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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,

Let the bird intone a song of peace o'er my site.

Let the burning sun the raindrops vaporize

And with my clamor behind return pure to the sky;

Let a friend shed tears over my early demise;

And on quiet afternoons when one prays for me on high,

Pray too, oh, my Motherland, that in God may rest I.

Pray thee for all the hapless who have died,

For all those who unequalled torments have undergone;

For our poor mothers who in bitterness have cried;

For orphans, widows and captives to tortures were shied,

And pray too that you may see your own redemption.

And when the dark night wraps the cemet'ry

And only the dead to vigil there are left alone,

Don't disturb their repose, disturb not the mystery:

If thou hear the sounds of cithern or psaltery,

It is I, dear Country, who, a song t'you intone.

And when my grave by all is no more remembered,

With neither cross nor stone to mark its place,

Let it be plowed by man, with spade let it be scattered

And my ashes ere to nothingness are restored,

Let them turn to dust to cover thy earthly space.

Then it doesn't matter that you should forget me:

Your atmosphere, your skies, your vales I'll sweep;

Vibrant and clear note to your ears I shall be:

Aroma, light, hues, murmur, song, moanings deep,

Constantly repeating the essence of the faith I keep.

My idolized Country, for whom I most gravely pine,

Dear Philippines, to my last goodbye, oh, harken

There I leave all: my parents, loves of mine,

I'll go where there are no slaves, tyrants or hangmen

Where faith does not kill and where God alone does reign.

Farewell, parents, brothers, beloved by me,

Friends of my childhood, in the home distressed;

Give thanks that now I rest from the wearisome day;

Farewell, sweet stranger, my friend, who brightened my way;

Farewell to all I love; to die is to rest.

Scene Eight, Martyrdom: Rizal was brought to an open field in Manila for public viewing of his execution via firing squad. The priests blessed Rizal one last time. Rizal's request to face the firing squad was denied. He was last seen alive with his back to the firing squad, face up to the sun. He was executed at 7:03 AM on December 30th, 1896 at the age of 35 years old.

Depiction of Jose Rizal's Execution

Photo Credit: nikkolim02 on


The Impact of Mi último adiós

Following the annexation of the Philippines by the United States, American representative for the management of Philippine Affairs, Henry. A Cooper, read Rizal's piece before the US Congress. Moved by this piece of writing, the US government enacted the Philippine Bill of 1902, allowing self-government of the Philippine Islands by the Filipinos themselves. At this time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in place, as well as African Americans were not yet seen as US citizens. This was a historical move by the United States. Shortly after, the Philippine Assembly was made, two Filipino delegates were appointed to the US Congress, Filipinos were included under the Bill of Rights, and the foundation for a true autonomous government was laid, all because of Mi último adiós. Today, Rizal is viewed as one of the primary figures of the push for Philippine Independence, as he is the acclaimed national hero of the Philippines. His works are studied by students across the world. December 30th is known as Rizal Day in the Philippines, to celebrate his legacy. Many memorials, towns, universities, and streets are named after Rizal in the Philippines, with the most notable monument to him being Rizal Park in Manila.

The Rizal Monument, located in Rizal Park, Manila


The Team Behind Philippine Culture Night

Filipino's in Alliance at the University of Illinois at Chicago was very excited to perform this story for our organization, university, families, and members of the MAFA organization. Their work and excitement deserve to be recognized!

