Thursday, March 30, 2023

Plantation Bay's Reception Building: A Showcase


The following article first appeared in the Philippine Star, March 24, 2023. It is reprinted in my blog by permission of Manny Gonzalez.

Plantation Bay's Reception Building: A Showcase of Art, Architecture, and Engineering

The Reception Building of Plantation Bay is an original Filipino work of art and architecture. Its various elements recall significant parts of Philippine history & culture and convey a mixture of serious & playful messages that surprise and delight its visitors.

The main floor is elevated above an ancient sea bed, therefore resembling a house raft floating on a tranquil sea. The flooring material incorporates blocks of granite salvaged from ballasts used by ancient sailing ships from China.

The roof framing in verdigris steel was designed by Plantation Bay founder Manny Gonzalez, with load calculations performed by structural engineer Ramon Villarias. It recalls European train stations during the Golden Age when trains were the principal mode of tourist transportation.

GROWING UP FILIPINO 3 Book Launches and Talks 2023


Here is a summary of the GROWING UP FILIPINO 3 BOOK TALKS 2023 - 

To promote the young adult book GROWING UP FILIPINO 3: NEW STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS, the contributors and I did a series of book launches/talks in the Philippines and the United States.  Here are some pictures of those events. Many thanks to the University of Santo Tomas for publishing the Philippine edition of GUF3, and to the hosts of these programs. 

January 28, 2023 — Book Launch, Fully Booked BGC, 6 p.m. Readings by: Nikki Alfar, Cecilia Brainard, George Deoso, Yvette Fernandez, Patti Go, Sarge Lacuesta, Kannika Pena, Dom Sy, Jack Wigley, Danton Remoto. 

l-r: Sarge Lacuesta, Jack Wigley, Cecilia Brainard, Nikki Alfar, Danton Remoto, Ned Parfan, Dom Sy, George Deoso, Yvette Fernandez, Patty Go

Monday, March 27, 2023

40th National Book Awards - Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard - Finalist Short Fiction in English -

 40th  National Book Awards - Finalists

I learned late last night from Ned Parfan Assistant Director of the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House that my SELECTED SHORT STORIES is a finalist in the Short Fiction in English Category of the 40th National Book Development Board of the Philippines. 

 Please read an article about the 40th National Book Awards:

I am very grateful to the National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle who made the announcement.

This book was released during Covid lockdowns, and it was not launched properly.  Like other pandemic-released books, this was sadly ignored.

I am therefore particularly grateful to the NBDB and Manila Critics Circle for including this book among the finalists of the 40th National Book Awards.

This book includes some of my best short stories including the popular: “Woman with Horns”, “Flip Gothic”, “Romeo”, and some recent stories: “The Syrian Doctor in Paris”, and “Melisande in Paris”, and more.

The book cover was created by noted Filipino artist, Felix Mago Miguel. In the Philippines, the book is available from Lazada and Shopee; in the US, check out Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I am posting the book blurbs by noted writers who have supported the book (and me): Thank you Brian, Bonnie, and Danton!

Powerful, poignant and engrossing, the Selected Short Stories by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard is an important work by a major writer. Written in a poetic style rich in imagery, her observant eye’s subject is both transnational and local, societal and relational in the more personal scale of family, friendship, love. These stories have an oral quality in the best sense of the word, by a master of the form. ~ Brian Ascalon Roley, author of Ambuscade and American Son, and Professor of English, Miami University. 


