It’s Almost Like Romeo and Juliet


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            Hello everyone! Kumusta Ka! Welcome to today’s episode. And it is the last one of the February specials episode. If I get it done in time, that is. And I am not optimistic about that. And neither are you, probably. Because, let’s face it, life keeps kicking me in the face. And I don’t know if I mean that figuratively anymore. It’s hard enough to upload during the week when you have a full time job and a kitten who just turned six months old on Monday. And my mom sent a kitty care package for her birthday. You can imagine how that has gone. Oh and then there’s the office’s chili cook off. And because Filipino food is so famous in my office, I was under a lot of pressure. Yes, it’s not a realistic or relevant expectation, but I have the bravado of a chicken nugget, so I said nothing. And there’s been construction in the neighborhood. Emergency related. And my neighbors aren’t the best. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

            But more than that, I wasn’t sure how to approach this episode. Because this so-called season I composed on the fly turned out to have three episodes not two, and I hardly planned for two.

            But maybe this all shouldn’t have been so hard. Because Filipinos are full of love and our history is full of love stories.

            So why don’t I give you a historical one? Well, it’s not quite a love story, but you’ll see.

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            But first, you’re going to need some background information, probably. You see, there was this guy called Jose Rizal, and he’s kind of a big deal. He was a patriot, physician, and intellectual in the Philippines in the late 1800s. Trifecta right there. He’s almost like the Enlightenment era philosophers that I heard about in school. In fact, having lived in that time period, he’s not as far off as you might think.

            It helped, of course, that like all of them he was born into wealth, which gave me a great deal of opportunities. Rizal was initially educated in Manila and then went onto the University of Madrid in Spain, but that didn’t mean it was a great fan of the Spanish. Or that he completely rejected their rule over the Philippines. Look, it was a complicated relationship, many would say. One that I’m distilling to a great degree but that’s a topic for another episode.

            There’s a lot I could say about him and his beliefs. I could also say a lot about one of his most famous novels: Noli me tangere, which is a Filipino classic and something my cousins mentioned studying in school. In it, Rizal laid out all the problems of colonialism and all the sins or structural evils of the Spanish rule in the Philippines. Once again, though, it wasn’t an outright condemnation or a call for independence. It was just a passionate call for reform. Sure, maybe it think it wasn’t enough, especially if you know the history, but that novel and its sequel firmly established him as the leading spokesman of the reform movement not as a leading advocate for independence.

            But even with that distinction, you could easily see that he had a target on his back. So when the colonial Spanish government found a chance to execute him, even if the charges weren’t great, they took it. But that seemed to seal their fate. Because by executing a very public figure who only wanted and advocated for reform, they swayed the more moderate of the population to want all out independence.

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            But there’s more to the story than that. There’s a lot more I want to say, so I’m going to do that in a different episode. Today’s episode is supposed to be about love, right? Well, Rizal had a lot of those. He was almost like the French philosopher Rousseau, if we’re going to keep making call backs to European intellectuals, but he was nowhere near as dysfunctional. We just didn’t get to hear about him in school. Hence why I want to make more detailed episodes on him and his famous works. In fact, that might be my grand return after that missed episode in April, but I’m not going to commit too strongly.

            But for now I want to tell you about one of his loves.

            A tragic one at that. Or it had all the pieces of a tragedy. Who is to say either way?

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            You had two young people coming together in his uncle’s boarding house. Doesn’t that seem like the start of a great love story? Maybe it was. And maybe Rizal saw the young Leanor Rivera and was swept up by her beauty. And maybe she felt the same way. Maybe Rizal struck a handsome profile that Rivera’s eye fell upon as she entered her uncle’s home. They were second cousins, a common arrangement of the era. Though we are more inclined to think about the romance than the details we find unsettling.

            The pieces were there. Even if this encounter was not grand at all. He was the intelligent young man of many a woman’s would dream of and she was the beautiful dove with a lovely singing voice and a talent for music. They were both dreams in their right. And brought together they seemed to be a living fairytale Maybe they saw it. Or maybe they fell in love in some other ways and for some other reasons. Regardless, there was beauty there.

            But Leonor’s parents were not so thrilled. Rizal was a bit subversion, you might say. He wasn’t so thrilled with the way the world was, and he made opinions known. Ideologically, he did not go as far as he could have in that, but even being critical of the Spanish rule came with great danger. Rizal had his points. And he was a bright young man who could explain them rather well. He was not stupid. He was not a fool. And he was not a sleep. Problem is, it wasn’t a matter of being right or wrong.

            It seldom is. Either then and now. There are beliefs and causes worth dying for, but could you risk someone else’s life for them? Is it martyrdom to push someone else forward or even to lead someone walk into a battle they never had any interest in? Certainly not. Could it ever be justified? With any word or idea? Probably not. I have another question for you. Don’t you, as a parent, have a moral obligation to protect your child or keep them from being this sacrificial lamb for an altar no one in your family is invested in?

