Insignificant love letters
As 2011 comes to a close, so does the celebration of Rizal’s 150th birth year.
Christmas will come and 2012 will mark the 200th birthday of Melchora Aquino, better known as Tandang Sora, now the name of a bustling Quezon City street. She was born on Jan. 6, 1812, when the Catholic calendar listed the Feast of the Three Kings (Magi in other sources) who followed a star and found the Christ Child in a manger. They paid homage and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Their names have traditionally been known as Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar. Melchora’s parents could have named her Gaspara or Baltazara, and our textbook history would be different since she would have been “Tandang Para” or “Tandang Zara.” I hope that the celebration of Tandang Sora’s bicentennial will be cause to cast the research net anew so that we will know more about women and senior citizens who do not figure in textbook history chapters on the Philippine Revolution.
Contemplating the names: Melchor(a), Gaspar(a) and Baltazar(a) recently brought to mind this passage from Rizal’s journal written shortly before he left for Europe in 1882: “Leonores, Dolores, Ursulas, Felipas, Vicentas, Margaritas, and others: Other loves will hold your attention and soon you will forget the traveler. I’ll return, but I’ll find myself alone, because those who used to smile at me will save their charms for others more fortunate. And in the meantime I fly after my vain idea, a false illusion perhaps.”
Everyone knows that Rizal was associated with not one, but two Leonors: Leonor Rivera or “Taimis” and Leonor Valenzuela or “Orang.” But who was Dolores, Ursula, Felipa, Vicenta, Margarita and the others who used to smile at Rizal? They are lost to history and to an inquiring gossiper like me.
Even Leonor Rivera, his fiancée, who later married an Englishman who worked for the company that built the Manila-Dagupan Railway, what do we know about her? Very little because she is said to have burned all of Rizal’s letters and her own, too. She is said to have re-read all these on the eve of her wedding night, and then she burned them, gathered the ashes and sewed them on the hem of her wedding dress.
That may seem like a cheesy, very romantic thing to do, but if true, whatever love was expressed in those letters was kept there. Some things are meant to be private and are now lost to history.
A handful of letters from Leonor Rivera have survived because they seem to have little significance. On Jan. 2, 1881 Leonor wrote a reply to Rizal’s letter of Dec. 30, 1880. They could not see the future beyond themselves to foretell that on the same date 16 years later Rizal would be shot in Bagumbayan. Leonor wrote:
“If I have not answered your letters, it was not because I am bored corresponding with you. In fact, I wrote replies twice, but on the day I did so, nobody came to visit me at the college [Colegio de la Concordia], so I destroyed them, and besides I was already embarrassed.
“I am doubtful if the letter is yours, because the signature is different. Perhaps you have put another name, fearing that I might despise it and if I despise it, it will not be your name that will be despised but somebody else’s. If that is what you think, you are mistaken for you do not know how glad I am when I receive one of your dear letters; but you did well in putting another name in case, as you say, it fell into the hands of strangers.
“Command your servant who kisses your hand. Taimis”
One wonders why they were so secretive about their letters and their relationship. Why did they use code names, for fear that their letters would fall into the hands of strangers? Were they afraid that the letters might fall into the hands of their parents? It is not well-known that Rizal and Leonor were related. Depending on the source you are reading or listening to, Leonor was either Rizal’s cousin or his aunt. Could this be the reason Leonor’s mother wanted to break their engagement?
The other letter dated Dec. 28, 1881 reads:
“Esteemed José: I would be glad if on the receipt of this you are in good health and happy.
“I was very much surprised that you had a letter for Papa and none for me; but at first when they told me about it I did not believe it, because he did not expect that a person like you would do such a thing. But later I was convinced that you are like a newly opened rose, very flushed and fragrant at the beginning, but afterwards it begins to wither. Before, however, when I did not write you, you wrote me, but now no more. It seems that you have imitated my example when I went to Antipolo and you have done wrong, because I was not at my own house, and besides you know very well that you cannot hide anything from those girls. I could very well write to Papa, but in order that you might not say anything, I did not, although Mama had ordered me to do so. You cannot have these pretexts because you are at your home and nobody meddles with you. Truly I tell you that I’m very resentful for what you have done and for another thing that I’ll tell you later when you come.
“Excuse the writing and all the mistakes you find in it. Command at your pleasure your true servant who kisses your hand. Taimis.”
These letters may be insignificant to history but they remind us that Rizal was human too.
Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.