The First Filipino: The Award-Winning Biography of Jose Rizal

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From very early on, Rizal exhibited remarkable literary abilities. At the age of 19 he entered an open literary competition, and won first prize, defeating Spanish rivals writing in their native tongue.

He was growing up at a time when modern politics had begun to arrive in the colony. More than any other imperial power, 19th-century Spain was wracked by deep internal conflicts, not merely the endless Carlist wars over the succession, but also between secular liberalism and the old aristocratic-clerical order. The brief liberal triumph in the Glorious Revolution of , which drove the licentious Isabella II from Madrid, had immediate repercussions for the remote Pacific colony.

The revolutionaries promptly announced that the benefits of their victory would be extended to the colonies. The renewed ban on the Jesuits and the closure of monastic institutions seemed to promise the end of the reactionary power of the Orders overseas. The collapse of the Glorious Revolution brought about a ferocious reaction in Manila, however, culminating in in the public garrotting of three secular i.

The Rizal family was an immediate victim of the reaction. His elder brother Paciano, a favourite pupil of Father Burgos, the leader of the garrotted priests, narrowly escaped arrest and was forced to discontinue his education. Europe affected him decisively, in two related ways.

José Rizal's Early Life

Most immediately, he came quickly to understand the backwardness of Spain itself, something which his liberal Spanish friends frequently bemoaned. This put him in a position generally not available to colonial Indians and Vietnamese, or, after the Americans arrived in Manila, to his younger countrymen: that of being able to ridicule the metropolis from the same high ground from which, for generations, the metropolis had ridiculed the natives. What he meant by this was a new, restless double-consciousness which made it impossible ever after to experience Berlin without at once thinking of Manila, or Manila without thinking of Berlin.

Here indeed is the origin of nationalism, which lives by making comparisons. He was The two most astonishing features of Noli Me Tangere are its scale and its style.

Rizal never fails to give even his most sinister villains their moments of tenderness and anguish. Yet the geographical space of the novel is strictly confined to the immediate environs of the colonial capital, Manila. The Spain from which so many of the characters have at one time or another arrived is always off-stage. For all its picaresque digressions, the plot is pure melodrama. The novel opens with the wealthy, handsome and naively idealistic mestizo, Don Crisostomo Ibarra, returning from a long educational sojourn in Europe with plans to modernise his home town and his patria , and to marry his childhood sweetheart Maria Clara, the beautiful mestiza daughter of the wealthy indio cacique, Don Santiago de los Santos.

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At first he is welcomed with respect and enthusiasm, but the clouds soon gather. He discovers that his father has died in prison, framed by the brutal Franciscan friar Padre Damaso, and that his body has been thrown into the sea.

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Later he will learn that Damaso is the real father of his bride-to-be. Meanwhile, the young parish priest Padre Salvi secretly lusts after Maria Clara, and has covered up the murder of one of his young acolytes. Gradually, Ibarra also learns of the sinister origins of his own line in a cruel, cartpetbagging Basque, who after ruining many local peasants, hanged himself. He makes friends with Don Tasio, the local freethinking philosophe , with liberal-minded local caciques, even with the Captain-General himself, as well as with the mysterious indio rebel Elias.

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The dialogues between the two men on whether political reform is possible in the Philippines or a revolutionary upheaval inevitable continue to this day to be part of Philippine progressive discourse and historiography. Finally, Padre Salvi, learning of a planned rebel attack on his town, frames Ibarra as its instigator and financier. Maria Clara, to avoid being forced into a loveless marriage with an insipid peninsular, chooses to become a nun, and compels her real father, whom she confronts with his adultery, to help her take her vows.

So far, so Puccini, one might say. At one time, Rizal did not have any meal at all for one whole day. He wrote these in codes in his diary which were later decoded by Miguel Unamuno, his Spanish friend, upon the request of Wenceslao Retana. In a letter to his family, on August 29, , Rizal informed them of living here with classmates Ceferino de Leon and Julio Llorente. It was here where he wrote to his family why sugar prices had fallen — Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as the colonies of Great Britain, had replaced the Philippines as the new sources of U.

This was perhaps his last residence in Madrid as he himself mentioned in an undated letter to his family. He spent 15 days here — from October 1 to 15, — sharing the place with Ceferino de Leon and Eduardo de Lete. He told his parents that he would be moving to Paris and Berlin to study ophthalmology under the best professors at that time.

On the matter of his return to the Philippines, his brother Paciano advised him to stay in Hong Kong instead since this would not be very far from home. The reputation of Rizal as an anti-friar intellectual had become public because of his speech at the Hotel Ingles at the banquet to honor Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. According to Paciano, returning to the Philippines would be fatal since a lot of Spaniards were raring to punish him for claiming that the Indios could be even better than the colonial masters if given the chance to develop themselves. The corridor of the Colegio de Medicina Hospital de San Carlos has a marker indicating that it was here where Rizal studied medicine.

