Rizal honored again in Spain
TO anyone with a modicum of sensitivity, the execution of Jose Rizal must seem like an act of extreme cruelty and injustice. When I read Noli Me Tangere at the age of 21, I did not yet know that he had been shot by my countrymen, although I would have known if I had read the introduction. For me then it was just another reading, a 19th-century novel like so many others, but with the peculiarity that the story takes place in a place I knew nothing about. I was impressed by the construction of the novel, the fine irony of the narrator — imperceptible in all the English translations I have consulted — and Rizal’s skill in handling Spanish. The details of Rizal’s trial only became known to me much later, when I became interested in his biographical vicissitudes. His execution was one of the most infamous chapters of the Spanish presence in the archipelago.
That Rizal’s cause was just, that his defense of the freedoms and autonomy of the Filipinos was legitimate, needed the passage of time to be understood in Spain. One of his bitterest enemies during his lifetime, Wenceslao E. Retana, made amends for his past mistakes with the publication in 1907 of the first complete biography of Rizal, a publishing event that was widely advertised in the Manila newspapers, as I myself have been able to verify. This biography has since been the basis for all biographies that have been published subsequently. Both Retana’s portrait and the foreword by Miguel de Unamuno — the most important Spanish intellectual of the early 20th century — are full of admiration and affection.
To date, 11 editions of Noli Me Tangere have been published in Spain, which indicates that it is a novel that continues to be read with interest, as it deals with universal themes. This novel, moreover, is part of the canonical Biblioteca Ayacucho (Caracas) series, which includes the best works published in Spanish in Latin America. In 2014, the prestigious publishing house Cátedra — where the best works written in Spanish are published in careful editions — included rhe complete poems of Rizal and a selection of his essays. The last Spanish edition of El Filibusterismo was published 10 years ago by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation. I still think that the best way to defend and honor the figure of Rizal is to read what he wrote.
One of the places that is a must stop for all Filipino tourists visiting Madrid is the Rizal monument, located at the corner of a park, not far from the Islas Filipinas subway stop. Unlike the original Manila monument from which it took its inspiration, the selfie lover will find no photo bombers to mar his image. Less known, however, is that the Hotel Inglés, the oldest hotel in Madrid, located on Echegaray Street, hides a corner dedicated to Rizal, as he stayed there during his first visit. More recently, in 2018, a kilometer-long street near Juan Pablo II Park was renamed after José Rizal. The website of the Philippine embassy in Spain contains a detailed list of Madrid places frequented by Rizal and some of his friends.
To me, in general, anything that helps to promote the knowledge of the Philippines, José Rizal and other Filipino intellectuals in Spain is laudable. That is why I think the gesture made on Monday, February 6, by the Cervantes Institute in Madrid is very important. As part of the events of the IX Spain-Philippines Tribune, in a solemn ceremony with high authorities of the two countries (among others, Luis García Montero, director of Instituto Cervantes; Javier Parrondo, general of Casa Asia; Miguel Utray, Spanish ambassador to the Philippines, and Philippe Lhuillier, ambassador of the Philippines to Spain), the legacy of the Philippine national hero was handed over to the Caja de las Letras (a giant safe deposit box, since the headquarters of Instituto Cervantes is located in the former Bank of Spain). This box contains more than 60 legacies (in the form of books, manuscripts, objects, photos, etc.) that since 2007 have been deposited by the most prominent personalities of Spanish-language culture on four continents. This is an act of high symbolic value, a true recognition by the Spanish-speaking world of the quality of Rizal’s writing and a great step in the preservation of his memory in Spain.