When the Gringos Came to Town


(Part 2)

The captain said he wanted the cooperation of the municipal officials in running the administration of the town, and because the war was going on, martial law was to be followed. He said that the garrison was there to protect the townspeople from insurgents and outlaws. Primary education was to be restored but with English as the medium of instruction and with some American soldiers as their teachers.

David was unaware until later that the municipal officials including his father, after getting their bearings and instructions from the beleaguered leaders of the Republic, were to stand as a parallel shadow municipal government of the Republic—collecting financial and material support to the guerrilla troops. It was at Bayambang, Pangasinan that General Aguinaldo decided that guerrilla warfare was to be waged against the unstoppable American invaders. The town officials were warned about spies and collaborators among their people. David’s father as justice of the peace continued his duties adjudicating cases brought before him such as petty criminal cases of theft, slight physical injuries, slander and other small crimes. Charges of rebellion, sedition, or crimes against the US government were handled by an American officer and usually the accused were dealt with summarily, sent to Fort Santiago in Manila, the provincial jail, or even executed. He was extra-careful in his duties to avoid mere suspicion by unknown spies and being reported to Captain Anderson.
David continued his interrupted primary education at grade four level and in a year’s time he learned enough English and was accelerated to grade seven. In a year’s time he became an assistant to the new teacher, an American woman who came to Manila aboard the USS Thomas, an army transport ship, along with others, and were called the Thomasites. Captain Anderson and his garrison were transferred to another theater of war in the Cagayan Valley after the capture of Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. Anderson was a decent and considerate officer who liked to play chess with his father some evenings and smoking cigars, shooting the breeze, as it were. Later he learned that Filipino constabulary soldiers with American officers took over the peace and order duties. Anderson and his men were demobilized and sent home. Before he left he told David’s father that if ever his son got the chance to study in the US, he should try Iowa and would welcome David there. The captain was impressed by David’s playing of the violin and the cello whom he heard while playing chess with his father.


The soldier teacher, Lt. Murphy whom the Thomasite replaced, was a college graduate with a degree in history. He taught for a year in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but when the call came for volunteers to go to the Philippines, his curiosity about the country was aroused, and so he enlisted. Because of his higher education, he was put for a short stint in officer training school after which he was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the Wisconsin Volunteers. Like Captain Anderson, he arrived in Manila in September 1898 and saw no action until February 1899 when the Philippine-American War broke out. All the while he was in Manila helping in the opening of schools in the city even as he knew the Aguinaldo government was in the process of asserting Philippine sovereignty over the islands. No Republic entities were active in Manila which was surrounded by a cordon of Filipino trenches and fortifications from Caloocan to Parañaque.

Effectively the city proper was in the hands of the Americans who already installed new public grade schools with English as medium of instruction and with soldiers as the first teachers, provided justice, health and sanitation measures which agencies were run mostly by Filipino professionals, a few of whom were commuters by train from Manila and Malolos where they attended sessions as congressional delegates, many of whom represented provinces not their own.

In occupied Manila Lt. Murphy taught in schools in Intramuros, Ermita, and Sta. Cruz and when war broke out his brigade was put under the command of General Arthur MacArthur with orders to take Central Luzon pushing northward.

Even as a history graduate he didn’t realize that the Philippines was more advanced by western standards than many of its Southeast Asian neighbors. He thought that Manila was deserving of the title Pearl of the Orient with a cosmopolitan atmosphere and with an educated class and astute leaders capable of running a civilized government, having a constitution, and an army to protect its sovereignty. He didn’t believe in President McKinley’s idea of benevolent assimilation but he was part of its implementation. He cringed at the appalling racism of the rank and file of soldiers singing songs that called the natives niggers or gooks and must be civilized with a Krag. Perhaps he was influenced by his Yankee mother who came from Boston and learned about the Anti-Imperialist League in her state. He realized he had been miseducated in American schools which did not mention the genocidal wars against native peoples and racism against the blacks not only in the South but also in the North even after the lessons of the Civil War. He had heard of Negro soldiers deserting to fight on the side of the insurgents. When his tour of duty ended in Cagayan, he realized he had plenty of historical lessons he did not learn at home.

