David Martinez Ulloa is an exchange student from Spain and a junior at MHS. He resides with Lloyd and Karen Tillma of Milbank and will soon celebrate his first American Christmas. “We celebrate Christmas like you do. We have the same religion,” he said. “But our big celebration is the Three Wise Men.”
David explained, “In Spain, families get together Christmas Day for a meal. Children receive inexpensive presents from Santa Claus. Spain’s biggest celebration comes on January 6.” Americans celebrate this as Epiphany. “In Spain,” David said, “The Three Wise Men, similar to America’s Santa Claus, bring the big gifts to surprise the children.”
Before the holiday, children write letters, not to Santa, but to the Three Wise Men. The children either give the letter to the wise men when they arrive on January 5, or to the emissaries and royal postmen found in the center of town a few days before. “The wise men get dressed up and sit at the big government building in my city. The kids go there, give them their letters, and tell them the gifts they want.” The tradition is for the wise men to ask the children if they have been good at home and school, because naughty children get coal instead of presents. “They tell the children they are watching through the window and know if they have been good or bad.”
On January 5, the long-awaited day arrives and families fill the streets to receive the Three Wise Men. “We have a parade and the last thing in the parade is the Three Wise Men.” After the parade, children go to bed early to wait for Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar -the Three Wise Men- to come in through the window and leave gifts. “We wake up in the morning and open all our presents. Then, we go to our grandparents’ house to eat and open more presents. The older people- my parents, aunts, and uncles- give presents to each other, too.”
Although our Christmas traditions are divergent, David said he thinks our cultures are more alike than different. “I think our cultures are similar. Karen had a Japanese student stay with her – that must have been different. With me, things are much the same.”
David enjoys watching American movies more than Spanish movies. “We watch the same movies; they just change the voices into Spanish. It’s not hard to watch that way. The American actors famous here are famous in Spain, too.” The last American movie David enjoyed before coming to the United States was The 5th Wave, which is also a book series. “I like American movies, TV, and music better. I don’t watch much TV here or at home,” he said. “But I like to watch YouTube – both Spanish and American.”
His taste in food and entertainment is quite American, too. “When I am with my friends, we like to eat and shop. We mostly eat McDonald’s and shop at a mall near my home. My favorite brand is Hollister.” Hollister is an American brand of surfer-inspired clothing with stores across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Since living in South Dakota, he has discovered another favorite. “I love Taco Johns. I had my first taco when I came here. We don’t have tacos in Spain.” He says although he spends time with his friends shopping, he would rather eat and talk instead of shop. “I know what I want and I go in and get it. That’s all the shopping I like to do.”
David’s passion is theatre and plays. He had a role in the fall play at MHS and a lead role in the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of Rapunzel. He also plans to audition for the one act play and the spring play. “I have done theatre for nine years, he said. “The only thing different is the language.”
In Spain, each school puts on a play and then competes against other schools. “Each year we go to the contest. We can win the best character of the year, best play, and things like that. We do the play for the contest and then we do it again at our school for our parents and families to watch.” He also explained his town of La Coruña has a large theatre where famous people act. “The past two years my school was able to do our play on that stage. It’s a big honor. It’s very hard for our teacher to get us there.” His school has won the best play award.
In Milbank, David also enjoys spending time with Karen and Lloyd’s oldest son, Stuart, who has a home on the family’s farm site. “He spends a lot of time with Stuart, his wife, Brianna, and their son Tayson, who is seven,” Karen explained. “I think Tayson fills the void when David is missing his youngest brother who is 3. David and Stuart’s family also enjoy looking for Pokemon together -another pastime common to the two countries. “They tell me there is one Pokemon unique to each country,” Karen added. “But the rest are everywhere.”
When David arrived on South Dakota soil, he was well prepared. His brother, now 20 years old and attending college in Madrid, spent a year in DeSmet as an exchange student. “He told me everything I needed to know.” When it came down to it, though, David said he was not ready to leave Spain. “I’m the kind of person that misses my family. I wasn’t ready to go. My dad asked me if I was ready and I thought it was so far away. Then, I got to the airport and realized it was time. But, it has not been bad. I like it here.”