Cecilia Manguerra Brainard’s short stories cover not just the history of the Philippines – Spanish and American colonial rule, the bloody Marcos era, the high price of fighting for political and economic freedom – but also the deeply moving hesitations and complexities of the human heart: the loves and longings and losses that shape and haunt a life, the sensuality and desires that rip apart the fabric of social life, the intricacies of girlhood and female friendship, the confrontation of cultures, the loneliness  and courage of Filipino-Americans and others who have left their homelands and the idea of home. Beautifully written, masterfully crafted, these stories are at once heart-breaking, entertaining, and profoundly humane — very difficult to put down, impossible to forget. ~ Reine Arcache Melvin, author of The Betrayed: A Novel

Cecilia Brainard's well-crafted stories deal with fictional Manila and Mexico, Intramuros and Acapulco, Ubec and Cebu. She has the uncanny ability to enter the skin of her characters and give them their singular voices. Her Selected Stories only affirm what we have long known: that she has already vaulted into the front rank of the Philippines' best writers fiction. Brava!" ~ Danton Remoto, author of Riverrun, A Novel

 My official website, has more information about me and my books.

Thanks again to the NBDB, Manila Critics Circle, and the University of Santa Tomas Publishing House.  

Tags:  #Filipinobooks #Filipinoawards #filipinowriters #nationalbookdevelopmentboard #manilacriticscircle


Saturday, March 25, 2023

Veltisezar Bautista's THE FILIPINO AMERICANS (1763-Present): Their History, Culture and Traditions


Thanks to Rachielle Sheffler (shown in picture above) who sent me pages from the book by Veltisezar Bautista, THE FILIPINO AMERICANS (1763-PRESENT): Their History, Culture and Traditions (Bookhaus Publishers 1998, 2002).  She said she found the book at the public library in Mira Mesa, San Diego.

The book includes a writeup about me.  I remember Mr. Bautista contacting me about this book, but I don't have a copy of this book. I am delighted that Rachielle scanned and sent the pages to me; the pages include me through Carlos Bulosan.  


tags: Filipino American history, Filipino American culture, Filipino American literature, Filipino American resource, Filipino American encyclopedia

Friday, March 24, 2023

Confessions of an "Interna" by Imelda M. Nicolas


The following article is by Imelda N. Nicolas. This is part of the book BEHIND THE WALLS: LIFE OF CONVENT GIRLS, a collection of personal essays by graduates of Philippine Convent Schools.  The collection includes writings by Gemma Cruz, Neni Sta Romana Cruz, Herminia Menez Coben, and others. 

For more information about the book, visit . The online store of the publisher Anvil Philippines may have a few copies. 

BIO: Imelda M. Nicolas was former Cabinet-rank Secretary at Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Commission on Filipinos Overseas. She was chair of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women (NCRFW) from 1993 to 1998, where she institutionalized the Gender and Development (GAD) budget in the government’s Appropriations Act. She also served as Secretary-General of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) from 2004 to 2005. She is presently the cabinet-rank Secretary of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) under the office of the President of the Philippines. The CFO uses migration and development as its framework with the end of view of responding to its challenges. It envisions to establish itself as the premier institution in the Philippines vis-à-vis migration and development and overseas Filipinos’ diaspora engagement.



by Imelda M. Nicolas

 Copyright 2005 & 2023 by Imelda M. Nicolas

It was June of 1955. I was entering the fourth grade and without knowing why I found myself, together with my older sister Loida (who was a sixth grader), being enrolled by my mother in St. Agnes’ Academy, a convent school run by German Benedictine sisters in Legaspi, some 50 kilometers away from Sorsogon, the town where I grew up in.

Because of the school’s distance from my hometown, it was taken as a matter of course that both Loida and I would be internas in St Agnes. We would live with the nuns, sharing a dormitory with 80-odd other girls who hailed from places in the Bicol region, many of which I heard for the first time: Masbate, Guinobatan, Pilar, Daet, Iriga — the list seemed endless.

Looking back, I am not surprised that my first days at St. Agnes’ were a haze. I am sure I suffered from sensory overload — there was just too much to take. There was the majestic, ever-changing but ever-present Mayon Volcano looming over the school. There was the school building itself, elegant in a timeless way, seemingly embracing all who strayed into its portals. There were the nuns, in their traditional black-and-white habits, clucking over the children, like mother hens with their chicks.

Legaspi, which the more metropolitan Manileños may consider the backwater, the boonies, was to me THE Big, Bad City, compared to my bucolic, idyllic, more-countryside-than-cosmopolitan hometown of Sorsogon.

