In Rizal’s wake

/ 05:20 AM December 30, 2018

Launched on the full moon of November a breath away from Christmas, the book “Rizal Plus” turns out to be everyone’s book.

Rizal’s death 122 years ago mirrored our nation at the eve of its birth. This book dives into what happened as indios-turned-Filipinos discovered their own “inner Rizal.”


With as many points of view as possible in a single book, it’s the antithesis of the imperial orthodoxy that killed our hero, then tried to deflect the killer impact of his two novels from a new generation. With the sensibility we now call “Aquarian,” this is a rich tapestry of so many “inner Rizals.”

For one, historian Victor Z. Torres’ essay, “A Fake Rizal Poem: Sa Aking Mga Kabata,” rejects false hagiography on both sides of the colonial divide. With linguistics, orthography and Rizal’s own writings, Torres confirms the earlier conclusion of fellow scholars that an 8-year-old in Calamba never wrote that poem, as five generations of schoolchildren learned and still do.


Did the poet Herminigildo Cruz attach the new hero’s name to what looks like his own poem in his book on Balagtas in 1906? Did he put “Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika ay masahol pa sa hayop at malansang isda” in the mouth of a young Rizal as the Americans took over Tagalog culture with English?

So many “inner Rizals” converge in this book, from the deep pool of racial memory in a people who won their sovereignty twice over and now struggle to fulfill it.

Challenging orthodoxy of the church kind continues in a theosophical reading of Rizal’s astrological chart, a poet contemplating Rizal’s Freemasonry with historical understanding, and two ecologists reflecting on Rizal’s near-animist love for nature.

As Chinoy historian Wilson Lee Flores retraces Rizal’s great-great-grandfather Domingo Lamco’s migration from Xinjiang, China, to Biñan, Laguna, next we glimpse the nascent world citizen.

In Rizal’s own philosophical reflections on travel, illustrated by archival and latter-day photos of the Europe and America he visited, studied, wrote and published in, we see the universal man growing to full height.

The historians, humorists, filmmakers, poets, fictionists (a gun-fancier among them) following in his wake, along with book progenitor Victor Jose Peñaranda, editor Alfred “Krip” Yuson, publisher Boy Yuchengco and visual artist Edd Aragon, are the plus in “Rizal Plus.” Their own genii asking questions that lead to answers that lead to more questions widen the ground our genius of a hero died to win.

Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.


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