The Pensionados at the University of Michigan
Filipino Students Travel to Ann Arbor
Filipinos travelled to the US to attend American universities beginning in 1900. These were mainly students from elite families in the Philippines. Eventually these American-educated students became known as pensionados, named after the Pensionado Act of 1903, which provided US colonial government funds to sponsor Filipino students to study in the United States. The aim of the Pensionado Program was to train the future leaders of the Philippines. The US colonial government wanted to create a group of qualified, highly-educated civil servants that would represent American ideals and carry out the US colonial vision for the Philippines. Given this purpose, most students returned to the Philippines after finishing their education.
American academics and policymakers in the Philippines such as Dean C. Worcester and James A. LeRoy—both alumni of the University of Michigan—encouraged Filipinos to participate in the Pensionado Program. According to one of the first Filipino students in the Ann Arbor area, Sexiones Artiga of Manila, Dean Worcester personally encouraged multiple students to come to the University of Michigan because he believed that they would obtain the best possible education in Michigan. James LeRoy made similar claims. In The Filipino, a bi-monthly magazine made for pensionados in the US, he wrote,
It seems to me very plain that the chief duty which those Filipinos who have an opportunity to study abroad owe it to their own people is that of “social service” among them.... Any Filipino student who has employed to advantage his period of residence in the United States.. [m]ust go back home with a better comprehension of the real, vital needs of his people.
Le Roy argued that in order for the pensionados to understand the problems and needs of the Filipino people, they needed to experience America for themselves and take advantage of the educational opportunities available in the US. He also asserted that the pensionados were responsible for returning to the Philippines and improving conditions at home. This quote reveals his understanding of the purpose of the Pensionado Program, which was to produce a local populace that would carry out the American imperial objective of “developing” the Philippine colony.
It was not only Americans who argued that US education provided benefits for the country. Some Philippine elites, such as a lawyer named Señor La Garta, encouraged their fellow countrymen to study through the pensionado program. In an interview with the Michigan Daily, the student-run newspaper of the University of Michigan, La Garta stated,
In my judgement, there is no better way for my people to accept American ideas and customs than to come right here and learn them from you...It was with this motive in which that I put forward every effort to make this experiment a success and just as truly as it is proving a success, shall I endeavor to persuade the necessity of an American University education upon the native inhabitants of our islands.
Like US colonial administrators, La Garta viewed American education as beneficial to the Philippine Islands. Since the majority of the pensionados and other Filipino students in the US were from privileged families, they also benefitted from the Philippine-American relationship. From this perspective, the opportunities that US imperialism offered often overshadowed the inequalities it produced.
In the first years of the Pensionado Act, most pensionados were Filipino elite men from well-educated families. Later on, however, the opportunity to become a pensionado became more accessible to lower-income families. Becoming a Pensionado was considered prestigious. It was a competitive program that promised its students job opportunities in the colonial government and in other industries at the end of the program.
Newspapers such as The Michigan Daily and the Detroit Free Press often covered the experiences of the first Filipino students in the Ann Arbor area. The first Filipino students at the University of Michigan were the subject of an article in The Michigan Daily in September 1900. Their names were Sexiones Artiga of Manila and Juan Teclon of Bulacan. Both were 21-years-old and studied civil engineering. The Michigan Daily also documented the arrival of an 11-year-old Filipino named Lorenzo Orirabia of Cavite who was attending a secondary school in the Ann Arbor area. All three students stated that they came to the University of Michigan upon the suggestion of Dean Worcester, who purportedly said to them, “The best go to the University of Michigan.” According to The Michigan Daily, they came to the United States in order “to become better acquainted with American customs and manners and to take up work upon a broader plane than that to which they had been accustomed.” Interestingly, the author and interviewer for the article asked what the students thought of Americans in the US as opposed to Americans in the Philippines. All three students characterized Americans in the Philippines as “more conquerors than liberators,” in contrast to the Americans they had met at the University. This suggests that their experience as students in the US provided them with a different understanding of Americans compared to what they knew of US officials and soldiers in their home country.
Articles from The Michigan Daily reveal that as more Filipinos attended the University of Michigan, there were more events that specifically celebrated Filipino culture. Students even established a Filipino Club that was called “Ano ang pangalan” [What’s your name]. These students were able to build community and develop and home away from home while at Michigan.
1. Noel V. Teodoro, “Pensionados and Workers: The Filipinos in the United States, 1903–1956.” See also Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 8, no. 1–2 (March 1999): 157–78.
2. “Filipinos in School,” Michigan Daily, September 29, 1900, volume 11, issue 6. The names of the students in this article may not have been printed accurately. There is inconsistency between Michigan Daily articles and Detroit Free Press in terms of the student names.
4. James A. Leroy, “The Duty of the Filipino Student,” The Filipino, 1906, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
5. “The Filipino Guest: Prominent Native Lawyer Visits his Young Friends at the University,” Michigan Daily, Feb 20, 1901, volume 11, issue 106.
6. “Filipinos in School,” Michigan Daily, September 29, 1900, volume 11, issue 6.
10. See “Direct Foreign Students’ Clubs,” Michigan Daily, June 9, 1921, volume 31, issue 178.