Dr. Pura Santillan Castrence remembered on ‘Mother’s Day’

    “Mother’s Day” last Sunday was a red-letter day!

    Underlying it was love for a mother who nurtured her  child even before  she gave birth to him or her.

    Those of us who have now our own families and living separately probably brought flowers or took our mothers to visit places they liked while kids used theirs savings  to buy little presents for their own parents.

    The day brought to mind the publication of a book in 2006 dedicated not only to a good mother but also an outstanding Filipino woman.

    On the flyleaf of a collection of columns published in the Sydney-based Bayanihan News, As I See It: Filipinos and the Philippines, Manila Prints said the book was being published “In celebration of the 100th birthday of Dr. Pura Santillan Castrence, a distinguished Filipina writer, diplomat, journalist, feminist, and, above all, a mother. “ (The book contained her columns in Bayanihan News where she started writing in 1999 at the age of 95.)

     As mentioned, Castrence—born in Santa Mesa, Manila on March 24, 1905– wore many hats.

    She and her late  husband, lawyer Jose Castrence, had six children (two boys and  girls), all of whom became successful in their careers.

    Her role model as a mother was her own.

    She said, “My parents did their best, too, according to their circumstances. When my mother was given an award as the ‘Distinguished Mother of the Year’, we children immediately claimed that she was deserving of the award —all of us had received a good education.“

As a writer, Castrence was named Most Outstanding Filipino Woman Writer in English in 1949 by the Civic Assembly of Women and Most Distinguished Writer in 1957 by the Far Eastern University (FEU).

    Castrence went on to win other awards such as the Smith-Mund Leadership Grant in 1957, membership in the prestigious Akademya ng Wikang Pilipino (Academy of National Language) of the Philippines, 1998 Pamana  ng Pilipino Award from the Philippine government and Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government, among others.

    Busy as she was, it seemed she could not have given as much time as possible to her family. But, in the introduction to her book ‘Woman Sense’, Antonio Quintos said, “Family duties were always a major concern of hers even during her active life…” (“Woman Sense” included her columns that appeared in the Manila Daily Bulletin in 1940-1941.)

    When she was assigned as minister counselor at the Philippine mission in Bonn, then capital of West Germany, she brought her family with her.

    Her concern for her family as a mother might have led her to write “The Urgency of Today’s Living”, which described a social situation that existed in Philippine society, particularly among those preoccupied with achieving social status, if not the accumulation of wealth.

    The essay advocated a life divided between career and home. It urged those in the “rat  race of today’s living to stop being ‘urgent’ and have time for their loved ones.”

     In moving prose, Castrence addressed her message particularly to parents who did not have time for their children.

    She said, “Suddenly, too soon suddenly, the parents have become old, ill and unable anymore to enjoy themselves with their children in a manner except as viewer of scenes of living in which they could still have played a very important and significant role if they had stopped in time the urgency of their activities.”

    In this essay, the author presented two general types of Filipinos who devoted their time to their professions to succeed.

    One type was the female actress who, at 60, still drew male  attention because she had maintained her fair skin with the help of plastic surgeons and massagists.

    The second type was the “Big Administrator or Bulgebottom who bullies his subordinates but has syrupy smile for his superiors and prospective clients.“

    Success for them, Castrence said, was the essence of life and to achieve it they would resort to all possible means.

    The essay did not only show an erudite writer with a keen and penetrating mind but also followed a structural technique set by the masters like Joseph Addison, English poet and essayist.

    It immediately stated its topic in the first paragraph. The middle paragraphs discussed and elaborated on the topic while the last paragraph tied up loose ends by making last comments on  the topic.

    As a writer, Castrence was named Most Outstanding Filipino Woman Writer in English in 1949 by the Civic Assembly of Women and Most Distinguished Writer in 1957 by the Far Eastern University (FEU).

    She dedicated a column in Bayanihan News on her writer contemporaries like Lydia Villanueva-Arguilla, Salvador P. Lopez, Nick Joaquin, Francisco Arcellana, N.V. M. Gonzales, Bienvenido N. Santos and Francisco Sionil Jose.

    In 1995, when she was already 95 years old, she relocated to Melbourne, Australia and lived quietly with daughter Lina and a grandson.

    She said in a column entitled “The Passage of Time: My Further Education”, “I have a daughter, Lina, with whom I live and who takes care of me in a grand manner and who sees to it that I should be educated further in one way or the other. So soon as she learned that I would become blind, she gave me talking books and cassettes of  information  and education as presents for Christmas, birthdays and other occasions.”

    But she did have a good education.

    After completing her basic education in the public school system in Manila (she attended the Tondo Intermediate School), she went to the University of the Philippines where  she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and Master of Arts in Chemistry degrees. She then went to the University of Michigan on a Barbour scholarship and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in language studies. Aside from English, she  also spoke French, Spanish, Italian and German.

   She translated from French to English Jean Mallat’s “The Philippines”.

    She passed on Jan. 15, 2007.

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