Chapter 06: America

The City of Rome

(Rizal sailed from America to England on this celebrated cruise ship)

 

 

 

On February 28, 1888, a year after the publication of Noli Me Tangere, and six months after his arrival in the Philippines, José Rizal sailed from Manila again, by "advice" of the government. The letters he wrote back home show how his heart ached at going, yet his judgment told him that it was best for him to go. The phenomenal effect of Noli Me Tangere made it clear that Rizal could wield a mighty influence through his pen, but to write the truth he would have to go to some country where he would be free from spies or plots. The spot he chose was the Library of the British Museum, the greatest library in the world.

Rizal's own story of his voyage to England, written to his friend Mariano Ponce after he reached London, will interest Filipinos and Americans alike. (01) Nearly every sentence of the first paragraph was packed with fateful significance:

"When I set forth I was already ill, and soon became seasick. We reached Hong Kong, which delighted me. There I was introduced to some leading Spaniards, one of them Varanda, who was, they said, Secretary to General [Emilio] Terrero. I traveled about with him several days, especially on a trip which Varanda, Basa, and I took to Macao, to see that Portuguese colony; and to visit Mr. Lecaroz, in whose house we were guests. Lecaroz, Basa, and the other Filipinos of Hong Kong are partisans and promoters of the book Noli Me Tangere. In Hong Kong I investigated many important matters, for example concerning the riches of the Dominicans, concerning their missions, concerning the Augustinians, etc. There I came to know D. Balbino Mauricio, (02) an unfortunate man worthy of a better fate, and his acquaintanceship was useful for me, for it prepared me for a fate which may be much worse!"

Let us pause to clarify several allusions:
(1) Varanda, the Spaniard, was under orders of the Spanish government not to leave Rizal out of his sight, and he seldom did.

José Maria Basa


(2) Mr. José Maria Basa had been exiled in 1872, a victim of Spanish vengeance for the uprising in Cavite, though he had not a shadow of guilt. A noble gentleman with a beautiful influence on Filipino youth, he became one of Rizal's most trusted friends from the time of this Hong Kong visit, and played a vital part in Rizal's career thereafter.
(3) The study of the Dominicans which Rizal mentions, is to be remembered, because four years later a terrific arraignment of the wealth and greed of that society was found in his sister Lucia's baggage (That is, The Poor Friars), and led to Rizal's arrest, and ultimately to his execution.
(4) Do not fail to notice the effect of D. Balbino Mauricio's suffering: "It prepared me for a fate which may be much worse!" From this time onward Rizal alludes frequently to a presentiment that tragedy lies ahead. He began to see that perhaps one way to save his country would be to go back and let himself be crucified for her.

O-Sei-San was a beautiful Japanese lady who Rizal courted briefly while in Japan
 

His letter continues:

"In about fifteen days I departed for Japan. I was quite seasick again, and arrived in Yokohama on February 28. A few minutes after I reached a hotel, before I had time to brush up, I received a notice that the Spanish chargé d'affaires was calling! They introduced themselves to me with much graciousness, extending me many offers, and proposing that I make my home at the Legation. After making a few excuses, I accepted frankly, for if at bottom they had a desire to watch me, I was not afraid to let them know what I did. I lived in the Legation a little over a month. I was examining some of Japan, at times alone, on other occasions accompanied by a member of the Legation, and sometimes by the interpreter. There I studied the Japanese, and also made a study of their theater. After several offers of employment, which I refused, I departed at length for America."

Rizal modestly omits the fact that in that month he had learned to speak Japanese so well that he could act as interpreter for the Japanese on board. He had a wonderful ear for phonetics and such a power of concentration that neither sound nor meaning escaped him. With his trained and systematic mind he selected, wrote down, and memorized the words in most common use and practiced them every morning, afternoon, and evening, taking pains to pronounce every word, and to speak his sentences exactly like the Japanese. Practice with many other languages had taught him how to proceed in order to learn one of the most difficult of all languages in a month. (03)

When he embarked from Japan his identity was a secret, but not for long. "A young Filipino asked me if I knew 'Richal', author of Noli Me Tangere. I laughed and said, 'Yes, as Aladdin knew Florante.' When he began to speak well of me, I told him I was the same man, after which it was impossible for me not to be known during the journey.

