He may no longer be a household name unlike some five decades ago. Nobody from the present generation would even attribute to him any of the nationalistic fervor it usually cherished sometime past. As a matter of fact, the name Rizal could no longer be related to heroism anymore. It is more often than not a term which is encountered by travellers moving southward from Metro Manila to towns in, yes, Rizal province.
Historian Ambet Anotonio lamented the deterioration of Rizal’s historical importance as his name became brands of various commercial commodities from matches to cement. Of course, his image is everywhere in the grocer’s cahier machine to every common man’s purse. The one peso currency of the country is still the most visible coin when asking for change. It is not only used to toss when a parking attendant gesticulate when a motorist would leave the slot, it is also a thoughtful memento when leaving a carinderia. Of course, no body does this in a five star restaurant.
Ask any from the selfie generation their impression of Rizal and one gets a blank stare. One even tries to rummage his thoughts whether this Rizal is a fellow dancer of Lady Gaga or the musical arranger of Justin Bieber. But for scholars, they who try to replicate erudition, Jose Rizal is the country’s national hero. His significance however could no longer be appreciated from the vantage point of globalism. Rizal stood out as a nationalist and those who espouse this ideological mannerism are either bed ridden already or fighting with Alzheimer’s disease.
Rizal’s importance however does not rest in his occupation at the center of Luneta Park. He was one among the most celebrated Overseas Foreign Worker (OFW) in the late 19th Century. Against family advise and despite economic dislocation, Rizal went abroad. First, to seek advanced education while working on the side. And secondly, although he was apprehended, to evade possible criminal prosecution by joining medics for Mexico.
Europe was foremost considered a paradise during the early stage of the country’s nationhood. It was USA then for us to day. The greener pasture lies in those faraway lands. Salvation from economic ruin is situated somewhere in those lands. That was before as it is today. The Philippines is, yes, one country one could not attain prosperity. No matter how industrious, how creative, how studious one can get, he would not be repaid accordingly. He was born a pauper and chances are, he might get bumped crossing the road and would die a pauper still.
Rizal knew that despite scholarship he would still be a second citizen abroad. Anywhere abroad discrimination then, and even at present, is the order of the day. He may have relished the beautiful landscape, the flawless complexion of women, the democratic space in government and the pervading fairness but he would rather be back to his country. He would rather embrace the dusty posts, the pot-holed streets, the lack of discipline, the intrigues, the roaming grease people, growing number of those packed below poverty line but it is his country of orientation. Rizal, like all OFWs, dreaming of capturing the proverbial gold abroad is a prime concern so that he could bring home the figurative bacon.
Rizal may have been relevant before because of his nationalistic commitment. And Rizal may still be relevant today because of his OFW’s occupational roots. His close friends were all foreigners. He even mastered their language so that he could easily communicate with them. Like an OFW working as domestic in Saudi Arabia, they too have learned not only the language but also their cultural upbringing. Wherever the OFW is, he immediately acculturates accordingly.
Rizal’s term in Germany was a notebook torn from an OFW’s diary. His stint in Spain was a documentary of how an OFW ought to survive. Rizal is still a pertinent reading today. His life is a picture more appreciated as an OFW than a rebel. Rizal was hunted down by invaders and his counterpart today haunted by taxes. There seems to be no difference before as it is today.