In my mind’s eye, I can see the dormitory as one large hall full of uniform beds and drawers, overflowing with my soon-to-be fellow boarders, who came in all sizes and shapes -- from the youngest, teeny-weeny grade-oner, to the most senior graduating high school students, who, to my ten-year-old eyes and perspective then, towered over me like giants. As I got to know the girls I would be living with for the next 300 schooldays, I found out soon enough that their characters, quirks and upbringing were even more varied than their sizes and shapes.

To a newcomer there seemed no rhyme nor reason in the arrangement of our beds — you took that small piece of real estate in the dorm that was assigned to you, period. The little privacy that you could enjoy was provided by a thin piece of white curtain that you drew. The written instructions on what bedding you needed were simple and stark — white linens, a blanket, pillowcases for your two pillows, a mosquito net. Uniforms and underwear went into the small drawers between the beds.

Before I knew it, it was time for my mother to leave my sister and me in this strange and unfamiliar place. That was the first time I was going to live away from my parents and I knew inadvertently that I was going to be miserable.

Sorsogon may be not be the most exciting place in the world but my father, a self-made businessman, a quintessential entrepreneur forever churning out new businesses, had seen to it that our home was at the same time a place of commerce. We owned one of the three movie houses in town, we had the town’s only bowling alley and billiard hall, complete with a bar serving beers and soft drinks . My mother had her own share of entrepreneurial blood flowing in her veins and being a licensed pharmacist, she had a drugstore on the ground floor of our building as well. We lived on the second floor of this “entertainment center” cum pharmacy.

Although my two older brothers, Kuya Danny and Kuya Jay had already been dispatched by my parents to out-of-town schools (Ateneo de Naga and Ateneo de Manila, respectively), our youngest brother, Francis, was still running around with the town’s street urchins and having a great time. I had a similar set of free-wheeling barkadas in the neighborhood and among my schoolmates from the nearby public school where I studied from grade one to grade three. I couldn’t understand how all of a sudden I was replacing all my friends with a bunch of people I was meeting for the first time, in a place, that from all appearances, was joyless, regimented, and terribly far from home.

But the deed was done — I had been registered both as a grade four student and a boarder in St. Agnes. Loida and I had to stay. Again, I can’t remember if I cried in front of my mother and made a scene — but I must have, for even now, there is still a lingering memory of how heavy my heart felt then and my great sense of foreboding.

My first nights as an interna were precursors of things to come. In Sorsogon, after doing our homework, we would run to our movie house (which incidentally was named after my sister, “Loida Theater”) for a quick preview of what movies were scheduled to be shown in the next few weeks and had a repeat viewing of our favorite scenes of what was currently showing. That was our pre-TV nightly entertainment break. Then off to bed in a room I shared with my sister.

And now, as in interna in St. Agnes, I was introduced to the very spartan, silence-laden, disciplined nighttime of the nuns. By 5:30 in the afternoon when all the students who were not boarders had gone home, seemingly bringing with them the sound of laughter, small talks and girlish what-have-you’s , all the boarders were herded to the “study room” where complete silence was to be observed while we were doing our assignments. No one was allowed to leave the room and if one had a reasonable excuse to go to the dorm which was several classrooms away, she still was subjected to the withering and suspicious look of the nun-in-charge.

At 6:45 pm, a bell would be rung (and very soon, I found out that my entire life as a boarder would be run by bells). In double file, we were herded to the “refectory” where dinner was served. Needless to say, our meals would never make it to Zagat’s book of recommended cuisine and eating places. The nuns’ food was our standard fare and unfortunately for us, they have taken the vow of poverty, together with chastity and obedience. The only concession the sisters gave us for dinner was that we could talk among ourselves, perhaps to distract us from the measly plate before us.