Like Captain Anderson he was impressed by David’s playing of the violin and cello and his easy grasp of English lesson so that before the end of the year David could already converse with him in basic English not haltingly but with fluency. David became his friend and taught him local customs and habits including the eating of local dishes like diningdeng and pinakbet, how to roll a tobacco leaf into a cigar, and to drink basi. The latter need not be taught to Americans with a propensity for alcoholic drink. No, Lt. Murphy told David, I didn’t try what the subalterns were drinking the first night here in town because I knew it was purloined basi made from sugar cane juice. David introduced him to his female cousins of well-to-do families and the American was not surprised that their homes each had a piano or musical instrument like the harp and the young girls could play them. In Manila he had been to the homes of ilustrados and knew what it was like inside their abodes – the legacy of the assimilated Iberian or European culture of the educated Filipino elite. He enjoyed the company of the girls but he saw and treated them as kid sisters for he remembered that he had a fiancée waiting for him in Wisconsin. He planned to take his master’s in history and perhaps a PhD degree at the state university in Madison.

By the time Captain Anderson and Lt. Philip left for Cagayan and with the arrival of the Thomasite teacher, David was in first year high school. Miss Carson was a spinsterish but comely woman in her early 30s from Storrs, Connecticut teaching Yankee students in their early teens in junior high school. She was a strait-laced no-nonsense teacher and had already begun to feel burnt out. Starting out as a smiling amiable teacher but within a few years she lost the smile on her face and took on a stern look as she began to see teaching rowdy students as police work. At the faculty room she and her colleagues exchanged notes about their teaching and they agreed it was glorified baby-sitting. When a student peeked through the door of the room, a male teacher announced to the others, “the enemy!” pointing with his finger close to his chest at the door.

When the call came for volunteer teachers for the Philippines she didn’t waste time signing up. She knew vaguely it was in the Orient but she felt it would be a relief from teaching Yankee brats. She had a notion that this would be infinitely better—teaching half-naked dark-skinned natives to become civilized and to speak English. She had seen photos of skulking Filipinos in Harper’s Magazine and she thought it would be easier to manage them than the unruly teens at home. She had a few weeks orientation course in San Francisco before boarding the USS Thomas for the “brave new world” quoting Shakespeare to her fellow volunteers. She was after all an English major in college.

Arriving in Manila in1901 she had to go through a familiarization course for a few weeks in the city with the other Thomasites who were all excited and anxious about their new work. Together with a number of other teachers she took the train to Dagupan. Singly or in small groups the teachers were left off at stations along the train route. Miss Carson was instructed to alight in Bayambang where David greeted her. He was assigned this chore as head student in school and the most fluent in English. David introduced himself with a wide smile on his face, saying he was assigned to fetch her from the station and take her to Villasis. Miss Carson managed a tentative smile and said thank you to David who was only 12 years old. A carjuahe bigger than a caleche was already waiting. A porter loaded her trunk and her bags, with David helping her to board the horse-drawn four-wheel vehicle. They arrived in Carmen and transferred to a caleche for Villasis. She saw the bridge and was told by David that it was the longest in the country at the time, spanning the Agno river. Since it was the onset of the rainy season the river was filled with swiftly flowing water. Miss Carson was quiet all the while taking in her new environment —a little apprehensive and surprised that her escort was not even in his teens and thinking what if this boy turned out to be like the teens in Storrs. David wore a camiso chino suit with black shoes on not unlike the Manila boy she met in the city. She was reassured however that she could communicate with David in English and was ready to help her. She listened to the clip-clap of the horse’s hooves on the wooden planks of the bridge and thought they were unlike the sound of American horse’s hooves passing through the covered bridges of Connecticut. Filipino horses were just ponies compared to cavalry horses brought to the Philippines by the US Army. She looked at the hills in the east, with one mound shaped exactly like a virgin breast, and asked David what was that hill called. David was flustered for a moment for he could not tell Miss Carson its Ilocano name which also meant “a virgin breast.” She pressed him, what do you call that hill? David told her in Ilocano and she asked what it meant. When David told her in English, she blushed, and kept quiet until they reached David’s house near the plaza. It was late afternoon; her trunk and bags were brought down. David’s father and mother and two older sisters were on hand to greet Miss Carson.

His parents addressed her in Spanish “bienvenida” followed by “comousted” and she answered “muybien, gracias.” The Thomasites were given a crash course in basic Spanish but she became more at ease with David acting as her interpreter. Miss Carson was to be a boarder at David’s home for the duration of her stint in Villasis.


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