Maiki Abello BanzonMaria Katrina “Maiki” Abello Banzon was just 17 when she became the Jaro Fiesta Queen, a title handed down to daughters of prominent families in Iloilo. Maiki is the daughter of Raffy and Pia Lopez Abello and a granddaughter of Oscar and Connie Rufino Lopez. A greatgranddaughter of Eugenio Lopez Sr., she talks of the halcyon years of growing up with cousins and family members and how they were taught and lived the Lopez values of unity, respect and kindness towards others, rich or poor.
Can you tell us about your growing up years?
I am Maria Katrina Abello Banzon. I grew up surrounded by family. My cousins were my neighbors so we were always hanging out on weekends and after school. It was a lot of fun!
I went to Poveda for kinder all the way until high school. Then I went to Ateneo for college. I played softball for my school varsity from Grade 6 until I finished college. I took up AB Interdisciplinary Studies in Ateneo. Most people don’t really know what it is. It’s a course which allows you to pick two tracks and gives you a lot of freedom in choosing electives. I chose this course because I didn’t really find any single course that I felt was perfect for me. With AB IS I took management and communications tracks and a lot of electives which were more on the artistic side, like set design and painting.
Since I was young, I always loved to draw and paint. I actually wanted to take a design course in college, but my parents told me to take something related to business or management because it would be a good background to have for whatever field I would get into in the future. Then after college, they said I could take a design course. So that’s what I did.
After college, I spent a year in Madrid and took a basic design course in IED [Istituto Europeo di Design] where I focused on industrial design. That’s how I ended up working as the design manager for Kenneth Cobonpue, a wellknown furniture designer. I moved to Cebu for that job and stayed for two and a half years. I really enjoyed it and was so proud to work for him because he is a Filipino that made it to the world stage for design. It was so nice to show people that with a little hard work and creativity, Filipinos can contend with the rest of the world.
How were you taught the value of hard work and budgeting?
Growing up with my cousins, we would always come up with mini businesses or summer jobs. Outside my cousin Marty’s house, we would set up a small table with random little things that we were selling. We would sell anything from pencils to brownies. When sales were slow, we would move our merchandise to a tiny wagon and make our younger siblings (Erica and Carlos) go door to door around the village selling these things. My sister and I would also offer nail polish services to our house help. I think we charged P1 for every finger and P2 for every toe. During the summer when we would have no more allowance, my sisters and I would scrub the stairs—our stairs would gather a lot of dirt because it wasn’t the smooth type—and my parents would give us, I think, P10 for every clean step.
I wouldn’t say any of those things were hard work, but I think it taught us the value of hard work and money. It taught us that things don’t come easy and you need to work for it. And it taught us how to be creative in these ways. Our parents never just gave us things, we always had to earn them; the same with our grandparents. They never spoiled us. I guess also because it’s so hard to spoil us when we’re so many!
Have you worked or are you working in any Lopez company?
I work for Rockwell now. I’ve been with Rockwell for about a year and a half under the Retail Leasing team. I’m the one in charge of leasing our retail space in Rockwell’s projects outside Makati (RBC Ortigas, The Grove, Santolan Town Plaza, etc.).
I really enjoy working in Rockwell. It’s a pretty young company. In our team, most of us are in our twenties. Everyone is very easy to get along with and it’s not very formal. It’s a nice environment that encourages us to speak up and be creative. From my coworkers I’ve learned a lot! Everyone is just so willing to help out and share what they know. Because of the very open culture, learning is a lot faster. And you can really learn from anyone! There are guards and janitors who have been there since the beginning of Rockwell and have so many stories to share.
Can you tell us how it is to be a “queen”?
I was 17 years old when I was Jaro Queen. I honestly thought it was a joke when they told me, and I really didn’t want to do it. It was not me at all since I was very shy. I didn’t like to speak in public, go to events, and really didn’t like the spotlight.
But when I was there, I realized that it was so much more than that. I was able to do tree-planting activities, feeding programs, donate school supplies and visit public schools. That’s the part that I enjoyed! I realized then that I could make a difference, even in just a small way. And it didn’t take much on my end to make a big difference in the lives of others. I love kids, so I really enjoyed seeing the little kids smile when they received food or new books.
What was the influence of your grandparents on you?
Growing up, my grandparents would always stress the importance of respect for elders, from the simplest things like the way we talk. We always had to say, “Yes, Nana” or “No, thank you, Nana” and not just a simple “Yup!” or “Yes.”
Also, we were taught to share everything. When food was ready, we would have to wait until all the older ones got first before we could get. We had to make sure that the older ones all had a seat before we could sit down. A lot of times we kids would make “benches.” We would stick two or three chairs together so that instead of just seating two or three people, it could seat three or four.
Another thing that my grandparents stressed was to always put family first. They told us that family should be a priority, and we should always be looking out for each other.
What would you advise your younger siblings and cousins?
I would tell them to treat everyone with respect and kindness, whether it’s your boss, a coworker or the janitor who cleans your office. You can learn something from everyone you cross paths with. And hopefully, in return, you’re able to make a positive difference in their lives, too.(Story/Photos by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)