At 8:00 pm, with dinner over, the bells rang again and off we went to the campus ground for a 30-minute walk or games, for those who were more athletically inclined. By 8:30 pm, we were done with our evening “entertainment” and we started with our bedtime ablutions, again, in deep silence. At 9:30 pm it was lights out, signaled with the now part-of-our-lives ringing of bells.

Every night became a nightmare for me, literally and figuratively. Having been exposed to all kinds of horror movies in our Sorsogon movie house, my imagination worked overtime the moment darkness enveloped our dorm. I heard all kinds of noises, from the rattling of chains to the haunting hooting of an owl, from the annoying, incessant chirping of the cicadas who lived in the open field beside the school’s campus, to scratches of mice and other unknown creatures in the attic.

My fear would reach a boiling point so that I had to creep to the bed of my sister Loida to still the tremors and the rapid palpitation of my heart, and to fall asleep in her arms. This was a no-no to Sister Jovita, the bosomy and huge Teutonic nun who was in charge of the boarders and who struck fear with her booming voice and her crisp German accent. If caught, a boarder’s punishment from Sister. Jovita ranged from being thrown into the broom closet to ponder on your “sin,” to not being allowed to go home for the week-end. But my nightmare was stronger than any penalty I could face so there were more nights that I spent in my sister’s bed than in mine.

Early morning brought relief with the coming of the light and the singing of the sisters in the chapel. Sometimes, in between sleep and waking up, I easily imagined that I had died and gone to heaven, mistaking the angelic voices of the nuns as God’s welcome to one of His straying flocks. But the inevitable bells would rudely bring me back to reality as the boarders were obliged to attend the early morning mass with the nuns. After mass, another unexciting breakfast awaited us, and off we were to our respective classrooms.

And so went my days and nights. Once in a while, my nights would be interrupted by my attempts to read books under the blanket with a flashlight after lights out, or by one of the boarders asking me to join her in the dorm’s shower room with “smuggled” food from the nearby panciteria, known far and wide for its pancit canton.

In my fourth grade class, I was the new girl in town, the oddity of the year. Thank God that while in the campus all of us had to speak English and not Bicol, since it seems there are as many variations of the dialect as there are provinces in the region. Those from Naga claimed that theirs was the purest while those from Sorsogon spoke more Waray or Samareno than Bicol. To complicate my language problem further, since my mother was a Tagala (from Atimonan, Quezon) and my father was a Pampango (from Moncada, Tarlac), we all spoke Tagalog at home. So it came to pass that every time I attempted to say a few Bicol words, my classmates would be rolling in the aisle laughing their hearts out with my awkward Bicol and my strange mélange of Waray and Bicol words.

When it came to academics, while in the past I had not put extra effort to earn honors in school, this time I felt I had to prove myself to my new classmates. It came as an epiphany during one of those spelling contests where I got a perfect score and led the winning team. It was one of those “Aha!!” moments, when I realized that I had what it took to be first in my class if I put my mind to it.

One other incident during that memorable year of my fourth grade in St. Agnes was the very strong earthquake that sent all of us scampering out of the classrooms in the middle of the morning, terrified that Judgment Day had come, true to the ominous warnings of the sister who taught us Religion. But our Science teacher straightened us out with the explanation that Mayon Volcano was showing signs of eruption, and earthquakes were part of the phenomenon. The continuing after-shocks and the possible paroxysm of the volcano put everyone in the school on the state of constant and nervous alert, prepared to dig and dive into our figurative foxholes at a moment’s notice. But Mt. Mayon changed its mind, decided not to go through with its threat and eventually settled down to its past serene grandeur. Things returned to normal but I never forgot that behind all that beauty lurks danger and even death. I never again looked at the Volcano with the same eyes.

I don’t know how, but I did survive my grade 4 in St. Agnes. But my sister Loida must have told our mom how miserable I was and that I was too young to be weaned away from her and home.

So, again, without my knowing exactly why, I was back in Sorsogon on my fifth grade — back to my barefooted and bakya-clad barkadas and classmates, to my nightly joyous respite from assignments via our movie house, the hurly-burly of our home serving as the town’s entertainment center, the warm presence of my mom and the antics of my youngest brother, Francis.

