A hero or heroine (Ancient Greek: ἥρως, hḗrōs) is a person or character who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, displays courage or self-sacrifice — that is, heroism — for some greater good; a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Historically, the first heroes displayed courage or excellence as warriors. The word’s meaning was later extended to include moral excellence.
Across the street from the Schaffhausen train station is a plaque on the side of the Backwerk (a bakery) and Credit Suisse (a bank) shared building, in English (!):
“Jose Rizal (1861 – 1896), national hero of the Philippines, with Dr. Maxima Viola, stopped at Hotel Müller, 2 – 3 June 1887.”
Now this kind of dedication is not that unusual in other countries like the US (“George Washington slept here.”) or Germany (“Goethe puked here!) or Canada (“This room was the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s 1969 Bed-In for Peace.”), but what is unusual is how subtle this plaque is amongst its surroundings and that it is dedicated to a person from so faraway.
Understandably, my curiosity was piqued.
José Protasio Mercado Rizal y Alonzo Realonda (June 19, 1861 – December 30, 1896) was a Filipino nationalist, novelist, poet, ophthalmologist, journalist, and revolutionary.
He is widely considered one of the greatest heroes of the Philippines.
He was the author of Noli Me Tángere(Touch me not), El Filibusterismo (the Filibuster) and a number of poems and essays.
He was executed on December 30, 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army.
Jose was born to the wealhy Mercado-Rizal family, one of the most prestigious Filipino families during that time, in Calamba, Laguna, of the Philippines. He had nine sisters and one brother.
From an early age, Jose proved he was unique. He learned the alphabet by age 3 and could read and write at age 5.
From early childhood, Jose and his brother Paciano were already advancing unheard of political ideas of freedom and individual rights which infuriated the authorities.
In all his studies he was declared “sobresaliente” (outstanding).
He obtained a land surveyor and assessor´s degree as well as a legal degree.
Upon learning that his mother was going blind, he switched to medicine specializing in ophthalmology.
Rizal was a polymath, skilled in both the sciences and the arts.
He painted, sketched, and made sculptures and woodcarving.
He was a prolific poet, essayist and novelist.
He was also a polyglot, conversant in 21 languages.
He was an opthamologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist.
Besides poetry and creative writing, he was an expert in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting.
Almost everything in his short life is recorded somewhere, being himself a regular diarist and prolific letter writer.
He travelled throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.
He lived for a time in Hong Kong before moving back to the Philippines in 1892.
His writing angered both the Spanish colonial elite and many educated Filopinos due to his criticism of Spanish friars and the power of the Church.
It was felt that Jose was an inciter of revolution.
The core of his writing centres on liberal and progressive ideas of individual rights and freedom, specifically for the Filipino people.
– that the Philippines be made a province of Spain. (The Philippines were a subcolony of New Spain (today’s Mexico), adminsistered from Mexico City.
– representation in the Cortes (Parliament)
– Filipino priests instead of Spanish friars
– freedom of assembly and speech
– equal rights before the law for both Filipino and Spanish plaintiffs
He formed a civic movement called La Liga Filipino, which advocated moderate social reforms through legal means. But this was disbanded by the Governor and Rizal declared an enemy of the state by the Spanish authorities because of his writing.
He was deported to a faraway island in the Philippines, where, undaunted, Rizal built a school, a hospital and a water supply system.
He taught and engaged in farming and horticulture.
His curriculum also included English as a foreign language (which was both far-seeing and unusual for this time).
He sought to teach his students resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.
During his four-year exile on the island, the Philippine Revolution broke out.
The courts tried to prove his complicity in this Revolution, but Rizal condemned the uprising, even though the main leaders of the Revolution used his name as a cry for war, unity and liberty.
He issued a manifesto disavowing the Revolution and declared that the education of Filipinos and their achievement of a national identity were prerequisites to freedom.
Rizal was tried before a military court for rebellion, sedition and conspiracy, was convicted on all three charges and sentenced to death.
Moments before his execution on 30 December 1896, by a squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army, a back-up force of regular Spanish Army troops stood ready to shoot the executioners should they have failed to obey orders.
Rizal was a contemporary of Gandhi, Tagore and Sun Yat Sen, who advocated liberty through peaceful means rather than by violent revolution.
Rizal would only support violent means as a last resort.
He believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government was the restoration of the dignity of the people.
“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?”
The Rizal Monument now stands near the place where he fell.
The monument, which also contains his remains, was designed by Richard Kissiling, the Swiss man who designed the William Tell sculpture in Altdorf, Canton Uri.
The monument carries the following inscription:
“I want to show to those who deprive people the right to love of country, that when we know how to sacrifice ourselves for our duties and convictions, death does not matter if one dies for those one loves – for his country and for others dear to him.”
The Rizal Law of 1956 requires all high school and colleges to offer courses about his life, works and writings.
Monuments erected in his honor can be found in: Madrid, Tokyo, Wilhelmsfeld, Heidelberg (Germany), Jinjiang (China), Chicago, Jersey City, Honolulu, San Diego, Mexico City, Lima (Peru), Litomerice (Czech Republic), Singapore, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.
Nearly every town and city in the Philippines contains a Rizal Street or Rizal Avenue, as does a road in New Delhi.
10 towns and cities in the Philippines are named after him.
There is a Rizal Bridge and Rizal Park in Seattle.
Movies have been made both about his life and his novels.
Some of his most famous lines:
– “Our liberty will not be secured at the sword’s point. We must secure it by making ourselves worthy of it. And when the people reach that height, God will provide a weapon, the idols will be shattered, tyranny will crumble like a house of cards, and liberty will shine out like the first dawn.”
– “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.”
Do we need another hero?