American Colonial Education in the Philippines: Letters of A Manila South High School Principal and the Class of 1927 Salutatorian
How do we measure the success of the American colonial public education system in the Philippines?
Isabel P. Martin, of the Ateneo de Manila University, wrote that the introduction of public education (especially English language and literature) in the Philippines by the Americans “…was designed to support American colonialism” and that the “…combined power of the canon, curriculum, and pedagogy, constituted the ideological strategies resulting in rationalizing, naturalizing, and legitimizing myths about colonial relationships and realities“(see her article, Pedagogy: Teaching Practices of American Colonial Educators in the Philippines, http://www.ateneo.edu/kritikakultura/pdf/issue1/Colonial%20Pedagogy%20by%20Martin.pdf). How do we situate Isabel Martin’s critique of American public education as a tool for justifying colonial relationships at the level of a individuals students? How did real-life “colonized” Filipino students see their “colonizing” American principals and teachers? A series of letters or correspondences between an American high school principal and the class salutatorian of his school provide a glimpse of the quality of such colonial, and more appropriately, post-colonial relationship.
Image above top: Former Principal Raymond H. Steffens, Manila South High School, circa 1973, age 79 years old and above bottom: Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes and spouse, Mrs. Lucina Ramos-Reyes, circa 1994 (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
May 4, 1977 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens
On the morning of March 24, 1927, a 17 year old high school senior from Tondo, Manila, Gregorio L. Reyes, delivered the salutatory address during the 6th commencement exercises of the Manila South High School. Around 50 years later, the same young man (now a former medical officer of the 51st Calvary Division, retired colonel from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and a practicing medical doctor) organized a reunion or homecoming for the Class of 1927. The Class of 1927’s 50th homecoming reunion served as a catalyst for renewing, not just relationships among the classmates, but also between students and their teacher-mentors. During the said reunion, Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes found out from one of his former teachers (a Mr. Hernandez), that their American high school principal, Mr. Raymond H. Steffens, was still alive and living in California. On May 4, 1977, Dr. Reyes wrote a letter to Mr. Steffens and introduced himself by reminding Mr. Steffens of his stint as principal of Manila South High School:
” In 1926, you were our Principal of the Manila South High School on Victoria street in Intramuros, Manila. In that year, I was a fourth year student of that school. A year later, on March 24, 1927, 127 of us were graduated from that school. I was class salutatorian and president of the senior class. I was president, also, of the Student Council which you organized that year.”
Image above: Gregorio L. Reyes Manila South High School Diploma (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family)
More importantly, our 68 year old Dr. Reyes noted how happy he was to find out the Mr. Steffens was still alive and acknowledged the positive impact Mr. Steffens had on the young Reyes more than fifty years ago:
“I am very happy to learn that you are still alive. There is, however, one thing I have not forgotten which I had no occasion to tell you all along these years. I am very grateful for the big help you gave me in preparing the salutatory address I delivered that morning 50 years ago on March 24, 1927 at the Philippine Normal School Auditorium on Taft Avernue. When I met Mrs. Geromina T. Pecson, our teacher in History and who later became a senator, during our reunion, she remarked to me that it was a fine speech. Much of this compliment I attributed it to your help.”
Image above: May 4, 1977 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family)
Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of the said salutatory address delivered by Dr. Reyes. Nevertheless, the letter speaks of a lasting impact of the American public school system in the Philippines in the life of one Filipino. What more evidence do we need than this letter that speaks of a grateful remembrance of a “teaching moment” whose impact couldn’t be forgotten even after the lapse of 50 years. After all, isn’t education about such life-long memories and not just about easily forgotten memorized textbook materials?
December 18, 1977 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Above top and bottom: December 18, 1977 Christmas Card & Envelope of Raymond H. Steffens Mailed to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L Reyes Family).
On December 18, 1977, former principal Raymond H. Steffens sent a Christmas greeting card to the class salutatorian Gregorio L. Reyes. In his handwritten note, Mr. Steffens expressed that “…it was a real surprise and a pleasure to hear from you some months ago.” In addition, Mr. Steffens inquired if Dr. Reyes knew if Mrs. Geromina Pecson was “….still in the land of the living.” As noted by Gregorio Reyes, Mrs. Geronima Pecson became a senator of the Philippines and yes, Senator Pecson was still alive at the time Mr. Steffens raised the question (see brief biographical details of Senator Pecson at http://www.nhi.gov.ph/downloads/fihgov0103.pdf. and in addition, http://www.philippinefolio.com/contdetail.php?id=3&id_app2=13&id_app3=00118).
Image above: Inner Pages of December 18, 1977 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens Mailed to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L Reyes Family).