I stayed in Sorsogon to finish my elementary grades. As I entered my first year in high school, I was back in St. Agnes . . . but then that would be another story.


Neni Sta Romana Cruz's Growing up St. Scholastican 

Herminia Menez Coben's Behind the Walls of St Scholastica College 

Gemma Cruz-Araneta's Benevolent Assimilation 


Tags: #Philippineeducation #Filipinoschools #Catholicschools 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Growing Up St. Scholastican by Neni Sta Romana Cruz


The following article by is Neni Sta. Romana Cruz. This is part of the book BEHIND THE WALLS: LIFE OF CONVENT GIRLS, a collection of personal essays by graduates of Philippine Convent Schools.  The collection includes writings by Gemma Cruz, Imelda Nicolas, Herminia Menez Coben, and others. 

For more information about the book, visit . The online store of the publisher Anvil Philippines may have a few copies. 


by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz

copyright 2005 and 2023 by Neni Sta Romana Cruz

Because my mother and her four sisters had all studied at St. Scholastica’s College in their girlhood, I too, like the rest of my female first cousins, had to study there, if I was deemed to be brought up with the proper trappings of respectability. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

CBBC Video of March 18, 2023 Book Launch of Growing Up Filipino 3


To those who missed the Book Launch on Marxch 18, 2023 hosted by the Carlos Bulosan Book Club for the YA book GROWING UP FILIPINO 3: NEW STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS, here is the video link.


Presenters included Marilyn Alquizola, Ryo Alfar (representing Nikki Alfar), and from some members of the audience who shared their "growing up Filipino" memories: Dr. Herminia Coben Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal Rachielle Sheffler and Ryo's own personal account.

Many thanks to Jaime Geaga and all at the CBBC.

Don't forget to "like" the YouTube link with the video.

tags: #Filipinoteens #Filipinobooks #filipinoya

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Carlos Bulosan Book Club Launches GROWING UP FILIPINO 3


Seated l-r: Cecilia Brainard, Ryo Alfar, Marilyn Alquizola, Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal; standing l-r: James Castillo, Rachielle Scheffler, James Bates, Jaime Geaga, Erlinda, guest, Megan

The Carlos Bulosan Book Club of Los Angeles hosted a launch for the YA anthology GROWING UP FILIPINO: NEW STORIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS, at the Echo Park Branch Library in Los Angeles, on Saturday, March 18, 2023. 

The event was in-person, via Zoom, and Facebook streaming. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

My Cat Che Jumping Over the Moon, Pastel by Cecilia Brainard


Che Jumping Over the Moon, by Cecilia Brainard 

I have been busy with literary work and have not touched my pencils. I picked up my pastel and just for fun I made my cat Che fly over the moon.

See also Cecilia Flying, pastel by Cecilia Brainard  


tags: Cat flying over the moon, pastel art, pastel drawing, children's art

Cecilia Flying, Pastel Art by Cecilia Brainard



Cecilia Flying, copyright 2023 by Cecilia M. Brainard

I used to have flying dreams. I made this pastel of a girl flying. In my dream an Evil Thing was chasing me. I would run and hide but the Evil Thing persisted. Just before the Evil Thing would catch me, I would fly. In my dreams, I learned how to control my flying.


The dreams recurred for years but some time, when I was already an adult and living in the US, the dreams stopped.

 See also my recent pastel of my cat Che Jumping Over the Moon - 

tags: children's art, art flying girl, pastel art, pastel drawing 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Manila Artist Tony Perez Portrait of Cecilia Brainard


The work area of Manila artist/writer Tony Perez. Note the portrait he made of me on the right side -- I picked this up when I was in the Philippines recently. It is now with my framer here in Santa Monica. Stay tuned for pictures once it's hanging in my office.