"I became acquainted with a Japanese who was going to Europe, after having been imprisoned because he was a radical and because he had been director of an independent periodical. As this Japanese did not speak any other language than Japanese, I acted as his interpreter until we reached London."

Rizal and his Japanese friend reached San Francisco on April 28, 1888, and started across the continent by rail, both of them sitting in a coach all night to save money. Not a soul in America dreamt that in their midst was a stranger destined to become one of the world's immortals. Very few indeed learned even his name. His letter continues:

"I visited the large cities of America, with their magnificent buildings, their electric lights, and their splendid ideas. America is indubitably a great country, but it also has many defects."
Americans will smart as they read what this genius with a penetrating eye and a painfully accurate pen saw in eighteen days. California labor was at the time in the throes of violent hatred toward Chinese laborers. Besides this there was a cholera epidemic in Asia. For these reasons the treatment of foreigners, always irritatingly rigid, was worse even than usual.

"They do not have true civil liberty. In some states the Negro cannot marry a white woman, nor the white man a Negress. The dislike of the Chinese leads to other Asiatics like the Japanese being mistaken for them by the ignorant, and being disliked. The customs examiners are excessively severe. Nevertheless, as they say truly, America offers a motherland for the poor who wish to work.

"There is, too, much arbitrariness. For example, they put us in quarantine in spite of our having a clean bill of health from the American Consul, in spite of having been nearly a month on the water without having had a single case of illness on board, and in spite of a telegram from the Governor of Hong Kong declaring that port to be clean. The reason was that we carried eight hundred Chinese; and since they were having the elections in San Francisco, the government, in order to capture the sympathy of the public and get their votes, boasted that it had adopted vigorous measures against the Chinese. The quarantine officer notified us verbally without telling us how long it would last; and yet that same day they unloaded seven hundred bundles of silk without fumigating them, the doctor on board went ashore, many employees from the customs house ate on board, as did also the American doctor who had come from the hospital for cholera patients! So we remained on board about thirteen days. Then they permitted only those of us in first class to go ashore, retaining in quarantine for an indefinite period the Japanese and Chinese of second and third class. It is rumored that they disposed of one shipload of about three hundred Chinese by allowing them to die little by little on a boat. I do not know whether this was true."

The above paragraph helps an American to appreciate how the Spaniards must have hated Rizal when he held up this kind of mirror for them to look at, showing every flaw and wrinkle. It would doubtless have been good for America if Rizal had stayed with her a few years and written such a book.

Rizal's journey across America is delightfully told in his diary, written in short sentences and looking as though the track was rough -- as it was in those days! It illustrates the precision with which he saw and recorded everything.

"May 4, at 3 P. M. the quarantine was lifted. I stayed in the Palace Hotel, $4 a day with bath and all. Stockton Street 312. I saw the Golden Gate. On Sunday the stores are not open. The best street in San Francisco is Market Street. Took a walk. [Leland] Stanford is the richest man. We left S. Francisco Sunday the 6th at 4:30 P. M. Ferry to Oakland. Railroad train. Another ferry from Port Costa to Benicia. Fields, and cattle, but neither huts nor herdsmen. A country store. Ate in Sacramento 75¢. We slept in the coach. We got out for an hour at Reno where we had breakfast at 7:35.

"Monday, May 7. I saw an Indian who was dressed half European, half Indian, leaning against a wall. Wide arid deserts with few plants, and without trees or shrubs. Desolate. Solitary. Mountains bare. Sandy. A wide stretch of white ground which looks like gypsum. In the distance, beyond this sandy desert, blue mountains are visible. It is hot, yet there is snow on the tops of some mountains.

