BY ALEXIE VILLEGAS ZOTOMAYOR
LOVE and take care of each other.
These were Tan Escolastica Tudela Cabrera’s last words to her children before she breathed her last yesterday. She was 83.
She passed away at her Capital Hill residence at 5:15 a.m. yesterday.
Her son, Sid Cabrera, confirmed to Variety that his mother arrived from Hawaii a week ago and she was taken to the hospital on Saipan over the weekend.
“Yesterday, we took her up to the house on Capital Hill,” said Cabrera.
He said he and his siblings were with her. “We were around her through the night.”
He also said, “Her condition deteriorated very fast.”
Cabrera was brought to Hawaii early this year for medical treatment.
While in Hawaii, Cabrera said the Cabrera matriarch was ready to go.
Before she left Saipan, she complained of difficulty breathing.
Cabrera recalled that his mother was still talking last night.
He said his mother reminded them to “take care of each other and to follow in her footsteps.”
Daily rosary is being held at the Kristo Rai Church in Garapan.
Cabrera said that, tentatively, they have set her burial for Tuesday next week at the CNMI Veterans Cemetery.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be officiated next Tuesday at the Mt. Carmel Cathedral at 1 p.m.
Tan Esco Cabrera
Tan Escolastica or “Esco” to those who frequent her stores in Chalan Kanoa and on Capital Hill, was a devout Catholic. She regularly recited the rosary and attended Mass.
She was born on February 10, 1930.
At age five or six, she enrolled at a Catholic school. By the age of seven, she had her first communion.
She went to the Japanese school kogakko for Chamorro and Carolinian students.
At Saipan kogakko, Cabrera told Variety in an interview two years ago, they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, storytelling, and farming.
She also recalled they planted Carnations and sold the flowers to Japanese officers’ wives for 10 cents a bundle.
At the age of 81 during the interview, Cabrera could even recall the last names of her Japanese teachers from first to third grade: Kaneko, Tominaga and Sugaruma.
She told this reporter that of all the teachers, she found Sensei Sugaruma “very bad.”
Cabrera remembered how the teacher, who moved from Kagman to Garapan, would employ corporal punishment.
“He was very strict. He would beat us up,” she said.
During the time she spent at the kogakko, she learned Nihongo or Japanese. She said it was mandatory and that they were told to speak Japanese to their parents.
She graduated and finished at the top of the class, recalling that her diploma had the emperor’s signature.
But this diploma and other belongings were lost when war came to Saipan in 1944.
At the time, she said, the Japanese had been talking about an imminent war but they only informed their fellow Japanese, leaving the Chamorros and Carolinians out.
She said when the Japanese took Guam, two of her brothers were recruited to work there.
She was put to work at the planned airbase on the stretch of land from what is now Toyota to the police station in Chalan Kanoa. Many women worked and dug at the proposed site for the Japanese airbase.
‘We drank our tears’
When war came, the Cabrera family, like every other family, went into hiding in caves.
Initially, they wanted to hide in a large cave that could house about 200 people; unfortunately, the Japanese kicked them out.
They had no choice but to hide in a smaller cave where 39 of them huddled together.
During the time inside the cave she said they just sat — they couldn’t stand up.
They stayed at her father’s farm near a spring. Despite this, they couldn’t come out of the caves as bombing intensified.
As the pangs of hunger and thirst gripped them, the children cried. As others hushed them up for fear of being found, Cabrera said she remembered her father Tun Vicente Ramirez Tudela telling her sisters, “Never mind. Keep crying and drink your tears.”
They wept to slake their thirst.
After 19 days, they were found by an American soldier and they were brought to Camp Susupe.
On her way to the camp, she remembered seeing the road littered with dead people.
At the camp, she said they slept on the sand and there was no privacy.
The camp internees also initially had to deal with severe diarrhea.
After six months at the camp, they moved to Chalan Kanoa village where the old houses of employees of the NHK sugarcane company stood.
Esco, the Entrepreneur
At 15, she resolved that she would no longer go back to school; she wanted to work and earn a living for her family.
She volunteered to work as a tailor for Commander Victor Schauss’s wife in As Matuis.
Later she worked for Commander Smith.
Escolastica Cabrera at work in her kitchen. Photo courtesy of the University of Hawaii Trust Territory Archives
Later still she worked at the commissary, answering phone calls at a beauty salon where she earned 35
cents a day or $8.50 a month.
When the opportunity arose for her to buy the salon’s equipment for $500, she went to the Bank of America and took out a loan that funded her Escolastica Beauty Salon in Chalan Kanoa.
She kept the business until 1953, two years after she married police officer Gregorio Cabrera.
Then she was the first to venture into selling clothes.
She also sold bread.
Later, she pioneered the sale of bento lunches, serving lunch and snacks to students at Mt. Carmel School and Hopwood.
Each bento sold for 10 cents.
She and her husband would wake up at 2 a.m. to prepare the meals.
Then she was offered the chance to serve coffee and snacks at the airport.
Cabrera said she never felt tired, hungry or sleepy. She wanted to work and eke out a living for her 13 children.
She relocated to Capital Hill after buying a piece of property in 1959.
There her store would be frequented by employees of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Then Typhoon Jean came in 1969, destroying her store and taking two years to rebuild.
All her life she worked and worked hard.
Her advice to the young generation, she told Variety in 2011, “Do not be lazy. Work hard.”
She asked the young generation to learn from the manamko’ and follow their example.
This was what she also told her children the other night — “follow in my footsteps.”