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Book: “Understanding Rizal”

Understanding Jose RizalRenato Perdon, PO Box 1267, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010Manila Prints Australia, $22.00Reviewed by Aila Lenard

“Understanding Rizal: 2010, Renato Perdon

MANY historians have already written about Jose Rizal. And now Renato Perdon has joined the ranks of the many. For his part, Perdon does not relate Rizal’s narrative at face value or superficially.

His intent is to present episodes from Rizal’s life that show Rizal’s character to be typically Filipino. Perdon uses the term ‘ordinariness’ to convey his belief that Rizal’s character was, in fact, typically Filipino.

According to Perdon, it is essential to understand that there was nothing extraordinary about Rizal, except the circumstances he was thrown into. “We should emulate his life as an ordinary but gifted man, as a member of a typical big family, with loves, frustrations and tribulations, a person with the usual romantic interests as a young man, and not as a person on a high pedestal beyond our comprehension.”

So how ordinary was Rizal? Undoubtedly he possessed a great intellect, and that can’t be ordinary. But in Perdon’s account, his genius is just incidental to the fact that like everyone else, Rizal was capable of emotions typical of his age and his culture.

He was forlorn when he (or others) made mistakes of national consequence. He felt joyous in his many loves. He felt deeply attached to his family, to his religion and to his people. He laughed a lot too which is typically Filipino. His sense of humour, which could sometimes border on the scatological, is very much apparent in his race.

Laughter is a way of life for every Filipino. It sustains them in times of hardship, just laughter helped ease the isolated life Rizal led in a foreign land. Many OFWs, Filipino migrants and poverty-stricken Filipinos find solace in laughter. Like the many Filipinos in this century, Rizal also sought comfort in the company of other expatriates like himself.

According to Perdon, the gatherings he attended in Paris were no different from the get-togethers and parties Filipino migrants organise in other foreign lands. Filipinos abroad are drawn to people like themselves. Rizal, just like present-day Filipinos in diaspora, sought a semblance of home in another land by enjoying the company of his fellowmen.

So how relevant is this knowledge of Rizal’s ordinariness to Filipinos at this particular point in our history? Filipinos, particularly those who live abroad, can take comfort in the knowledge that even great men like Rizal went through the same hardships and disappointments as they may be experiencing right now.

Rizal suffered melancholy from homesickness, experienced prejudice due to the colour of his skin, ran out of funds and even went hungry for days; all these while confronting the nitty-gritty of living in a foreign land. And not surprisingly, there were moments when he almost gave up.

Didn’t he almost throw his life’s work ‘the Fili’ into the fire in a fit of desperation, and was only held back when a friend came to the rescue? Rizal wasn’t always a tower of emotional strength. This, however, is not a sign of weakness but a result of being human. What is admirable about Rizal though, is that he did not choose to remain discouraged. He never ceased striving to improve his condition.

He endured his ordeals, carrying himself with pride all throughout. He was always seeking to excel and to bring honour to his nation despite the great difficulties and hurdles he had to confront. With Rizal as an example, all Filipinos who find themselves in difficult circumstances, can also respond similarly.

There is nothing extraordinary in Rizal’s being that enabled him to withstand all difficulties and strive for greatness. Rizal is just like every Filipino, and as such all can take inspiration from him. Real heroes are not extraordinary mortals by any measure. In placing Rizal on a superman’s pedestal, some historians alienated him from his people. His feats were regarded as humanly unattainable.

Rizal’s ubiquitous perfection is what some history books have emphasised, perhaps just like ‘a great comet whose brilliance is seen only once in two hundred years’ (Blumentritt). Whatever happened to his flaws and weaknesses? Air brushing Rizal’s ordinariness from history books, inadvertently implies that acts of heroism are the sole territory of only a very few extraordinary mortals.

Perdon’s intent in his book, on the other hand, is to redefine Rizal shorn of perfection so that his ordinariness will surface and resonate in each of us. Unravelling the more ordinary qualities of Rizal does not diminish Rizal’s greatness.

It brings him even closer to the Filipino people, particularly the present generation who do not react well to a construct of a superman. The verities of Rizal’s ordinariness can easily be located in the hearts and minds of every Filipino.

Therefore everyone can strive for greatness like Rizal. And when extraordinary circumstances arise that call for heroic acts, everyone will know that it doesn’t take only a genius to respond to the call.

Ordinary mortals can also offer great sacrifices for the good of the country, just like Rizal.