In the education boom of the early 20th century, families who could afford it sent sons and daughters to Manila, transforming the place into a national college town. Even earlier though, Kapampangan students were accorded special privileges by Spain, allowing them to study in exclusive Spanish schools in Manila as early as the 18th century. This was to repay the loyalty and service of Kapampangans for their help in securing war victories against invaders like the British.
For Kapampangan boys, the schools of choices included the boys-only Jesuit-run Ateneo (founded 1859 as Ateneo Municipal de Manila), which had its high school campus along Padre Faura. Colegio de San Juan de Letran, which was originally intended for the education of underprivileged Spanish children, was another popular choice for college boys. Others hied off to Jose Rizal College (1919) , San Beda College in Arlegui (1901), De La Salle College, Escuela de Derecho ( a Law School founded by Filipino revolutionaries) or to the venerable University of Sto. Tomas (1611) for their professional degrees. From U.S.T. was graduated the 1st Filipino lay doctor who is believed to be a Kapampangan, Dr. Pedro Leon de Arcega, a Chinese mestizo who may have been born in Guagua. He earned his Doctorate in Philosophy in 1785.
Girls, meanwhile, were either interned in the Assumption or sent off to Holy Ghost or St. Theresa’s College, Concordia College, Sta Rosa College or Centro Escolar. Manila schools were indeed a far cry from the single-sex religious schools of Spain. In 1908, the University of the Philippines broke the pattern of Spain’s single-sex religious schools when it was established along Padre Faura near the Jesuit Observatory. The U.P. set the standards of student lifestyle by going co-educational.
Student days in the Manila were a mix of exhilaration, culture shock and exacting academic load. To fend off homesickness, Kapampangans, like other provincial students, banded together and formed various organizations (Circulo Fernandino of U.P., Pampagueñas del Centro Escolar de Señoritas). More affluent Kapampangan parents however, had their children fetched by family drivers from Manila for the week-end. Interns like the very exclusive “Dormitory Girls” of Philippine Normal School, were forever under the watchful eye of American dorm mothers like a certain Mrs. Burton who honed these little provincial girls into English-speaking belles of Manila society. In the first decades of the 1900s, they were often invited to grace dances and social functions at the Malacanang under then Gov. Gen. William Cameron Forbes.
Students returning from Manila to their town for their summer vacation were often looked at as conquering heroes—more citified, fashionably dressed and more urbane. The Free Press described the annual March ritual of the returning provincianos in a 1929 editorial cartoon: “These are the days of the returning student—the days when he comes into his own. Behold him as he struts along Main Street of his little town or barrio, the cynosure of all eyes, the observed of all observers, a sort of collegiate Caesar….his clothes are studied, his shoes are studied….even his manner of walking, of carrying himself, are studied and aped. Is it any wonder that, under the incense of such flattery, he feels himself a superior being? Student days and joyful homecomings do not last forever. All too soon comes the stern battle of life with its trials and sorrows and tribulations. So carpe diem, and be joyful while we may”.
(23 November 2002)