Happy birthday, Pepe

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

On June 19, 1861, José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, a patriot and a man of many letters, was born. José, or Pepe as he was also known, was of mestizo origin with a lineage that could be traced to Fujian China as well as to Spanish descent.

An ophthalmologist by profession, our national hero Jose Rizal was a key member of the propaganda movement who advocated for many reforms for the Philippines under Spanish rule. Rizal is famously known for his works such as the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – national epic treasures that continue to leave behind an enduring legacy for future generations.

But what makes Jose Rizal so special, apart from being a true-blue Gemini like me?

Just a little trivia for those who didn’t know but have some curiosity on astrology, Geminis are ruled by the planet Mercury, which explains Rizal’s love for letters and his endless quest for knowledge. Yes, as a true-blue Gemini, I can relate. That being said, and trivia aside, as we celebrate and commemorate Rizal’s 163rd birthday this year, one can’t help but focus on the many significant things that make our national hero both unique and extraordinary.

They say that so many notable events happened during the month of June in connection to Jose Rizal’s life, which include his romantic relationships, making us think that June brings many stories to light.

Looking at Rizal as compared to other Filipino heroes, perhaps one can say that he is extra special because of his weapon of choice when it came to his approach on nationalism and change – all of which he achieved through his writings. Rizal’s ability to communicate plus his creative skills gave him the genuine advantage of claiming the power of the pen.

Jose Rizal advocated for peaceful reforms and he had a very unique perspective of Philippine society and culture. Through his work, Rizal managed to spark national consciousness among Filipinos, making him stand out from the others. In my opinion, Filipino consciousness is still by far a very big concern even after Rizal’s death.

Having been colonized by the Spaniards and then the Americans for so many years, we have to accept that our national identity still needs some work. Yet, back in the day, as Rizal observed Filipinos over time, he bravely wrote about the ills of society and pointed out what needed to change in order for Filipinos to awaken in terms of both our national and political consciousness.

Jose Rizal championed our aspirations as a nation for social reform through his intelligence and skill as he wrote literature that highlighted the injustice of Spanish rule. Through education and his writings, Jose Rizal sought reforms rather than revolution at a time when he saw that the Philippines was not ready to stand on its own, together with one of his main goals – equality.

I remember studying both the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in high school. I had never loved my Filipino classes more than I did in those days. As a young 15-year-old high school student, I not only had the opportunity to express myself in my official national language but also, I fully remember to this day how my teacher encouraged me to think about the many things that affect society and what I can do to help make a difference.

If you think about it, perhaps a 15-year-old could have been too young to have made changes back then. However, I believe that our lessons on Rizal’s teachings couldn’t have come at a better time when young people can start thinking about what they can do to make their country better, even if that will be done in adulthood.

Building on such consciousness takes time as essentially, our consciousness is always coupled with the awareness of our thoughts, our feelings and our environment and perhaps, one can say that the biggest lesson learned from the life of Rizal and his works can be found in our ability to build critical consciousness.

The ultimate purpose of education, a tool Jose Rizal used, is to help learners develop the necessary critical thought which will then empower them to build a better life as well as their own national identity. Rizal’s works have time and again demonstrated that his vision for a better nation has influenced the generations that have come after him.

My own children have been inspired by his work and his writings have often been a topic of discussion among us in the home. As a family, we recognize Rizal’s aspirations for our country and together, regardless of our age difference, we are able to draw upon our own personal experiences and relate to his writings with regard to elevating our country with seeds of inspiration even in the face of adversity.

To me, and even after 163 years, Rizal will always be an excellent example of what our young people can be in the future if they work hard. That is the very clear message from all that power coming from a pen.

Happy 163rd, Pepe!

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