"Tuesday May 8. We are near Ogden. I think with irrigation and a good system of canals it would be possible to make these fields fertile. The prairie is strewn with horses, cows and trees. There are cabins in the distance. From Ogden to Denver. We put our watch ahead one hour. Yellow flowers begin to appear by the roadside. The shores of Salt Lake are lovely compared to what we have just seen. The asses are very large. (04) Three little Mormon girls in Farmington. They are few people here excepting Mormons. Dainty houses among the trees, poplars, straight streets, flowers, houses very low. The children speak to us in Salt Lake City. Women are the ones who wait on the tables. We traveled between the mountains through a narrow canyon. Rocks on one side, on other, the river rushing excitedly, giving life to the dead landscape. We got off in Colorado, the fourth state through which we passed. At ten thirty we will climb to the heights where we can get snow along the roadside. Many pine trees. The snow on the mountain is a dazzling, resplendent white. We pass through some wooden tunnels built to protect the road from the snow. The drops of ice in the tunnel spread brilliant reflections from the sun's rays and are like waterfalls of diamonds, magical in their effect. The porter of the Pullman Car, an American, looks like a highwayman.

"Thursday, May 10. Nebraska is a level territory. At four in the afternoon we reached Omaha, the biggest city I have seen since we left San Francisco. The Missouri river is twice as wide as the Pasig is at the widest point. It is muddy; its banks are not pretty. Two and one half minutes to pass over the bridge that spans the Missouri; the train goes slowly. We are in Illinois.

"Friday, May 11. What I observe about Chicago is that every tobacco store has an Indian, and every one is different. 2775 Washington Street, Boston, Miss C. G. Smith (Rizal made her acquaintance on the train.)

Niagara Falls

"Saturday, twelfth: In a good Wagner [eating] Car we ate our breakfast. The country is beautiful and thickly populated. In the afternoon we reached English territory (Canada), and soon we saw the Niagara Falls. We stood several hours to examine the most beautiful points. We went under the waterfall itself. I stood among the rocks, and certainly it was the grandest cascade I have ever seen. Not as pretty nor mysteriously lovely as the Falls at Los Baños (Pagsanjan Falls), but its grandeur is more gigantic and imposing, and baffles all comparison. There is a mysterious sound, an echo pervading everywhere.

"Sunday, May 13: We got out near Albany, which is a big city. The Hudson River, which flows past it, carries a variety of ships. The landscape is beautiful and might make the best in Europe envious. The banks of the Hudson are very beautiful although solitary compared to the Pasig (River). Masses of granite rock have been cut to give passage to the railway. In some places the rocks are immense. There are lovely homes among the trees. Our great transcontinental journey will end at ten minutes past eleven tomorrow."

He stayed in New York three days. In 1883 it was by no means the awe-inspiring city it is today. All it elicited from Rizal was this comment:

"Was in New York; big town, but there everything is new. I visited some memorials to Washington, the great man who, I think, has no equal in this century."

On May 16, 1888, Rizal departed from America.

Dining Room: City of Rome

"The City of Rome is said to be the second largest ship in the world. On board the ship they published a periodical at the end of the voyage. There I became acquainted with many people, and as I carried a yo-yo with me, the Europeans and Americans were astonished to see how I could use it as a weapon of offense. . . I was able to speak to all of them and understand them in their own languages." In fact, as Retana tells us, "Rizal, at the age of twenty-seven, was one of the leading linguists of the world."

When pressed by his fellow passengers to name the languages which he knew, he replied: "Tagalog, (his native tongue), Illocano, Spanish, Latin, Greek, French, German, English, Arabic, Malayan, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Swedish, Dutch, Catalan, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Japanese." A few years later while exiled in Dapitan, Mindanao, he learned three others: Subanon, Visayan, and Russian, the last of these by reading Russian fiction with a dictionary, twenty-two languages in all. (05)  [NOTE: It is the assumption of this Webmaster that Rizal, who may have had some ability in all twenty-two languages, was far more fluent in some of these languages than others.  As an example, it is his assumption that Rizal was far more fluent in Spanish than in Swedish, English, or Japanese.  [Ancient] Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit were "academic" languages that Rizal, no doubt, could, with references, translate but would not have spoken.  -- RLY]

