L ong before 1971 when San Pedro High School was founded, life of teenagers was very different from what it is today. Boys and girls attended the elementary school compulsorily until they were 14 years old and then they could legally leave school. And were they anxious to leave!
At the age of 14, it was a girl's most ardent desire to leave school forever and enter adulthood. There were very limited opportunities to attend high school; besides there were no job opportunities that required a high school education. Some of the most intelligent girls jumped from being students in standard six to being teachers in the same school. They were called "pupil teachers", meaning that they were not trained teachers but were smart enough to teach the lower forms in primary school.
The rest left school and most happily. By then they had acquired basic handy skills around the house like doing dishes, sweeping and even doing the laundry. Now she was anxious to learn the art of cooking - rice, fried fish, chechac, flour tortillas, Johnny cakes, corn tortillas, rice and beans, chirmole, relleno, and escabeche, tamales and panades, enchiladas and perhaps yellow cake for dessert. This was in direct preparation for marriage which came about, as a general rule, between 15 to 17 years of age.
To advance in this preparation for marriage, she learned to starch clothing and iron them. Most girls learned the basics of sewing like stitching buttons and hems etc., but the more ambitious went further into learning to sew dresses. I would say a good 25% of girls learned to sew. This was so because there was no imported clothing in San Pedro in those days and mothers had to sew for the children up to the bridal dresses for their children. Yes, bridal dresses were sewn right here on the island.
A popular hobby among teenage girls was embroidery. They produced lovely artwork on clothing, bed sheets and pillow cases. There was this very special art of decorating fabric with color threads in a process called "punch work". Again the more artistic and ambitious went on to learn knitting and produced baby socks, caps, sweaters, etc.
Also at this age, 14 to17, girls were allowed to start courting (or be courted) and dating. Generally speaking they were allowed to have a date who would eventually be the lucky groom. They remained virgins until marriage because dating was done at the girl's parents' home and very seldom could they meet out of home. Even to go to a public dance, girls had to be chaperoned by their mothers or a close family member. Being a virgin until marriage was every girl's dream and having the white veil over the face on the day of her wedding was every girl's ambition. Boys too paid attention to this. If a girl had had too many boys, she would be considered a "culo caliente" (whatever that means) and boys would not marry such a girl.
In the 1960's there was a change in the lives of teenage girls. Caribeña fishing cooperative ran a fish and lobster processing plant and employed some 30 young ladies to clean and pack marine produce for export. They went to work with dresses, rubber boots and head scarves. They learned to earn their own money for the first time. This was history for women in San Pedro.
Then in the 1970's San Pedro High kept girls in school up until 18 and this sort of stepped up girls' age for marriage to about 20. Now with sixth form and university it is still stepping up to the lower 20's.
The girl's pattern of living was straight forward twenty five years ago - childhood, elementary school, dating, marriage, mother as a teenager. This pattern has come a long way and with many changes in today's society.