My Colonized, Evangelized Heart: Naga Parochial School in the 60s
As I continue to reminisce about my elementary days in the Naga Parochial School, I need to issue a caveat: the experiences of my generation may have helped us survive those years not because we were stronger but because we were acting with the rhythm of our time. The previous, older generations would provide an altogether different view of things coming as they were from a World War and a world that was rushing headlong to massive changes; the succeeding generations could find my memories sentimental, irrelevant and, perhaps, unthinkable and unjustifiable. But that is where the power of memory lies – that we are entitled to our own memories and no one can dispute what we wish to remember and those we opt to forget.
“Teacher, speaking Bikol po!” The school had an English Rule then, like many of the so-called exclusive schools for boys and girls in different parts of the country. “Tagalog” was never an option. You could not save your head by opting to speak in the national language. Take note, too: we never called our teacher “Ma’am.” Certainly, we never appended to the first name or family name of our male teachers the word, “Sir.” It was always, for example, Mr. Bisenio, not Sir Bisenio. It was always Mr. Badong, never Sir Juan Badong.
In Kinder, my younger brother, Carlo, was reading books about White American boys and girls. The book was Read with Dick and Jane and Fun with Dick and Jane. I guess, most of you would still remember these words? “Look, Jane./Look, look./See Dick.” And of course, you know the name of their dog, Spot.
They were reading materials that were in use till the mid-70s in America and other schools that emphasized the use of the English language. Later, I would learn about these materials being called “basal readers,” which were used to teach reading.
All the reading materials, except those for Pilipino (for that was how the subject was spelled then), were in English. Thus, if the previous generations of “Parokyalistas” claim to be better in the use of the English language, it was a given. There was no other language operating in the campus! Strangely enough, I do not remember any of my lessons in Pilipino.
Did we read texts in Pilipino?
In declamation and singing contests, which happened every week, the pieces were mostly in English. We declaimed in English, for that was how it was called (Elocution would be introduced to us by the Jesuits in high school). One of the favorite pieces in those competitions were William Ernest Henley’s Invictus (Out of the night that covers me./Black as the pit from pole to pole./I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul.) In that first stanza, you needed to conquer the accent on the word, “unconquerable.” The drama though of the piece was in the last two lines: I am the master of my fate;/I am the master of my soul.” When you heard yourself claiming those two lines, you thanked your guardian angel for allowing you to live another day.
There was another declamation piece favored by teachers then and it was Walt Whitman’s O Captain! My Captain! It was a very dramatic poem and our teacher took pains in underscoring the exclamation point at the end of “O Captain.” For a young grade schooler, you had to be shameless to give life to the passion of those lines. Some contestants practically would cry when they reached the lines: But O heart! Heart! Heart!/O the bleeding drops of red/Where on the deck my Captain lies,/Fallen cold and dead.
Did they cry because of the many exclamation points or were they just frightened to be there on stage reciting lines that were just too much for a Grade IV or V pupil?
I still recall how this English rule was enforced outside classrooms, even in canteen. One time, I was asked by my teacher to buy two bottles of coke. At the canteen, I saw the Home Economics teacher manning the fort. I dreaded her presence there because it meant I had to speak in English to her as she was about to get my request.
Over thick-rimmed glasses, she peered at me and asked, “What do you want?”
Simplifying things, I gave her the money and muttered, “Two coke please.”
She looked, turned away fast and soon, she was handing me two bottles of coke and the change, saying: “Next time, say, two Cokes please.”
By graduation, of course, we had mastered already the plural forms of nouns. We still grappled with our past tense but we were less anxious about our language skills. Our graduation that year, 1968, was held on a stage constructed to abut the back of the Cathedral that was on the ground of the school.
As regards that English rule, it just vanished into the air. Or, could it be that we were getting older then and, more than the English rule, there were other things bothering us. Like Love. Or the early signs of mustache above our lips.