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Homesick in Madrid

MADRID IS one of my favorite cities, because of its museums, cuisine and the warmth of its people who maintain a special affection for Filipinos. A Filipino historian can trace so much history in Madrid’s streets. Like the Avenida de Filipinas that leads to a monument exactly like the one we have in Luneta. Celia Ana Feria of the Philippine Embassy has been busy coordinating events connected with [email protected]: a photo exhibit on Rizal sent by our Historical Commission that was installed in the busy “Islas Filipinas” Metro stop, my Rizal lecture in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the naming of the Jardin Rizal, and the inauguration of a “Sentro Rizal” in our embassy by Sen. Edgardo Angara and our Ambassador Carlos Salinas.

On my first night here we had tapas in a restaurant with Filipino staff in an area frequented by Rizal over a century ago. Walking in Madrid reminds me of the effort it took to unlearn the anti-colonial brainwashing we get in school. While we must remember Gomburza, Rizal, the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the abuses of the Guardia Civil and some friars best remembered as Damasos and Salvis, we must come to terms with our past. One must remember, understand and move on—the reason we celebrate the little known Filipino-Spanish Friendship Day every year on June 30.

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Rizal felt at home in Europe in the same way Filipinos today feel at home in the United States. When he arrived in Madrid in 1882 via Marseilles and Barcelona, he wrote: “Tell your friends, those who have means, that I invite their sons to come to these countries. I should like the coming generation, the generation that will govern and lead Calamba by the beginning of the 20th century, to be enlightened, brilliant, intelligent, and progressive.”

His letters to his family often refer to his allowance, and narrate his experiences in relation to memories of home. To save money he didn’t take a bath for over three months:

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“I thought you were already very tired of angling and boating in the river, fishing day and night. If I were there, then we would still go fishing. Has our river become deeper than it was formerly? When I get home, I’ll indulge in bathing to satiety. You wouldn’t believe it that since the middle of August I haven’t taken a bath and I haven’t perspired either. That is so here. It is very cold and a bath is expensive. One pays thirty-five cents for one . . .”

From a budget noted in his diary, one can see that his frequent and biggest expense was for books and postage stamps. In the age before cell phones and the Internet, letters were written by hand. In a letter to his sister Panggoy (Josefa) he said:

“Yesterday I received your letter together with that of Sra. María. So that you may not say that I don’t answer you, I’m now going to write you, although it seems I shall lack time. I have already finished fourteen letters and yours is the shortest, because I have run out of things to say. I’m waiting to receive some guava jelly, which I guess is made by Father or Sra. Neneng, because someone here has asked me for it. Don’t put me to shame. At the forthcoming carnival I’ll wear my gauze shirt. If my salacot made of horn were here, I think it will attract attention. What a pity I didn’t ask that it be sent here!

“Trining doesn’t write me. I don’t mind Choleng, because she is not at home; maybe they wouldn’t let her write or she is not ordered to write. At any rate, all of you or you alone write me often, so that you’ll get used to it. Put together all your letters in one envelope and weigh them. If they are less than 15 grams, then they will not require more than one stamp. I say this because it seems that you are afraid the letter would become heavy: Don’t expect me to become white and look like a Spaniard. Is Sra. Ipia there already? Do her eyes still become small when she laughs?”

He described winter in Madrid in January 1883:

“It began to rain, which was a pleasure, but it was a fine rain, ticatic as we say over three, lasting one week. The streets were filled with dirty and thick mud, the ground was slippery, and between the holes in the old and worn-out pavement were pools of water and little marshes like the lubluban ng mga carabao. Afterwards a cold that penetrates through the marrow of the bones ensues, which is the limit. How ugly was Madrid! The sidewalks and the streets are full of umbrellas whose merciful points left many one-eyed. When least expected, a wind would blow turning the unfortunate umbrella inside out, placing the owner of such a flexible gadget in a ridiculous and serious embarrassment. At least over there (Philippines), when it rains, it rains heavily enough to wash the streets, and the houses have eaves under which one can take shelter, but here the rain is very fine like matang Europa. Then the newspapers speak of storm; but my God, what storm?”

Homesickness and loneliness run over many of Rizal’s letters to his family. He coped by remembering loved ones, recalling in his mind’s eye the familiar places, the sounds, tastes and smell of the Philippines. Rizal’s letters are relevant to overseas Filipino workers today. If they read the letters, they will see beyond the textbook hero and see themselves through the mirror of history.

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TAGS: columns, History, Jose Rizal, Madrid, opinion
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