Sunday, June 24, 2007

37. SOCORRO HENSON: When Kapampangan Beauty Was In Flower

QUEEN OF THE MANILA CARNIVAL 1926. Socorro Henson,of Culiat (Angeles) aged 19, as she appeared in her official coronation picture, which had a Hindu-Arabic theme. She wore a sari gown, a rhinestone crown with a panache of pearls and rode an elephant to her proclamation night. Her King Consort is Vicente Rufino.

Philippine-American relations was at its most cordial in the early 1900s. To mark this harmonious period, a national fair was proposed. Thus was created the 1st Manila Carnival of 1908—2 weeks of revelry, parades, exhibits, sports competitions and crowd-drawing shows, held in February, at the old Wallace Field in Luneta.

Highlighting the Carnival was the crowning of the Carnival Queen, whose selection was based on ballots bought and cast in her favor through private subscription campaigns. As such, candidates often came from affluent backgrounds, like Pura Villanueva of Molo, Iloilo-the future Mrs. Teodoro Kalaw--who holds the distinction of being the first Carnival Queen of 1908. For many winners, the title was a passport to fame, fortune and social prominence. 1920 Queen Trinidad de Leon of Bulacan eventually married Manuel Roxas, while 1922’s Virginia Llamas married her escort, Carlos P. Romulo. Maria Kalaw, 1931 Queen and Pura’s daughter, went on to become a successful senator.

In 1926, the Manila Carnival committee decided to open another Miss Philippines Contest (won by Anita Noble of Batangas), but the luster of the original Carnival crown never dimmed. That year, a Kapampangan beauty reigned supreme: Queen Socorro I.

Socorro Henson, born 29 August 1907, was the eldest of 10 children of Jose Bartolome Henson of Angeles and Encarnacion Martinez Borcena, a Spanish mestiza from Manila. Her pharmacist-father, despite strong Pampanga roots, relocated to Manila, where he ran a thriving drugstore business. Along Solana Street, Intramuros where the Hensons resided, Socorro lived a very comfortable life, spending her high school years at the Assumption and later at the College of the Holy Ghost, for her college education. Her brothers, on the other hand, went to Ateneo and San Juan de Letran.

Socorro had a quiet kind of beauty and her complexion, as recalled by younger brother Col. Antonio Henson, was so translucent that you could see delicate traces of her veins. No wonder then that at the age of 19, in a glittering Hindu-Arabic themed pageant, Socorro was chosen Carnival Queen of 1926. Another kabalen (provincemate), Magalang beauty Lourdes Luciano, could have given her a stiff competition, had she not withdrawn her candidacy. Socorro thus claimed the crown unopposed; she holds the distinction of being the first PampangueƱa to win a national beauty title. It is said that her patrician bearing captivated the judges and made many a head turn.

Her grateful and proud neighbors festooned the streets of Intramuros with colored buntings to celebrate her victory. At her coronation, she was resplendent in a beaded sari gown with a magnificent crown topped by a foot-long panache. The stately queen, seated on a howdah, was borne by a real elephant in her ceremonial evening parade. Her King Consort was Vicente Rufino. But another escort from her court caught her eye: Francisco Limjap y Escolar, of the influential and socially affluent Limjap clan from Manila. (Interesting to note that his brother, Perico, also took another Carnival Queen for his wife-- Neny Apacible who reigned in 1923).

Socorro and Francisco were married on 26 January 1928. Marriage did not deter her from completing her Home Economics degree at the Holy Ghost College. She bore four children: Francisco Jr.,, Baby, Josefina and Ginny. The older Francisco died on 8 October 1975. A few months later, on 26 February 1976, Socorro, the last of the original Carnival Queens, succumbed to cancer of the throat.

It can be said that long before the national triumphs of Pampanga-born binibinis and mutyas like Myrna Panlilio, Malou Apostol, Violeta Naluz, Melanie Marquez, Abbygale Arenas, Maricel Morales, Marilyn Maristela, Darlene Carbungco and Carla Gay Balingit, there was one original beauty who thrilled and captivated a whole nation 75 years ago, leaving a legacy of Kapampangan pulchritude at its most beautiful.
(1 March 2003)

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