December 1978 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Principal Steffens sent a Christmas card to Mr. Reyes greeting his former student as “Dear Friend Gregorio,” and reiterated his appreciation of this singular act of contacting him after all these years: “I want to improve this opportunity to again thank you for your thougthfulness in sending me a picture of the 1927 class reunion and your nice letter which accompanied it.” For the first time as well, principal Steffens expressed a desire to join a similar reunion in the future as he has retired since Jan 1, 1974 and “…have lots of time on my hands.” Interestingly, our American principal noted that he spends every afternoon to “...indulge in the luxury of a siesta” which seem to prove how our American colonizer acquired a very Spanish colonial habit. Finally, in the same Christmas card, principal Steffens shared with his former student a planned 34th reunion of the American P.O.W.’s of Los Banos, Laguna noting “how lucky I was to survive that. So many didn’t.”
Image above top and bottom: December 1978 Christmas Card and Envelope of Raymond H. Steffens Mailed to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
April 1, 1979 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to the Members of the Class of 1927
On April 1, 1979, Principal Steffens wrote a letter to the members of the Class of 1927 in which he narrated how he was favored with a visit by a former student, Mariano Amante, and how “delighted and pleased” he was with the visit after a lapse of 52 years. Again, he reiterated his desire to get a chance to attend a reunion in the future. This is the first handwritten letter that Mr. Steffens wrote and addressed to the class of 1927.
Image Above: First page of April 1, 1979 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to the Members of the Class of 1927 (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
May 5, 1979 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens
In his reply, class salutatorian Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes thanked their former principal for his letter which just arrived in time for the April 28th 1979 class reunion attended by 18 surviving members of said class. Dr. Reyes remarked to Mr. Steffens that “all of us were happy to learn that you are still around, active and strong” and that “right then and there, drafted a thank you for note for remembering us.” All 18 members of the class signed the note enclosed in this May 5, 1979 letter.
Image Above: May 5, 1979 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family)
January 15, 1980 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Unlike previous Christmases, Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes did not receive a Christmas card from Principal Steffens in 1979. The explanation arrived in a letter from Mr. Steffens dated Jan 15 1980 in which he apologized for the missing 1979 Christmas card as he met an accident which put his “...right hand completely out of commission...” Again, Mr. Steffens talked about his planned “sentimental journey” to the Philippine Islands although he lamented that “…recent events have cast a cloud over such plans.”
Image above: January 15, 1980 Letter and Envelope of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
October 17, 1980 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Finally, on October 17, 1980, Principal Steffens confirmed the flight and travel arrangements for his eagerly awaited sentimental journey back to the Philippines. Mr. Steffens detailed that he will depart San Francisco on November 10, 1980 and return to the United States on December 10, 1980. The Philippine Airlines flight 107 will arrive at the Manila airport at 6:50 am. Mr. Steffens stated that he will stay at the residence of a former supervising teacher, a Manuel A. Prieto and wife, located in 77 Scout Fuentebella, Quezon City. In addition, Mr. Steffens noted that he will spend sometime in Zamboanga where he was stationed for a 6-year period.
Image Above: First page of October 17, 1980 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
November 23, 1980. Welcome Party for Mr. Steffens.
In the newspaper Bulletin Today, dated November 20, 1980, an invitation was sent out to all graduates of the Class of 1927 and Class of 1928 of Manila South High School to attend a November 23, 1980 whole day affair in honor of former principal Raymond H. Steffens at the residence of Dra. Aleli de Guzman-Quirino at 404 P. Guevarra Avenue, San Juan, Metro-Manila. The invitation also highlighted that a plaque of appreciation will be given to Mr. Steffens for his contribution to “…the education of Filipino youth.”
Image Above: Bulletin Today Newspaper Announcement, dated Nov 20, 1980 (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
December 15, 1980 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Around 5 days after returning from his sentimental journey to the Philippines. Mr. Steffens wrote a letter to his “friend” and offered his deepest appreciation to the role his former class salutatorian play in the success of his trip:
“I want you to know that I regard you as largely responsible for the great welcome I received there. The outpouring of goodwill and gracious hospitality was almost unbelievable. Please extend my thanks to the many whom addresses I do not know. I will cherish the memory of that welcome forever and thanks so much for the beautiful plaque. That item was not good for my ego, but anyway I think it is just wonderful.”
Image above: December 15, 1980 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family)
May 19, 1981 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Mr. Steffens writes a letter to his friend in which he confesses that he often finds himself reminded of the “wonderful trip” and “uplifting experience” he had in November-December of 1980 in the “beautiful country” of the Philippines. Mr. Steffen shared how proud he was to show his friends the plaque he received from the Class of 1927-1928 as the “plaque really says a lot – in its quiet way.” Again, Mr. Steffen remarked about how he is often challenged as to how to utilize his time in a profitable manner but ending with a note (again) of how in the afternoon he indulges himself in the luxury of a siesta. Mr. Steffens closed his letter with reference to the unsuccessful assassination attempt against President Reagan and the Pope.
