It would be remiss of me not to devote the letter J in the A to Z Challenge to none other than Jose Rizal. I really should have put him under R but I was afraid I’d run out of steam by then…but I also happen to call him JR so it still kinda fits.
Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines, a child protege who obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at 16, and by the time he turned 23, obtained a few more degrees including medicine and Philosophy. A polymath, he earned his degree in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid after he had to stop his medical studies in Manila because Filipino students were being discriminated upon by their Dominican tutors.
Discrimination by Catholic friars would become a huge part of his writings, as well as the effects of colonialism upon the Filipino people. Rizal traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and America. In America, he saw firsthand the discrimination against the Chinese when his ship was quarantined off San Francisco Bay on April 1888 “on account of the 642 Chinese that we have on board coming from Hong Kong where they say smallpox prevails,” he wrote in a letter to his parents in the Philippines.
“But the real reason is that, as America is against Chinese immigration, and now they are campaigning for elections, the government, in order to get the vote of the people, must appear to be strict with the Chinese, and we suffer. On board, there is not one sick person.”
…After this experience, Rizal warned that America was not hospitable to Filipinos: “I’ll not advise anyone to make this trip to America, for here they are crazy about quarantine, they have severe customs inspection, imposing [duties] on anything.”
….On his train ride across America, Rizal realized the enormous wealth, power and imperialistic ambitions of America. In his essay “The Philippine Century,” he predicted that American expansionism would extend across the Pacific to as far away as the Philippines.
In 1887, Rizal published his satirical novel, Noli Me Tangere (translated, Touch Me Not or The Social Cancer) in Berlin, which depicted the despotism of the Spanish clergy in the Philippines, though the protagonist does not approve of violent means to gain equality from their colonizers. In 1891, he published the sequel, El Filibusterismo (translated, The Filibustering or Reign of Greed) which was more revolutionary this time, and definitely more tragic.
I remember reading these two books in high school and just getting more and more irate at every depressing turn of events, and the comic book version was even more depressing because it put these unforgettable faces on the characters. But don’t get me wrong, the books are amazing and really depicted the atrocities of the Spaniards against the Filipinos during that time, albeit cloaked in satire at times. I have the annotated print copy of El Filibusterismo at the moment and though it’s more mature reading for me now, it still evokes a lot of anger though.
Rizal’s dedication in Noli Me Tangere:
To My Country
In the catalogue of human ills there is to be found a cancer so malignant that the least touch inflames it and causes agonizing pains; afflicted with such a cancer, a social cancer, has your dear image appeared to me, when, for my own heart’s ease or to compare you with others, I have sought, in the centres of modern civilization, to call you to mind.
Now, desirous of your welfare, which is also ours, and seeking the best cure for your ills, I shall do with you what was done in ages past with the sick, who were exposed on the steps of the temple so that the worshippers, having invoked the god, should each propose a remedy.
To this end, I shall endeavor to show your condition, faithfully and ruthlessly. I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease, sacrificing to the truth everything, even self-love — for, as your son, your defects and weaknesses are also mine.
Because of his writings, Rizal and his family and friends were watched carefully by the Spanish authorities. In June 1892, after authorities found anti-friar pamphlets in his sister’s luggage who had arrived with him from Hong Kong, Rizal was imprisoned in the notorious Fort Santiago in Manila. He was soon exiled in Dapitan for four years where he lived a life engaged in agriculture, fishing and business, maintained and operated a hospital and even taught pupils English and Spanish languages.
During his exile, Rizal kept in touch with friends in Europe, especially professor Ferdinand Blumentritt (there is a major thoroughfare in present-day Manila named after him) whose letters can be found here. It was also around this time that the seeds of the Philippine Revolution, which had taken root around the time of Rizal’s satirical political novels, emerged with the rise of the revolutionary movement called the Katipunan.
When yellow fever broke out in Cuba, Rizal volunteered his services as a doctor and was given leave by the Governor-General Ramon Blanco in August 1896. However he was arrested en route to Cuba via Spain and was sent back to stand trial in Manila as he was implicated in the revolution through his association with members of the Katipunan. While he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, Rizal issued a manifesto disavowing the revolution in its present state, a claim that has caused disagreement among certain groups who argue that because of this, he does not deserve to be called the national hero. In his manifesto, Rizal believed that education was the key to liberty.
“I desire as much as the next man liberties for our country; I continue to desire them. But I laid down as a prerequisite the education of the people in order that by means of such instruction, and by hard work, they may acquire a personality of their own and so become worthy of such liberties.”
Rizal was tried in a court martial and found guilty of all three charges of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy. On the eve of his execution on December 30, 1896, Rizal, 35 years old, wrote his final poem, Mi Ultimo Adios.
When the Philippines was annexed to the United States by Spain in 1899, the general consensus of lawmakers about the Filipinos was that they were “a community of barbarians.” Representative Henry A. Cooper, who was lobbying for management of Philippine affairs, recited Rizal’s poem to his constituents to prove their misconceptions about the Filipinos wrong. This led to the enactment of the Philippine Bill of 1902, which would lead to self-government for the Filipino people.
In 1944, Mi Ultimo Adios was translated and recited by Indonesian soldiers before going into battle in their fight for their own independence.