            It’s a related question. The same matter looked upon a different angle. It’s a step outside of the perspective you have always approached the subject with.

            Maybe if you look at it this way, it’s obvious why her parents disapproved of this match so much. It wasn’t because Rizal was flawed or wrong. It was hardly about him at all. Yes, they might have thought that, but that was not the banner they raised above their heads as they prepared to die on this hill. They weren’t uncaring parents disinterested in their daughter’s happiness. Quite the opposite.

            They were parents who knew it’s hard to be happy when you’re dead.

            But the children did not see this. Or they didn’t want to. They could not give up on their love for each other.

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            At this point in his life, Rizal was only just about to depart to Madrid. Such a distance between the Philippines and Spain would pose a problem for young lovers even in the modern era with the internet to aide them, but it was even worse back then. When letters and ships could take mpnths to reach someone. When the world felt so much bigger.

            Factually this is so, but they still believed in love. Rizal especially who believed the solution to this plight was to marry Leonor before he departed.

            It wasn’t a great solution in practice. But for a romantic soul, the appeal was there. They would be tied together, and in the Philippines, marriage has always been a permanent union. They would be bonded together, in a way that no man or no distance could undermine.

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            But before that could happen, a man did intervene. Rizal’s brother surprisingly, who pointed out how unfair it would be to Leonor to have a husband a world away with only parents’ disgust to keep her company.

            Young love wanted to endure, but despite how little care Rizal gave to his brother’s objections the marriage never happened. And Rizal left for Madrid, penning letter after letter to his love. (Music fades out and new music fades in) Only for those letters to be intercepted and hidden by Leonor’s disapproving mother. This gesture was a sign of Rizal’s devotion to her daughter, but the weight of it was lost on her. Or not lost on her. But it paled in comparison to her daughter’s safety. Nothing could ever to that. So this love affair had to die.

            And die it did. But not in the way she would have liked.


            Picture a young man in a foreign country, pushing himself to excel academically, to have a brought future for he and his beloved. Picture a weary mind fueled only by the flutters of his heart. That which pined only for a young woman back home. Personally, when I imagine this, I include his anxious anticipation for a letter, the only sign of her he could hold against his chest, the best he could hope for.

            He waits and he and he waits. And then it comes.

            But there was a letter that perhaps, Rizal was better off not having. For it ws not a sign of devotion, a declaration of Leonor’s love but a marriage announcement. In 1890, Leonor had to tell Rizal, her love, that she was engaged to be married to a British engineer name Henry Kipping. It took a while for the letter to get to him, so I imagine, if this was a movie, the letter reached his hands as the wedding planning was at its height.

            And that included, at the wishes of Leonor’s mother, Leonor burning all of Rizal’s letters. And this wish, Leonor honored. At last, her mother thought, that nightmare would be dead and over. This dangerous love would be gone, banished from her daughter’s memory and heard. And with that purging, Leonor would have a wonderful life with a good, steady, and not subversive man.

            She wouldn’t be challenging the status quo but be embraced and protected by it. All because she let Rizal go.

            Except, she didn’t.

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            Or maybe she did. This is just a story but a beautiful one at that. It’s one that fills the soul with hope that something as noble and beautiful as soulmates could exist. Or at least, that’s why I want to believe that it’s true.

            But they say she took some of these ashes and hid them away. That she held onto this dream and this love and carried it away from the ashes of the fire, and in an act of diance or a gesture of love, whose to say, sewed them into the hem of her wedding dress. They say she wore her love for him, this impossible love, this love that could never be without her family’s blessing, all the way down the aisle.

            There’s another reason to like this account. It gives her agency, doesn’t it? At a time when a woman did not have much. More so, it’s never been that easy for a Filipino child to disobey the wishes of her well-meaning parents.


            But maybe you were hoping this could have still worked out somehow. Maybe you want love to always win each and every time. Or you know of enough times that it failed that you want this to be a victory.

            But no. It isn’t. In 1893, Leonor died during childbirth. And it is not just said but known through documents that when his sister passed along the news, Rizal said nothing. Not in the moment or for several day afterwards. The weight of the news left him unable to speak. Leonor was gone from him. Forever. And to be always remember as the wife of another man. Never his. Never his love. Never his wife. Nothing like that.

            If that was his thought and not just my assumption, Rizal got the final laugh, as it were. Or so many think. But it is believed that the character Maria Clara in Noli Me Tangere is Leonor immortalized. If so, she will forever be intertwined with him in a way that no man could ever tear asunder.

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            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thank you for listening. If  you like what you heard, go to our website for more information about our other projects.

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