Jose Rizal -A Beginning in HIs Own Way


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“He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.” – Jose Rizal

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            Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome back to the show. To what, I guess is season 2. Except we’re not going to have anywhere near the sort of structure we had in the past or you might expect from a professionally produced podcast about culture. (softer) This isn’t a professionally produced podcast. (Normal) But it is about culture. From this point on, this show is just going to be about the different things I findout or explore related to the cultural identity I never got to experience growing up. Simple as that.

            But—you might be remembering—I did mention, back during a special episode in February, that there was a topic or two I knew I wanted to go into right away. Which was José Rizal and his many works. Part of the reason why was because while I was working on that episode, one of my cousin posted about her homework assignment on Facebook, an assignment that included Rizal’s most famous novel. And you know what? That’s the first time I can remember our lives having any significant overlap. So obviously, I had to run with it. Right?

            I thought so. The alternative could be to talk about the general disconnect between me and the family I never get to see, but I’m not entirely ready to do that or deal with those emotions. Also my family might listen to this podcast. I don’t know, but that’s not the way to find out.

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            Yes, I laid out some of the key details of Rizal’s life in that life episode, but it might still be worth laying out the facts in this context too. After all, a different perspective or a different context will necessitate focusing on a different part of his life. Now, I’m not going to be talk about the somewhat tragic love story he was a part of but the man himself and what he was able to do for the Philippines.

            If you look in the show notes, I’m going to include all the sources I use from here on out. And I think I can make it clear where I’m drawing from when. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with how to do this for my other podcast Miscellany Media Reviews, and I think I’ve figured it out.

            The problem has been that auditory mediums aren’t kind to the visual art form that is citations. Or at least, I’ve always thought of citations as a visual medium. They stand as a map of all the roads that led you to this specific conclusion. And that creates an issue when there’s nothing to see. If this were a video essay or project, I could flash the number on the screen each time, but there is no screen. And reciting a bunch of citation information can just get tedious, particularly for anyone who uses a player that doesn’t have a skip forward thirty seconds button or is in the middle of an activity that needs both of their hands.

            Basically, what I hope to try instead is to give you who are listening to this a general idea of where I’m pulling from, and from there, you can go back to the numbered source and verify anything I say. In this episode especially, I hope that nothing I said would be too controversial as to require an immediate page number, but if I’m wrong, in the transcript, I’ll insert more exact citations if you want to check back. That being said, I’m not going to edit out anything I say in those transcripts, so while that might get a bit wordy, they will be serving two purposes that don’t necessarily conflict. So it should be fine. If not, I’ll try a different way.

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            Source 1, which would also be recommended reading, is an article from Luis Francia—a poet, journalist, and nonfiction writer from the Philippines who built up a career for himself that includes teaching in New York University. This article is entitled “José Rizal: A Man for All Generation.” One thing that’s interesting about Francia’s perspective is the way his more literary and expressive nature seeps into this portrayal of Rizal. But on the other hand, he draws from his experiences as a child who grew up in the Philippines and went through that school system. For example, he opens up the article with the observation that while José Rizal could be considered the George Washington of the Philippines and is omnipresent in daily life, he was still absent from the school curriculum Francia was taught from. Now the government mandate was there for Rizal’s work to be readily available in schools, but perhaps obvious loophole is obvious. I don’t know about you, but there were a lot of books available at my school. I certainly didn’t know what they all were. Never mind read them. Never mind read them diligently and studied them well.

            Francia argues that this omission is part of the overall (quote) “misrepresentation” of Filipino heroes and history, which might have been related to the very strong presence of the Catholic Church in the Filipino school system (Francia 45). This is more relevant when you’re talking about Rizal. In Rizal’s case, because he was critical of clerical authority (Francia 45), it would make sense that he would be omitted from the classroom, least some… uncomfortable questions come up. It’s not a foolproof argument, and really, maybe it was a matter of time, but you can certainly follow that logic.

            As for every other Filipino hero, it’s harder to say. Catholicism was brought in by colonialism, and for that reason, the history therein will always be a bit troubled. But on the other hand, it’s worth reiterating that Catholicism has become a huge staple of the Filipino identity as long as people don’t ask how, exactly.

            I don’t want to debate religion either in this podcast or ever. I fully know that it can create a lot of problems, but I also understand the many places and wells that religious belief seeps into and fills. See this is where I pull out my radical relativism card to end the debate prematurely by simply point out that your thoughts on religion are often a better reflection of your own life experience than on cosmological or divine truths.