 Tony writes:

 Welcome to my messy work area! I am not one of those artists who Post picture-perfect photos of their clean studios. In the first place I don't have a real studio. I don't paint for a living, and, after I die, my granddaughters would have no use of one. After I finish all paintings for Maryhill School of Theology I shall redo this room completely and you won't ever imagine that this was how it used to look like.

November was most kind to me. I managed to finish two paintings I was working on alternately, and I am now waiting for them to dry before varnishing. I can't wait to order a new piece of cradled canvas and commence my next one.
Left, _The Pauline Letters_, Right, _Portrait of Cecilia Manguerra Brainard (after John Singer Sargent's _Portrait of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw_)_. A lot of trophies and decorative items were displaced to accommodate my work space (at some points in time it was a seating area for Miranda's Cove, and then a meeting room, and then an office). Above the painting of Saint Paul is a still life by a Japanese artist, bought at an antique shop by an acquaintance and given to me as a gift. It is a haunted work. Two deceased men speak to me through it, but I keep it exposed. I consider it my painting talisman.

Bio:  TONY PEREZ is a creative writer, playwright, poet, lyricist, psychic journalist, painter, and fiber artist. He is one of the 100 Filipino recipients of the 1898-1998 Centennial Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. His other awards include the 13 Artists of the Philippines, four National Book Awards from Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board, and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from the Writers Union of the Philippines.


Tony Perez's Art Gallery -

#Filipinoartist #Filipinopainter #Philippine artist 

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Benevolent Assimilation by Gemma Cruz-Araneta


The following is an article by Gemma Cruz-Araneta. This is part of the book BEHIND THE WALLS: LIFE OF CONVENT GIRLS ( Anvil 2005), a collection of personal essays by graduates of Philippine Convent Schools.  The collection includes writings by Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Imelda Nicolas, Herminia Menez Coben, and others. For more information about the book, visit .

Gemma Cruz Araneta  graduated from Maryknoll College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Foreign Service in 1963.  She worked at the National  Museum of the Philippines as Information Writer and Chief Docent. In 1968, she was appointed Director.  In 1965, Gemma won the Miss International Beauty pageant at Long Beach, California — the first Filipina to bring home an international beauty title

A professional writer since she was nine, she has been a weekly columnist for various national newspapers and magazines and has published six books: Makisig, Little Hero of Mactan, Hanoi Diary, Fashion & Beauty for the Filipino Woman, Sentimiento: Fiction and Nostalgia, Stones of Faith and El Galeon de Manila, Un Mar de Historias (co-author).

Gemma studied in two convent schools, St. Theresa’s College and Maryknoll College for a total of 15 years.



Gemma Cruz-Araneta

copyright 2023 by Gemma Cruz-Araneta

       AT MARYKNOLL COLLEGE, where I studied for eleven years, I was completely enraptured by the ethereal magic of Catholic liturgy and religious pomp. Life was a series of rituals that fortified the spirit. On first Fridays, a high Mass was celebrated at the Marian Auditorium where we sang  Gregorian chants and received the Holy Eucharist. There were joyful processions to the Infant Jesus, floral offerings, and sacred hymns to Our Lady.  How mystical it was to kneel in perpetual adoration  before the Blessed Sacrament,  resplendent in a golden monstrance. Sometimes, we were carried away by religious fervor. A classmate once claimed that Our Lady appeared to her in the chapel and when she was brutally murdered  the summer after, we were stricken with guilt for having doubted her.

              However, I was not sent to Maryknoll only for religious instruction. In my family, we were all God-fearing, devout, thinking Catholics, proud of having two pious Jesuits, an angelic Carmelite abbess and an eminent bishop in our midst. I was enrolled at my mother’s alma mater, which was a convent school with irrefutable academic standards. But I was transferred to Maryknoll College, ostensibly to learn good, American English.

            Since language cannot be taught nor learned in a vacuum, my student life was dichotomized by two perpetually contending perspectives.   American English came with everything else that was American -- images of an alien   lifestyle, cultural prejudices and preferences, and later in college, policies and politics that often clashed with what I was learning at home. In fact, the only common denominator of school and home was the Catholic religion.

