Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Rizal and His Legacy

The Rizal Execution monument at Luneta Park, Manila
Rizal is already a household name.

Everywhere you go around the metro, you'll see his name on a street sign, or a school. We have Rizal Avenue, Rizal High School, and Rizal Province. There is the famed Jose Rizal University, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. During our school days, we remember people who were named Rizalyn, Josephine, and the likes. I remember, there was this professor in our university whose first name was Jose Rizal. My aunt, who was born today, is also aptly named Josephine.

Rizal is a favorite among the youth. When asked who their national hero is, the first thing that pops in the mind of an adolescent is him. Well, who couldn't remember? If a child asks for a peso ("Nay, penge piso!"), the first person s/he sees is our national hero. And Rizal seems to have a penchant for the youth as well. "The youth is the hope of the motherland", goes his most popular quoted statement. And yet, if you ask the youth what they know of Rizal, aside from being our national hero, what would they say? Do the youth still know what is his legacy to the generation of today?

I grew up reading about Rizal and his exploits as a young boy in Calamba and as a young man in strange Europe. I am very much knowledgeable of his struggles both as a writer and freethinker. And I know very well the circumstances that led to his death in Bagumbayan that fateful day in 1896. Being interested in history and the social sciences, I was very keen about knowing all the stuff about him.

But what is the implication Rizal's life, works and struggles to a young student taking up, say, engineering, or mathematics? Or how about to a cigarette vendor or an out-of-school youth? Will they able to relate everything he lived up to in their own lives? They're gonna have a struggle of their own.

Nationalism is a coercion of the State, a friend of mine once said, and I believe that. The State forces everyone to study how our heroes struggled to achieve independence for our motherland and to love our country as we love ourselves. It was for this prime reason that Rizal is a mandatory subject in college (and perhaps the most boring for a majority). And yet, despite this coercion, many are still ignorant or indifferent of what it means to be a Filipino. And people still fly away to other countries yearly, for better working opportunities if not for more comfortable lives.

Therefore, for me, nationalism should not be forced upon us. Nationalism is defined as love of one's motherland. Thus, the core of nationalism should be love. But how do you make the study of history focus on this perennial value? How do you make students love Rizal? The challenge lies with our teachers. Instead of teaching trivial facts about Rizal's life, works and struggles, I believe we must focus on enduring understandings of his principles in life -- his legacy to our nation.

What is Rizal's legacy to our generation?

Since his childhood, Rizal has shown this can-do spirit. He was a boy advanced in learning  compared to his contemporaries. At a young age, he was well-versed and skilled in writing and also showed potential for leadership. As a physician and ophthalmologist, he contributed to the betterment of the well-being of his patrons in Hong Kong, Calamba, and Dapitan. As an artist, he sculpted and painted some of the finest works of art a Filipino can make. He even translated some of Europe's famed literature for the enjoyment of the children of his time. He has traveled the world before his thirties and has crossed paths with some of the respected and well-known minds of his time such as Feodor Jagor and Ferdinand Blumentritt to name a few. He has written two full novels detailing the condition of the Philippines under Spanish and had died at a ripe age of 35 due to his freethinking activities.

Rizal had done all this. And what he would like us to know is that we can do it too. We can be heroes in our own right, in our own time. He is a hero not because of family, or circumstance. Bonifacio is a hero too and yet he was from humble beginnings. Rizal only meant to say that even while young, it is possible for the youth to achieve what it envisions for itself and for its people. And we have some young heroes in our midst today, people like 2009 CNN Hero of the Year Efren PeƱaflorida who has helped the slums of Cavite City get an education, artists like Pepe Diokno who at a young age of 22 has won the Biennale, the top award in the Venice International Film Festival for his film Engkwentro.

Rizal did it in his own lifetime. We can do it. The youth is a force to reckon with. It is just a matter of uniting and directing our energies for the betterment of our society.

Let us remember Rizal today in your own and humble way!

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