Image above and right: May 19, 1981 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes).
July 22, 1981 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
In his July 22, 1981 letter, Mr. Steffens addresses Mr. Reyes, for the first time, as ” Dear friend, Dr. Reyes” and where he again recalls the reunion with Class 1927-1928:
“I often recall that memorable event of last Nov and derive great satisfaction in knowing that a 50 year span has not diminished my friendship form my Filipino friends. I only wish that such a great distance did not separate us.”
Proudly, Mr. Steffens shared how he had worn the “barong tagalog” on several occasions already and how his American friends have noticed his attire which, “for comfort in the summer temperature, they can’t be bent.”
Image above: First page of July 22, 1981 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes).
August 8, 1981 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
“Dear Friend Gregorio,…” was how Mr. Steffens started his letter of August 8, 1981 wherein he acknowledged receiving the August 2, 1981 letter of Mr. Reyes. This short postal period between the Philippines and United States amazed Mr. Steffens as to how things have speeded up. Mr. Steffens noted that his first trip to the Philippines in 1924 by a trans-Pacific steamer took at least 3 weeks to make the trip. Again, Mr. Steffens thanked the Class of 1927-1928 for their gift of various barong tagalogs as the recent high temperatures (of 107 F) made wearing the barong pretty comfortable. He also thanked Mr. Reyes for sending him a copy of the 50th anniversary reunion progam of the Class of 1927 of MSHS where he noted that the poem chosen for the occasion was “…very appropriate.”
Image: Poem “Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged” Back page of 50th anniversary of Class 1927 program (courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes).
August 22, 1981 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens
Gregorio L. Reyes acknowledged receipt of the August 8, 1981 letter of Mr. Steffens as well as confirming that fellow classmates, Ignacio Salcedo and Vitaliano Garcia, received the letters of Mr. Steffens. Mr. Reyes remarked how he was very happy to note that Mr. Steffens was making full use of the barongs. In addition, Mr. Reyes shared a little historical footnote that the barongs were popularized by ex-President Ramon Magsaysay who were barongs everyday and during social functions. Since then, the barong gained popularity among the high and the low. Mr. Reyes continued that even foreign dignitaries started wearing the barong in long sleeves to attend Malacanan functions while government and private industry executives chose to wear the short barongs. “Gone were the coats and ties of yesterdays” observed Mr. Reyes. Finally, Mr. Reyes reminded Mr. Steffens that the Philippines was still in typhoon season and that as a student of Manila South High School in Intramuros, he was reminded that his house in Intramuros was used by some of his fellow classmates as a “…way station changing or drying their clothes before going to school…” since most had to wade through the flooded streets of low-lying places like Paco, Stan. Ana, Pandacan and Makati.
September 16, 1981 Postcard of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Mr. Steffens sends a postcard to Dr. Gregorio Reyes from Minnesota. Mr. Steffens lamented how his relatives and friends are “.…getting fewer and fewer in number with each passing year.”
Image above top and bottom: September 16, 1981 Postcard of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family)
December 3, 1981 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
In this Christmas card, Mr. Steffens thanked again his former student, Mr. Reyes, for organizing the reunion in his honor: “About a year ago, I was the recipient of a most glorious reception organized chiefly by you. How can I ever forget such a spontaneous outpouring of goodwill? I wish I could do that again.”
Image above top & bottom: December 3, 1981 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
Feb 26, 1982 Postcard of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Mr. Steffens send a postcard to Gregorio L. Reyes from Florida where he mentioned that he attended the 37th anniversary of the liberation from a Japanese P.O.W. camp at Lost Banos on Feb 23, 1945.
Image Above top & below: Feb 26, 1982 Postcard of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
March 12, 1982 Letter of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens
Dr. Reyes in his March 12, 1982 letter to Mr. Steffens acknowledged the postcards mailed from Florida and Minnesota as well as the Christmas card. Dr. Reyes, being a former medical officer of the 51st Calvary Division, shared his plans to attend the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan (April 9th) where he will meet fellow survivors of the Bataan Death March. Mr. Reyes agreed with the hope and wish of Mr. Steffens for a repeat of the 1980 reunion in Manila. In addition, Mr. Reyes discussed the reunion plans of the class of 1927 tentatively scheduled on the last week of April 1982. Unfortunately, Mr. Reyes also broke the news regarding the death of their former Physics teacher, Mrs. Lorenza Urbano-Hernandez (wife of Mr. Victor P. Hernandez) due to massive cerebral hemorrhage.