Philippine Culture Night Board of Directors 2020

Director of Philippine Culture Night - Gabriel Aco

Logistics Director - Samantha Dabu

Treasurer - Kayla Busen

Advisors - Joy Salandino, Andrea Ytem, Sergio Cadiena

Media Creations - Dana Liang

Stage Managers - Patrick Cayanan, Sergio Cadiena

Masters of Ceremonies - Gabrielle Vergara, Andrea Ytem

Promotions Officers - Aaron Assidao, Chris San Juan, Gabrielle Vergara

Choreographers - Mark Duong, Ephraim Ampo, Matthew Villalon, Ashley Yaybes

FIA Cultural: Dancers and Actors for Philippine Culture Night

Cultural Coordinators: Mark Duong and Ephraim Ampo

Nathan Gorospe as José Rizal

Mikaela Mercado as Leonor Rivera

Chris San Juan, Ria Jessica Bonjoc, Mark Duong, Andrea Ytem, Danica Triunfante, Luke Paculba, Ella Ramos, Kyle Chandetka , Manda Thai, Justin Acar, Monina Aquino, Tristan Maltizo, Lauren Dimayuga, Gabriel Punzalan, Evelyn Lu, PJ Acar, Kelly Hansen, Ethan Nguyen, Ashley Fanco, Matthew Villalon, Ashley Yabes, Julian Ramirez, Megan Lu, Earl Joshua Penados, Jurdean Awit, Ryan Vo, Rosie Genel, Sara Gonzales, Andrea Maklian, Joy Salandino, Lyka Marie Sanoy, Karen Cumba, Susy Morales, Tam Le, Kim Evangalista, Camille Tolentino, Alyssa Valena, Mia Catalla, Jared Mansuig, AJ Bingayen, Raizel Arceo, CJ Cabrera, Nathan Chau

FIA Cultural - Spring 2020

FIA Cultural is the defining Filipino performing arts group at the University of Illinois at Chicago. We welcome all people to join FIA Cultural to celebrate traditional Philippine dance amongst the youth. Come and check us out at any of our performances throughout the year, including PCN, Battle of the Bamboo, and any other gigs!

FIA Liwan: To perform the Philippine and American National Anthem, as well their OPM Medley

FIA Liwan - Spring 2020

Liwan Directors: Gwyneth Hu, Raye Ann Abante

Instrumentalists: Paulene Gonzales, Jason Hermoso, Josh Gonzales

Singers: Carmela Aldea, Irisha Banal, Marchete Pendon, Rosie Genel, Michelle Lagarda, Ashley Batac, Ashley Yabes, Julian Bautista, Michael Sapitula, Alex Sayvongs, Daniel Onal, Matthew Villalon, Jake Armea

FIA Liwan is the shining pearl amongst FIA's performing arts subgroups. They perform a variety of arrangements at a multitude of performances within the UIC community and the entire Midwest region. They're high in demand - so consider them for a chance to perform at your local event! Follow their subgroup on Instagram at @fialiwan for updates!

FIA Modern: Show Openers

FIA Modern - Spring 2020

Modern Directors: Elijah Mangaba, Miko Abastillas

Creative Director: Josh Dimaculangan

Dancers: Miko Abastillas, Minca Amponin, Kyle Angeles, Monina Aquino, AJ Bingayen, Hannah Chaddha, Josh Dimaculangan, Jazzmin Ford, Nathan Gorsope, Maylea Herrera, Julienne Jimenez, Zachary Lavengco, Martin Le, Sally Le, Dana Liang, Bea Lichauco, Nico Maghanoy, Elijah Mangaba, Michelle Nguyen, JJ Rivera Raguay, Marvin Roque, Ella Shealy, Camille Tolentino, Jacob Torres-Dunn

FIA Modern is one of UIC's Premier modern dance group! They bring an energy unseen to each of their performances. Check them out at some of their big events: World of Dance Chicago, Urbanite Chicago, and Prelude Midwest! Follow them @fiamodern to catch any updates!


A Note from the Author

I hope this piece has inspired you to look back at our history. It is essential to understand our roots, but to explore even further as to why our origins came about in the way they did: to know the names of those who sacrificed for our people, to understand the institutions that erased our culture, to analyze carefully so we don't allow history to repeat itself. I want my audience to understand the Philippine people are capable of making history, for standing up for ourselves, and that we are able to create a better future for ourselves, even if it requires sacrifice. I encourage you all to find the inner Rizal in you - to find a passion that you will fight for regardless of any situation; that you know in your heart, you will end up leaving a legacy that will impact the lives for generations beyond.

- Gabriel Aco

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