            The relevant part is the colonialism, something I’ve mentioned when I was doing those initial glances at the various ethnolinguistic groups around the islands. And I’m not going to pretend that a discussion of Filipino history can properly be done excluding this portion. I know it can’t. I know it’s relevant in so many things. Incredibly so. But one major takeaway I had from those last episodes is that every group had different initial experience and/or suffered in different ways. For example, some of their beliefs were more (quote) “acceptable” to the missions that others were, and some met with missionaries that were slightly more compassionate. Even if the overall theme from group to group is the same, I don’t want to miss the nuances of individual experiences. And that’s even worse in this context because ultimately, Rizal’s main gift to the Philippines wasn’t his martyrdom but his ability to cauterize their wounds through the power of storytelling.

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            But first, to give you some more information. Francia also lays out Rizal’s history in his article. The seventh of eleven children born to a cultivated family and whose father was wealthy enough to have a farm and not actually work it, leasing it out to tenants instead, Rizal had a pretty strong strart (Francia 46). And this wealth likely helped cultivate the many natural talents young Rizal likely exhibited in his childhood.  He ended up being a scholar with multiple disciplines: botanist, ophthalmologist, essayist, novelist, and even mastered fencing (Francia 46). His education included being sent to Spain to study, never a small feat for the subject of a colony (Francia 46). But he didn’t gain an admiration for the Spanish during his time there but a taste for secularism (Francia 46).

            And that might be what led to his calls for reforms and not outright independence in the beginning (Encyclopedia Britannica). His death for sedition is what pushed the movement further. Hence why I said his martyrdom a few moments ago.

            But before he died, he wrote on the moral rot that infected colonial society, about state sponsored abuse, abuse by religious officials, the greed that betrayed society, and the many broken promises left in the wake of those in power.

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            And this is where my perspective can come into play, specifically a book I fell in love with when I was working on my master’s degree. It’s called The Politics of Storytelling by Michael Jackson. (Pause) No not, that Michael Jackson, though he might get that a lot, and I’m sure that joke isn’t funny anymore. And, like, I’ve read it so many times that citations have to be somewhat nightmarish for me to generate because I genuinely can’t tell where I end and the lessons of this book begin. You should totally just read it. Like seriously read it.

            It started with the premise borrowed from Hannah Arendt that the “political” is understood as the power relation or struggle between the private and public realms, and that storytelling was at the heart of finding a new balance. Because when I relate a story to you, I’m communicating elements of my experiences and thoughts in a way that is deeply personal but on a very public. Besides just communicating facts of a situation, I give priority to the things I find important and omit either things I don’t like or things that I think are completely irrelevant. I don’t just paint a picture of what happened but of what I understood to have happened.

            Psychology—as a discipline—has held this belief as well but in a very specific context. Namely, it has always focused on the way storytelling can make trauma more conquerable. And that’s the vein Jackson hits that, albeit on a more societal level. While he never addresses the Philippines or nations in a very similar situation, he tells other stories of the intersubjectivity being restored in a community.


            This is where Jackson turns more towards psychoanalysis, and if you aren’t necessarily familiar with psychoanalysis, it’s going to be hard for me to boil all of that down. So let me take a hard step back and turn to Rizal, supposedly the George Washington of the Philippines who—if you remember correctly—didn’t really want a revolution, didn’t lead the revolution, and died before it really took off.

            All of that is true. Rizal couldn’t be called a great war leader or even leader by most standards. But what he did do was capture in his works the reality of the colonial rule in the Philippines. It was a way to take ownership of these hardships and terrors, maybe the only way when you’re talking about something on this scale. And I don’t mean to say that these abuses stopped or that the victim assumed blame when all of this happened. Because that’s not what I mean. By writing of these realities, Rizal was testifying that they were very much real and that the Filipino heart and character were also real. What he provided was both validation and a rallying cry.

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            The thing about colonialism… Well, okay there’s many things. One of them is that overarching narrative is that this is for your—as the subject of a new, foreign power—benefit. Here is this group of people more technologically sophisticated, they have the one true religion, and if they were bad people, the story goes that God would strike them down. They are, in fact, gracing you with their presence and the humble tribute you offer them is a small price to pay for the prosperity they give you. Except, that wasn’t true for the Philippines. There was no moral high ground, there were no gifts, there was no prize. 

But the narrative of a benevolent conquistador might have been one you were born into, as the subject of a colonial government that had been ruling for a while. So even if you can that this isn’t reality, it can still be hard to believe it. The balance between the internal world and the external is off. Because the internal world is being thoroughly beaten and subjected to abuse and torture. Even if you aren’t inclined to believe what you are told, you have to.

            So now here’s Rizal who is pointing out what you know to be true. He is giving strength and credence to your inner world. Of course you’re going to run with it. And when you have that taste of true freedom and agency, it’s going to be hard to surrender when the colonial government demands you go back to the old way of doing things. Back to the ways that caused you suffering and misery.

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            So maybe you know where this is going… Next unit. Reading Rizal’s novels. Starting with Noli Me Tangere.

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