Women in my life, 2

How I wish I had asked my grandmothers more about themselves.  Both lived in historical times; both survived  a yesterday of revolutions and wars of invasion;  their today overlapped with mine and they unobtrusively prepared me for a tomorrow of uncertainties.

My paternal grandmother, Concepcion Arguelles (Lola Conchita),  married Mauricio Cruz,   son of Maria Rizal, whom his uncle Jose nicknamed Moris. Lola Conchita hardly spoke about him.  Maybe, the memories were too painful because during the Battle for Manila, Japanese soldiers raided the Cruz house, took Lolo Moris and my father away.  We never found their graves. None of the adults could talk about WWII, until fifty years after, during the “Memorare”.

When we were little, my brother and I would spend weekends with Lola Conchita.  She had a series of homes,  the first was on Roberts street near Dewey Boulevard, then she moved to a bigger one in Santa Mesa,  with garage and garden,  on a private lane named Valenzuela. It was an exclusive development, with only five houses in a row, carved out of a  languishing agricultural community. Lola Conchita’s bedroom had a delightful view of ricefields. Her last home was in Bel-Air 2, Makati.

If she was not cooking (her tapa was to die for)  Lola Conchita was pedaling away on a   Singer machine, sewing the prettiest floor-length house dresses for her grand daughters. She had a chestful of fabrics we could choose from;   she loved bright colors while most lolas preferred pastel shades. .  However, there was something she did tell  me, in Tagalog: “ if your future husband fools around, have a tombstone made for him  and tell your children he is dead.”  What could have provoked her to say that to an  8-year old?

My maternal grandmother, Filomena Francisco of Sampaloc married Alfredo Leon Guerrero of Ermita. I think they were classmates in a school established during the Malolos Congress. I called them Oyoy and Oyay because I could not pronounce Lolo and Lola. After the Battle for Manila we sought refuge at the Sampaloc house of Lolo Abeng, Oyay’s father. It was only much later that I learned Lolo Abeng was Gabriel Beato Franciso, cajista, novelist and producer of anti-American zarzuelas.  His presentations were always raided by the American colonial police and he’d be thrown in jail together with the actors and stage hands.

Be that as it may,  his daughter Filomena was destined for acclaim. At 16, she was the muse of a group of eminent Filipino poets and writers; after that, she was crowned    “Esperanza de la Patria”. It was not quite a beauty pageant;  the contestants had to recite Rizal’s  “Ultimo Adios”. Oyay was the first lady pharmacist and her sister, Lola Mary,  the first lady lawyer. Soon after graduation, Oyay opened a pharmacy (botica) but closed it after she married Dr. Alfredo Guerrero, due to conflict of interest.

No one told me about those details of Oyay’s celebrity,  I  inadvertently found out for myself when I began researching at the Lopez Museum and Library. It must have been March, women’s month, because there was a special exhibit and a page of “El Renacimeinto” dedicated to  Oyay and Lola Mary was reverently displayed under glass. They were among the first co-eds;  graduation ceremonies were held at the Manila Opera House; a theatre box came crashing down because the place was packed to the rafters.  Everyone wanted a glimpse of the first co-eds.

Years ago, at an antiquarian’s shop, I spotted a monograph. “Memorial de los Estudiantes Filipinos”,  prepared by 300 students, cream of the crop of the post-First Republic generation. A hand-written dedication to Srta. Maria B Francisco by a certain  Andres Jayme caught my eye. It was dated 27 January 1906. I bought it even if It cost me an arm and a leg.

The “Memorial”  criticized American colonial rule and was addressed to US Senator W. Jennings Bryan who was scheduled to visit the Philippines. The students demanded absolute and immediate independence. They felt the USA had tarnished its own image as fountainhead of democracy. Among other issues, they deplored that  Filipinos were not given significant government positions, although qualified.  They denounced Public Land Act 926 that ostensibly granted Americans and Filipinos homestead rights, but had special conditions that favored American corporations and individuals. They invoked the Malolos Constitution which had upheld the separation of powers, unlike the  American colonial administration where the Executive intervened with the Judicial branch. They wrote:  “We knew how to hold the reins of government, but you  teach us defective methods of self-rule that smack of colonization.”  Oyay and her sister were activists!

I  encourage my three grandchildren to ask me questions so they won’t have to Google when I am gone. After all, these are also historical times.