The Legacy of José Rizal in Philippine Culture Night

Artwork by Trinee Altramariano for the Philippine Star

The youth is the hope of our future.” - José Rizal

Hello to the MAFA Community, my name is Gabriel Aco, representing Filipino's In Alliance at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am this year's Cultural Advocacy Chair! My responsibilities entail all cultural programming, with one of my biggest roles being the acting director for our Philippine Culture Night.

In a time where pandemic has facilitated a surge of hate crimes and blatant discrimination towards the Asian community globally, I hope to bring forth a sense of pride for our people, to show we are not defined by a disease, but by the accomplishments that have united us together. Within the Western world, there remains a distinct hierarchy of Asian populations who are deemed valuable or successful to a Western standard. More often than not, the Filipino people are neglected in these conversations. However, I think otherwise.

For this year's PCN theme, I wanted to reflect on the idea of Filipino intellectualism: to show that we are not merely just your domestic workers or nurses - we are people who can change the fabric of society through sacrifice, creativity, and collective effort of a united people. As I researched how to represent this concept clearly, I looked towards our history for inspiration. Searching through well-known texts on the romanticization of the Philippines during the colonial period, a phrase came up that has permeated it's way from hundreds of years ago, to the modern Philippine National Anthem:

"Perlas ng silanganan"

Roughly translated to "The Pearl of the Orient", this was the romanticized term of the Philippines throughout the Spanish and American Commonwealth rule. The term was so interesting to me that I thought perhaps we should change our PCN theme to revolve around the term. However, as I ran deeper into texts that contained this term, I found the "pearl" amongst the waves:

Mi último adiós by José Rizal

Philippine Culture Night 2020: Mi último adiós, The Last Farewell

Originally annotated in Spanish, "Mi último adiós", is translated to The Last Farewell. Written on the eve of his execution, this was Rizal's goodbye note to his family, but most importantly the Philippine people. As a Filipino-American, I was only familiar with Rizal's name and legacy as a revolutionary for the Philippines. As I decided to go deeper into Rizal's life, I furthered realized he was the perfect candidate to revolve PCN around as he was the epitome of my motives for showing Filipino intellectualism. Thus, history was made: FIA's 2020 PCN Theme was to be a showcase of the life and influence of one of the greatest martyr's of Philippine history: José Rizal.

The Scenes of the Philippine Culture Night

Scene One, The Childhood: Rizal was born in Calamba, Laguna on June 19th, 1861. Rizal was known as a child prodigy - being taught how to read, pray and write poetry by his mother, while private schools and tutors taught him Spanish and Latin. Enrolled in the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and Ateneo Municipal of Manila, Rizal excelled in philosophy, physics, chemistry, natural history, and all forms of art.

Recreation of Rizal's Birth Home at the Rizal Shrine in Calamba

Photo Credit:

Dance One, Tinikling: Charactertzied by the various movements between bamboo sticks mimicking the tikling birds amongst the rice fields, Tinikling is a folk dance derived from the Spanish colonial era. This dance was likely to be performed by students during festivals, with Rizal most likely participating in dancing Tinikling at one point in his life. He was also known to be a very good instructor, so the possibility of him choreographing and teaching his peers is very likely!

Tinikling by Fernando Amorsolo

Scene Two, The Beginnings of a Scholar: While studying Philosophy and Letter for a land surveyor and assessors degree from Ateneo de Manila, Rizal discovered his mother was going blind. Subsequently, he enrolled in the University of Santo Tomas' Medical School to study Opthalmology. During Rizal's studies at UST, he wrote A La Juventad Filipina (To the Filipino Youth). This piece was revolutionary as it was meant to inspire the youth to pursue education and curiosity. Written in Spanish, the Spanish colonizers were able to recognize Rizal's merit, as well as defied the Spanish by having an original uniting piece from a direct Filipino, not a colonizer or foreigner. Due to the controversy of his many pieces, he was unable to complete university at UST due to his "politically independent" views. Expulsion from UST was a blessing from disguise: Rizal snuck away to study in Europe at the Universidad Central de Madrid, where he gained his medical license and prospered in his writings.

Scene Three, An Era of Accolades: Rizal traveled the world on his way to Europe, in pursuit of "cultural curiosity." After studying and gaining his medical license in Madrid in 1884, he attended medical lectures at the University of Paris, the University of Heidelberg, and was inducted into the Berlin Ethnological and Anthropological Society. Amongst his many academic accomplishments in Europe, this was the era in which he wrote some of his most impactful works: Noil me tangere (The Social Cancer, 1887), El filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed, 1891) annotations on Antonio Morga's Sucesos de la Islas Filipinas (1890), and the creation of the famed Barcelona newspaper, La Solidaridad. All pieces of writing criticized Spanish power within the Philippines through stories of political reform, revolution, the erasure of Philippine culture, and Spanish consolidation of the Philippine islands. All pieces of writing left huge impacts in uniting the Philippine people, but also directing the attention of Spanish authority towards Rizal, seeing him as a threat.

