Jose Rizal

Pilipino Heroes: José Rizal


4228345017_22f22c2157_zJosé Rizal is one of the Philippines’s most celebrated heroes. His efforts to gain independence for his homeland from Spain have been praised time and time again. In addition to graduating summa cum laude at Ateneo de Manila and the Dominican University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Rizal studied medicine at Universidad Central de Madrid, University of Paris, and University of Heidelberg in order to learn ophthalmology as a result of his mother’s growing blindness. While in Europe, Rizal fine-tuned his skills in art, literature, and science, excelling in various areas such as poetry, sculpting, cartography, martial arts, and more. His studies in Europe would have a profound impact on his beliefs in the relationship between state and religion. As he was studying, he published two of his most famous works—Noil Me Tángere, published in Berlin in 1887, and its sequel, El Filibusterismo, published in Ghent in 1891. These novels angered Spanish and Pilipino elites as a result of its explication on the injustice of Spaniards and the government of the Philippines. In both novels, Rizal analyzes the relationship between Catholicism and Pilipino individuals as well as the influence of Spanish colonization on the government and its corruption. Noli Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo were crucial in sculpting a national Pilipino identity as well as rustling up discussion on the rights of Pilipinos under Spanish rule. His criticisms about the influence of Catholic priests on every day Pilipino life as well as their ungodly actions put him in the spotlight as someone to watch out for. At the end of Spanish rule, Catholic priests owned about 400,000 acres of land. They were known for killing off those who threatened their wealth and power, but were seen as father figures to the Pilipinos as the head authority figures in all decisions, and as Luis H. Francia puts it, a “god-king.”

In 1981, Rizal visited Hong Kong where he came into contact with fellow expatriates, who gave him a better assessment on the situation in the Philippines. Upon finding out that the people in his hometown of Calamba had been dispossessed of their land by Dominicans, Rizal proposed creating a settlers’ colony in Sandakan, which is now a part of Malaysia today. The Spanish rejected his request, worried that the colony could someday turn into a headquarters for rebellion.

Rizal returned to the Philippines the next year and formed La Liga Filipina, an organization dedicated to creating a community of Pilipinos devoted to the reform of the Pilipino government and industry. La Liga Filipina raised money for scholarships, legal aid, and loans, in order to create an independent community. Catholic friars feared the organization and conspired to have Rizal exiled to the northwestern coastal town of Dapitan in Mindanao.

During his exile, Andrés Bonifacio, a former member of La Liga Filipina, formed Kataasta-asan Kagalagalangan Katipunan, commonly known as Katipunan, a secret anti-Spanish society dedicated to the independence of the Philippines through force. When contacted by Bonifacio about his opinion on the organization, Rizal greatly disapproved of the society’s use of violence. Bonifacio was upset about Rizal’s disapproval but still used Rizal’s name as a password, which in later years would lead authorities to assume Rizal’s involvement.

During the Spanish American War, Rizal volunteered to work as a doctor for the Spanish forces in Cuba in order to show loyalty to Spain, but upon landing Barcelona, he was arrested for his part in the revolution. He was sent back to Manila where he was found guilty of treason, despite the incredibly strong defense.

Plaque at Rizal Park in Manila, Philippines

On December 30, 1896, José Rizal was executed by a firing squad of fellow Pilipinos. Spanish troops stood behind the countrymen with rifles to their backs, just in case they did not pull the trigger. Before he was shot down, Rizal whispered, “Consummantum est” or “It is finished,” the same as Jesus Christ.

Seen as a martyr, Rizal’s death exalted his fame as well as strengthened the Pilipino fight for independence from Spain. His novels, Noil Me Tángere and El Filibusterismo, cultivated a Pilipino identity, similar to how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped fuel the abolitionist movement in America during the 1850s. Rizal’s characters represented typical Pilipinos and the plight of the novels’ main characters allowed Pilipinos to sympathize and relate to each other.

A country can only be successful if it has a nation, and Rizal was a critical part in forming the Pilipino national identity. Without a nation, the Pilipinos would not have had the drive to start a revolution against the Spanish and retake their land. José Rizal rightly deserves the praise he has received as one of the Philippines’s greatest heroes.

Photo Credit: Michael Francis McCarthy and Lauren Lalicon

UniPro's The Vagina Monologues: Breaking the Maria Clara Image, Indeed

Moans, writhes, orgasms … it wasn't your typical UniPro event. On March 9, UniPro hosted The Vagina Monologues: Breaking the Maria Clara Image at Cap21 Studios. Based on interviews with real women, The Vagina Monologues is a play by Eve Ensler featuring hilarious, heartbreaking and uncomfortable confessions from different women about their, well, vaginas, relating to their personal stories of femininity and sexuality.

UniPro’s The Vagina Monologues production starred an all-Pilipina cast, with a special Pilipina twist added to parts of the script. In one monologue, for example, a “lola” ashamedly discussed her “down there.” Then at the end of the play, the cast stood side by side onstage, taking turns to share disturbing facts about victims of sexual violence:

"One in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. That’s more than one billion women living on the planet today."

"The NDHS revealed that one in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15."

"One in ten Filipino women aged 15-49 has experienced sexual violence."

Following the play was a panel of representatives from various women’s rights organizations. These distinguished women included Ivy O. Suriyopas, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at AALDEF; Kristina K. Joyas, a member of AF3IRM (and UniPro’s Director of Staff Development); and Zarah K. Viñola, Vice-Chairperson for FiRE. They discussed ways their organizations are tackling issues that affect Pilipinas, as well as their own definitions of the term “feminist.”

Confronting topics ranging from rape and sexual violence to self-image and self-discovery, the night was emotional and thought-provoking. It was a seamless event and production, organized by Kirklyn Escondo, our Community Building Director, and directed by Precious Sipin and Leslie Espinosa. Music also added to the drama of the play, with Andre Ignacio Dimapilis on the didgeridoo and Andy Jean-Gilles on the djembe drums. Lastly, Stella Ma also spoke on behalf of the NYC Chapter of the National Pacific American Women’s Forum, informing the audience of the recent publication of their Health Resource Guide.

It’s rare seeing Pilipinas onstage, portraying characters with real depth to whom we can actually relate. It’s a stark difference from the roles Asian Americans are usually degraded to: the token Asian friend, unnamed nerd or exotic lover. Let’s not forget the title of our production, which references Maria Clara, the iconic character from Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. This tragic heroine is known for her sweetness and obedience; she is a symbol (or perhaps a caricature) of the ideal Pilipina. Well, with all the talk of vaginas that Saturday night, the strong and talented women of UniPro’s production of The Vagina Monologues couldn't be any farther from Maria Clara.