            Yet, I only have happy memories of Maryknoll. I had favorite nuns while in the primary and secondary levels.  Sister Catherine Therese was sweet, friendly and energetic enough to teach us how to  do-si-do and sing “Oh, Susana.”  Sister Zoe Marie made us feel like Broadway stars. She produced and directed Tekakwita, a play about the first native American saint. She taught us how to decorate those Indian costumes; we made bead necklaces and trimmed head bands with duck feathers. She lent us books about native Americans and we felt we were authorities on the subject.  However, at home, there were after-dinner comments about Tekakwita and references to a “Philippine reservation” at the St. Louis Exposition.  I suddenly remembered that Sister Zoe Marie did say her father had been worried about her coming here and that he had told her to buy a shot gun. It was only much later, when I had connected all the dots that I finally  understood what they  meant.

            American English was taught systematically and intensively. During those eleven years, I must have written hundreds of compositions and book reports, fragmented and diagramed thousands of sentences, honed tongue and vocal cords during interminable phonics classes.  Our national language was also a compulsory subject, but strangely enough, we could speak it only during that hour-long class.

            Had the Department of Education sent a circular to all private schools forbidding the use of the national language outside the classroom?  To this day, my ex-classmates and I are outraged at the way  we were severely  reprimanded  for speaking in the vernacular.  My nemesis was Sister Celine Marie who often caught me babbling in Tagalog in the school cafeteria. She was not even our English teacher; she was the Logic professor so I felt she had no right to threaten me with expulsion. Besides, I was getting good grades in English. Because most of us were bilingual at home, it was almost impossible not to use both languages (not Taglish) in an animated conversation during our free time.

             In college, the dichotomy went beyond the language debate and into the realm of politics and policies. In defiance to a Philippine law that dictated the inclusion of the Rizal Course in the  curriculum, only a single lecture on the life of the national hero was given at Maryknoll. During a Monday morning assembly at the Marian Auditorium, Sister Miriam Catherine, the college dean, read a paper that compressed the required semesters. As a footnote, we were enjoined not to read Rizal’s revolutionary novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, because the Archbishop of Manila had declared them anti-Church. That really caused a furor at home where the works of Philippine heroes, especially Jose Rizal’s,   were in the must-read list of even my bishop uncle.

             And what else are the nuns going to forbid? — my elders wanted to know. What about Philippine history?  That was how I found out that Sister Joanna Marie had been assigned to teach Philippine History. An American nun, teaching Philippine History?  What is this — Benevolent Assimilation?  But, anything for American English, I suppose.   To remedy that unacceptable situation, I was sent to the University of the Philippines, for the entire summer, to take Philippine History and Philippine Government I,  which I had to take all over again under Sister Joanna Marie.           

            After that, the dichotomy between school and home became more glaring.   Filipino political leaders who were nationalist icons of my family — Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno to name a few — were branded communists in school. Non-alignment, self-reliance, neo-colonialism, US intervention, the military bases, the CIA, the Parity Amendment, including  salvation outside the Catholic Church,  had irreconcilable  definitions at school and at home.  But I survived all that without becoming schizophrenic. Today I have a habit of looking at both sides of the picture. 

            The Maryknoll nuns taught us good American English which has become our comparative advantage in the extremely competitive labor market. Under their tutelage, we became better Catholics, in thought word and deed. But, although they instructed us to love God above all things,  the nuns  could not  show us how to be proud of being Filipinos nor how to love the Philippines more than ourselves.  Fortunately, many of us learnt that at home.