Image above & left: March 12, 1982 Letter 1st and 2nd pages of Gregorio L. Reyes to Raymond H. Steffens (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
March 19, 1982 Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Again, Mr. Steffens addresses his letter to Mr. Reyes with the salutation “Dear Friend Gregorio,” and acknowledged that he was sorry to hear about the death of Mrs. Hernandez and that “...her passing has left a void which can probably never be filled.” Mr. Steffens, in reaction to Mr. Gregorio’s planned visit to attend the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Bataan, shared with Mr. Reyes that he was able to visit Corregidor during his 1980 visit to the Philippines. Finally, Mr. Steffens apologized to Dr. Reyes that it would not be possible for him to attend the planned April 1982 reunion of the class of 1927.
December 2, 1982 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes.
Mr. Steffens sends another Christmas card to his friend where he recalled that Mr. Reyes brought along a tailor to make measurements of Mr. Steffens. After which, Mr. Steffens received two beautiful camisas of which one he word during the 1980 reunion in the Philippines. For the nth time, Mr. Steffens thanked Mr. Reyes for his part in arranging the “hospitable act” of the 1980 reunion. Finally, Mr. Steffens extends an invitation to Mr. Reyes to visit him should he find himself in the United States.
Image above top & bottom: December 2, 1982 Christmas Card of Raymond H. Steffens to Gregorio L. Reyes (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
December 16, 1982. Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Mariano L Amante.
In December 16, 1982, Mr. Raymond H. Steffens wrote a letter to Mariano L. Amante with the salutation “Dear Friends.” Strangely, the salutation was followed by an admission that he (Mr. Steffens) didn’t know Mr. Amante:
“Thank you for your nice card which came in today. My mind is rather hazy as to how we got acquainted. Did we know each other in the Philippines? Would appreciate a note from you outlining our relationships. My mind fails me and need refreshing. What kind of work are you presently engaged in? I hope you and yours have a delightful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.”
Image Above: December 16, 1982. Letter of Raymond H. Steffens to Mariano L Amante (Courtesy of Gregorio L Reyes Family).
Based on an April 19, 1983 letter of Mr. Amante to Mr. Reyes, it appears that Mr. Amante send a Christmas card to Mr. Steffens around December of 1982 to which Mr. Amante received the strange reply from Mr. Steffens. After all, Mr. Amante and his family had visited Mr. Steffens in California around 1979. In addition, Mr. Amante had been sending Mr. Steffens Christmas cards since 1978. In that visit, Mr. Amante remembered that Mr. Steffens lived alone in a house that was both a residence and a business address. In addition, Mr. Amante shared that Mr. Steffens confessed that he never wanted to marry and wanted to be free in his way of life and to enjoy the remaining years of his life. Apparently, Mr. Steffens relied on the interests on the retirement benefits and profits from his business.
April 19, 1983 Letter of Cathy Hedrick to Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes
Cathy Hedrick, Assistant Trust officer of the Crocker National Bank of Sacramento California, confirmed the death of Raymond Steffens on March 9, 1983. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the cause of death although the circumstances of the last letter written by Mr. Steffens seems to indicate a sudden deterioration or loss of memory.
May 18, 1983. Letter of Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes to Ms. Cathy Hedrick
Gregorio L. Reyes acknowledged receipt of of Ms. Hedrick’s letter of April 19, 1983 regarding the death of Mr. Raymond Steffens. As a final tribute to Mr. Steffens, Mr. Reyes continued his letter as follows:
“I wish to express my sympathy and condolence for my mentor’s demise who guided my education and training during my formative years in high school.”
Image above: May 18, 1983. Letter of Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes to Ms. Cathy Hedrick (Courtesy of Gregorio L. Reyes Family).
One wonders if Cathy Hedrick ever really understood the significance of a student’s expression of his lifelong gratitude to an American principal that helped him with his salutatorian address more than 56 years ago. If we are to agree with Prof. Isabel Martin’s critique of the American colonial education in the Philippines then Dr. Gregorio’s expression of gratitude to his American colonial principal would simply been an indicator of the success of the ideological strategy of the colonizer. However, in these series of letters and correspondences between Mr. Raymond H. Steffens and Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes, the post-colonial relationship redefined colonial relationship simply as friendship across time, space, and race. A recovery of memories of gratitude and not a critique.
REQUIEM: On April 30, 1983, the petitions for the 7:00 pm mass celebrated at the Holy Trinity Church of Balic-balic, Sampaloc, Manila, included prayers for the eternal repose of the soul of Mr. Raymond H. Steffens. The said petition was offered by Dr. Gregorio L. Reyes, parishioner of said Most Holy Trinity Church.
See related post, 50th Graduation Anniversary Reunion-Manila South High School Class of 1927https://curatormuseo.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/manila-south-high-school-class-of-1927-50th-graduation-anniversary-homecoming-part-1/