Rizal’s Madrid

He began his medical studies on October 2, , and finished it two years later in June One of his professors was the then famous Marquez de Busto. The other professors he had mentioned were Drs. Mariani, Polo and Stocker. He apparently spent his residency at the Hospital de la Princesa where, as he had written to his family, he performed two operations on detached ligatures.

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Rizal would have to go to Paris to specialize in ophthalmology. At the same time that Rizal was taking courses in medicine, he went to the nearby Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando and took five hours of painting lessons under Carlos de Haes. He likewise enrolled at the Facultad de Derechos, UCM but his brother dissuaded him from continuing the course. But his interest in the humanities overtook all other interests. He transferred to the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras , and worked towards a humanities course which he finished in June Although not an educational institution but an exclusive club for men of letters and science, the Ateneo contributed to the professional development of Rizal.

It was here where he regularly attended theatrical presentations, music and poetry recitals and book launchings. He was in attendance when Ramon de Compoamor delivered his best poetry in At one time, Rizal was presented to the Principe de Baviera, then presiding over the meeting. Even now, the ambience of the Ateneo is one of quiet, civility and seriousness, with people spending their time in high-ceilinged rooms and galleries.

The theatre has retained the classical stage reminiscent of a place for Greek plays. On the hallway are portraits of its most prominent members. Rizal was particularly bitter when in the winter, a member of the group, an Igorot woman, died and others contracted pneumonia due to the cold. La Solidaridad used this place as its office of publication.

Founded in , the newspaper was the voice of the Filipino community in Spain in its struggle for recognition by the Spanish government, of their desire for autonomy. Before his decision to return to a place near the Philippines Hong Kong , Rizal might have frequented this place to check on the progress of the publication of his essays, the most famous of which was his La Indolencia de los Filipinos. The essay was in response to the then popular Spanish notion that the lack of progress in the Philippines was due to the laziness of the colonial subjects.

A generation or more separated the young Filipinos of the s and s, the old-timers, from the post The latter group included far more professionals, women. The commemoration of Jose Rizal since the s has served as a tentative link between these two waves of Filipino immigrants in America, who have interacted somewhat more gingerly in other spheres.

In outward form, Rizal Day observances have usually followed the pattern set in the 's. Featured non-Filipino speakers have included prominent Chicagoans linked to the ethnic community by the ties of occupation, religion, and politics and the Philippine consul general. More recently, in acknowledgment of the growing size and potential power, the annual program has often written greetings from Chicago mayors and from Philippine presidents. While provincial clubs have continued to co- sponsor Rizal Day, primary responsibility has devolved upon the Filipino American Community Council, Inc.

The queen contest has remained a central component of the and a reminder of the persistence of Philippine regionalism. The Rizal Day queen's court, rather than the menu, can now routinely represent the various Philippine regions ; Miss Visayas, Miss Mindanao, Miss Luzon, and the queen herself are uniformly the daughters of Filipino immigrant families, rather than the American girlfriends of yesteryear. Since , the setting for some of the Rizal Day celebrations has been the aging, and until heavily mortgaged, Dr.

Jose Rizal Memorial Center, itself the culmination of a long quest by leaders of the old-timers' group who sometimes employed the Queen contest as a fund raising opportunity. In , the F. Fernandez and Romeo C. Jose Rizal's name is here to stay. In the s, a stronger cultural nationalism and a growing self-consciousness of Filipino American ethnicity have altered the observances honoring Rizal and, in the process, old tensions have resurfaced.

The Chicago Chapter of the Knights of Rizal, a ritualistic fraternal organization founded in the Philippines in , was established in Chicago in August Old-timer Francisco Frank Alayu, became the first Commander. Jose Rizal Memorial Center on December 30, the exact anniversary of Rizal's death reminiscent of the solemnity of the student efforts of the first decades of the century. A recent commemorative activity has opened a new chapter this story of Rizal Day in Chicago. In late August of , a Philippine Patriots Week program took place at the Rizal Center attended by about one hundred and fifty persons.

A proclamation from Chicago's mayor officially designated the week as a city Speakers offered capsule biographical sketches of about a dozen Philippine heroes — Rizal among them — including some who were gunned down during the Marcos era. Singled out among all others, however, was the assassinated Senator Benigno S. Aquino : several eulogists compared him to Jose Rizal. A soloist gave a forceful vocal rendition of Rizal's Ultima Adios, singing the verses twice, once in Spanish and once in Tagalmo, but not at all in English. No Americans appeared on the program, although half a dozen were present in the audience.