Read also:

Read also:

Neni Sta Romana Cruz's Growing up St. Scholastican 

Herminia Menez Coben's Behind the Walls of St Scholastica College 

Gemma Cruz-Araneta's Benevolent Assimmilation 

Imelda M. Nicolas's Confessions of an Interna 

Watch also: THE CEBUANA IN THE WORLD: Cecilia Manguerra Brainard Writing out of Cebu

Tags: #Philippineeducation #Filipinoschools #Catholicschools #missuniverse #missinternational #missphilippines #filipinabeautyqueens

Friday, March 3, 2023

Behind the Walls of St. Scholastica's College by Herminia Meñez Coben

The following is an article by Dr. Herminia Meñez Coben "Behind the Walls of St. Scholastica's College." This is part of the book BEHIND THE WALLS: LIFE OF CONVENT GIRLS ( Anvil 2005), a collection of personal essays by graduates of Philippine Convent Schools.  The collection includes writings by Gemma Cruz Araneta, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Imelda Nicolas, and others. For more information about the book, visit .

Dr. Herminia Menez Coben, a retired Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Cal State, Sonoma, is author of EXPLORATIONS IN PHILIPPINE FOLKLORE and VERBAL ARTS IN PHILIPPINE INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES: POETICS, SOCIETY, AND HISTORY.



Herminia Meñez Coben

copyright 2023 by Herminia Menez Coben 

“God writes straight with crooked lines”. . . “Ora et labora”. . .

“That in All Things God May be Glorified”. . .

“Ad Majorem Et Gloriam” . . . “You Can Change the World,” etc.

AT AGE THIRTEEN, I was sent to live as an “interna” for the next four years under the disciplined guidance of the Benedictine Sisters inside the walls of St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) on Pennsylvania Avenue, now Leon Guinto. Months before my mother and I sailed for Manila, her seamstress had sewn a dozen navy and white uniforms, ink-stamped with my assigned number, “38" (for laundry purposes), the same number that appeared on everything else I wore except for the “civilian” dresses on week-ends outside the walls.

Manila in 1949 was just recovering from the devastations of the Second World War. SSC’s main building still bore the pockmarks from the siege of the Japanese-occupied city by American liberation forces. The fighting was brutal at De La Salle College, our neighbor on Taft Avenue, which the Japanese had used for their quarters, and where hand-to-hand combat had left the hallways bullet-scarred and splattered with the blood of the enemy.

Our own campus appealed to my wild imaginings about the ghosts of war, and in the company of my equally adventurous young friends, we haunted the ruins of St. Cecilia’s Hall, the premier college music auditorium, built in 1932 in the art-deco style of the period, shelled and bombed to the ground in 1945. The rubble became our stage for play and games. Nothing grew there except weeds and a wild aratilis tree bearing tiny translucent berries which when popped between the teeth melted in the mouth and emitted a sweet scent.

Our dormitories occupied the two upper floors of the main building. On week-ends, through a boxed opening on each floor, we listened to the music majors rehearse their graduation concertos with the Manila Symphony Orchestra on the ground floor which served as the temporary auditorium. Musically inclined or not, we were thus exposed to the best composers of classical music. It was in that same hall where those of us who took piano lessons at the College of Music gave annual group recitals on the grand Steinway.

Life behind the walls was highly regimented, a near carbon copy, we thought, of the nuns’ lives inside the cloister. Our beds, set hospital style in a cavernous room, were curtained on one side for privacy at night, but were always open for inspection by a nun who did the rounds, aisle by aisle, with a flashlight. If not in our respective beds, we could be discovered in the narrow balcony overlooking the acacia-shaded lawn sharing a midnight snack or up in the forbidden roof garden, smoking smuggled American cigarettes while enjoying the lights of the city. I had brought my walking doll which an uncle had sent from California, and one evening, I propped her up on a pillow as though I was in bed, but I knew that Sister L. had discovered my trick when she inquired the next day, “How’s the dolly, Herminia?”

Each morning at five-thirty, at the sound of Sister L’s bell, we rushed to the huge common bathroom, clacking our wooden clogs on the bare cement floor on the way to individual shower stalls which enterprising boarders had reserved the night before by draping their towels over the door. After our quick morning routines, slowly we filed into the chapel in another building where still half asleep we heard the handsome but shy Father M. say Mass and listened to a choir of nuns sing the Gregorian chant.