Dance Two, Jota de Manileña: Amongst the Maria Clara dance suite, the Jota de Manileña was a courtship dance performed at large social gatherings. As a variation of Castilian Jota, this dance was specific and named after the capital region of Manila. Distinct from other Maria Clara dances, the men lead their female partners on the beat with bamboo castanets. This dance was chosen due to the strong Spanish influence in the choreography, showing how much colonization has integrated within the local culture of the Philippines.

Example of Jota de Manileña Dance Attire

Photo Credits: ECD Dance Company

Scene Four, La Liga Filipina: Rizal returns to the Philippines in 1892, forming La Liga

Filipina. Their goals were to unite the archipelago into one body, provide mutual protection, defend against violence and injustice, encourage education and economic development, and apply the ideas of reform towards the government. The league provided aid and funds to those who involved in the reform movement. However. Four days after it was created, the Spanish arrested Rizal on July 6th, 1892.

La Liga Filipina

Photo Credits: Date and Author Unknown

Scene Five, A Peaceful Exile: Due to the Spanish government viewing Rizal as a threat, he was exiled to Dapitan, Mindanao from 1892-1896. Rizal lived a peaceful life away from the authorities; he owned a school and hospital, designed a water system for the local villages, and owned a farm to invest in the agricultural industry. Amongst his investment in the region, Rizal thrived academically, learning the regional dialects and many Malay languages, while also focusing

on his writings on his exile. During this time, famed Philippine revolutionary, Andres Bonifacio, invited Rizal to join his revolutionary group, the Katipunan. Rizal ultimately did not approve of their violent revolutionary tactics.

Dance Three, Janggay: Hailing from the Muslim region of Mindanao, this dance was derived from the Badjao tribe of the island of Sulu. This dance was performed for special occasions in all-female groups. Costumes were characterized by colorful silk garments and the long metal fingernails similar to "bird dances." Choreography includes graceful movements, with stern focused faces, and elaborate hand movements. This dance was included as Rizal could've seen this during a festival during his many trips around the Mindanao region.

Costume of a Janggay Dancer

Photo Credit: Salamindanao Dance Troupe

Scene Six, The Arrest and Trial of Rizal: Under the guise of sending Rizal to Cuba as a medical doctor to the yellow fever outbreak, the Minister of War recognizes Rizal for his accomplishments in a peaceful exile in Dapitan. He is transferred to a boat "headed" towards Cuba. However, he arrives at Montjuich Castle in Spain in October 1896, cast as a prisoner to the Spanish. His arrest was linked to the sudden revolt of the Kapitunan in which he had no link to. However, with his controversial writings present and popular within the Philippine people, he remained an opponent to the Spanish. He received a trial in Spain, convicting him of treason towards the Spanish. Immediately, he was sent back to Manila for his execution.

Scene Seven, Mi último adiós, The Last Farewell: Rizal writes his goodbye letter to the Philippine people and his family, alone in a jail cell in Manila. This piece of writing was one of the greatest pieces of writing for the unity of the Philippine people, and was perhaps, Rizal's most impactful piece written. Originally dictated in Spanish, the poem has been translated to various languages, including Tagalog and English. For the sake of this piece, I will include the English translation:

"My Last Farewell"

translation by Encarnacion Alzona & Isidro Escare Abeto

Farewell, my adored Land, region of the sun caressed,

Pearl of the Orient Sea, our Eden lost,

With gladness I give you my life, sad and repressed;

And were it more brilliant, more fresh and at its best,

I would still give it to you for your welfare at most.

On the fields of battle, in the fury of fight,

Others give you their lives without pain or hesitancy,

The place does not matter: cypress, laurel, lily white;

Scaffold, open field, conflict or martyrdom's site,

It is the same if asked by the home and country.

I die as I see tints on the sky b'gin to show

And at last announce the day, after a gloomy night;

If you need a hue to dye your matutinal glow,

Pour my blood and at the right moment spread it so,

And gild it with a reflection of your nascent light

My dreams, when scarcely a lad adolescent,

My dreams when already a youth, full of vigor to attain,

Were to see you, Gem of the Sea of the Orient,

Your dark eyes dry, smooth brow held to a high plane,

Without frown, without wrinkles and of shame without stain.

My life's fancy, my ardent, passionate desire,

Hail! Cries out the soul to you, that will soon part from thee;

Hail! How sweet 'tis to fall that fullness you may acquire;

To die to give you life, 'neath your skies to expire,

And in thy mystic land to sleep through eternity!

If over my tomb some day, you would see blow,

A simple humble flow'r amidst thick grasses,

Bring it up to your lips and kiss my soul so,

And under the cold tomb, I may feel on my brow,

Warmth of your breath, a whiff of thy tenderness.

Let the moon with soft, gentle light me descry,

Let the dawn send forth its fleeting, brilliant light,

In murmurs grave allow the wind to sigh,

And should a bird descend on my cross and alight,