific. She definitely loves sunrises and sunsets.

“I feel a deeper connection with other islands around the world. It’s like us Islanders can come together like a family no matter how far away we are whether it be islands from the Pacific or islands in the Caribbean. I have so much feelings about my island. Its natural beauty makes it so much harder to leave. Its people are filled with diversity and island hospitality. Also, it’s amazing to see how the ocean embraces the sun when it sets.”

Photo: Xanthus Manglona

Leila Habib, a fifteen-year-old who resides at St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI), is passionate about gender equality, oceans, and how climate change affects the world. According to her, our oceans are everything and we have to take care of them better and the animals that live in them.

“I believe that my island is beautiful because of the wildlife and nature, and the community. People in the Virgin Islands are caring and respectful. Since we are a small island (32 square miles), everyone knows everyone.”

Moving to St. Thomas when she was 11 years old, Habib shows her deep appreciation and interest to her island.

“I am very passionate about my island that I call home. I find Caribbean history very interesting, especially learning about slavery and plantations on St. Thomas as well as St. John. Sometimes while driving on island, you will see sugar mills from old plantations. It is important to know about our history and how much we have changed.

The magnificent view from a hotel on St. John, another island in the USVI. Photo Courtesy of Leila Habib.

Habib feels a connection with other islands around the world, especially after going to the Junior State of America (JSA) Summer School.

“I believe that island cultures are similar, because living on an island can be the same everywhere. Although, there are many differences, most cultures value the ocean greatly. Many people in the Virgin Islands believe that the ocean can heal, and that the oceans are very important for the island. The oceans provide food, tourism, and enjoyment.”

Beaches are major tourist spots in the Caribbean, and according to Habib, St. Thomas, Magens Bay Beach is a famous tourist attraction. In fact, National Geographic named it as one of the world’s 10 best beaches. In addition to the list, Magens Bay is also very popular because it is one-mile long with amazing views and crystal clear waters.

Sunset above Magens Bay, taken from a friend’s house. Photo Courtesy of Leila Habib.

The best things to do on St. Thomas are snorkeling and SCUBA diving. St. Thomas also has amazing food, so eating local Caribbean food should be in your to-do-list when you visit St. Thomas.

“I want my island to represent beauty, not just the physical beauty of our island, but the beauty in everything we do. Our island should show beauty with our strong community, our wildlife, our willingness to change for the better, and our positivity.”

No matter how small an island could be, it holds a certain power and a scent of attraction that lures people to its core. The beauty and eccentricity of an island is dominant, whether it lies in the far west or the far east.

 

 Photo: Xanthus Manglona

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