When he reached London, Rizal wrote to his old friend [Dr. Karl] Ullmer of Heidelberg this interesting letter about his departure from the Philippines: (06)

"I have received your kind cherished letter of March 12, which was forwarded to me from the Philippines. I left my country the third of February. I traveled in China, Japan and the United States, and reached here at the end of last month. Here I shall probably remain a couple of years. I hope we may see one another next year. I will go to Belgium in search of a country, (temporarily). After disembarking at Rotterdam, I will go up the Rhine, and come to visit you and your family with whom I have passed such sweet and delightful days.

"I have left my country on account of my book. The Filipino public welcomed Noli Me Tangere very heartedly; the edition is entirely exhausted. The Governor General [Terrero] summoned me and asked me for a copy of it. The friars were most excited. They wanted to persecute me, but they did not know how to get me. The Archbishop threatened to excommunicate me.

"The story of my return [home] would be long to tell and hard to understand for those who do not know life in the Philippines. My family would not allow me to eat in any house, for fear they might poison me. Friends and enemies did me favors; the latter burned my books, the former paid as much as fifty pesos for one copy. The bookstores have made big profit, but I got nothing. The friars urged my exile, but the Governor replied that they would have to bring me before the court, if there was anything illegal that I had done. I left my country in order to give my relatives peace. I am at any rate once more in a free land, breathing the free air of Europe. My fellow countrymen consider me lucky to have escaped unharmed from the Philippines. I feel like the diver Schiller described, who said: I have seen horrible things, monsters which menaced me with their talons; but by the help of God I am again on the surface!"

"Nevertheless I will go back!

José Rizal

A few months later he wrote in The Philippines a Century Hence the following prophecies which are now interesting in the light of the twentieth century, especially to Americans:

"If the Philippines secure their independence after heroic and stubborn conflicts, they can rest assured that neither England, nor Germany, nor France, and still less Holland, will dare to take up what Spain has been unable to hold. Within a few years Africa will completely absorb the attention of the Europeans, and there is no sensible nation which, in order to secure a group of poor and hostile islands, will neglect the immense territory offered by the Dark Continent, untouched, undeveloped and almost undefended.

"China will consider herself fortunate if she succeeds in keeping herself intact and is not dismembered or partitioned among the European powers that are colonizing the continent of Asia.

"The same is true of Japan. On the north, she has Russia, who envies and watches her, on the south she sees England. She is, moreover, under such diplomatic pressure from Europe that she cannot think of outside affairs until she is freed from it, which will not be an easy matter. True it is that she has an excess of population, but Korea attracts her more than the Philippines, and is also easier to seize.

"Perhaps the great American Republic, whose interests lie in the Pacific, and who has no hand in the spoliation of Africa, may some day dream of foreign possession. This is not impossible, for the example is contagious, covetousness and ambition are among the strongest vices, and [President Benjamin] Harrison manifested something of this sort in the Samoan question. But the Panama Canal is not opened nor the territory of the States congested with inhabitants; and in case she should openly attempt it, the European powers would not allow her to proceed, for they know very well that the appetite is sharpened by the first bites. North America would be quite a troublesome rival, if she should once get into the business. However, this is contrary to her traditions.

"Very likely the Philippines will defend with inexpressible valor the liberty secured at the price of so much blood and sacrifice. . . .

"Then the mines will be made to give up their gold for relieving distress, iron for weapons, copper, lead and coal. Perhaps the country will revive the maritime and mercantile life for which the islanders are fitted by their nature, ability and instincts, and once more free, like the bird that leaves its cage, like the flower that unfolds to the air, will recover the pristine virtues that are gradually dying out and will again become addicted to peace -- cheerful, happy, joyous, hospitable and daring.

"These and many other things may come to pass within something like a hundred years."

This remarkable article closes with these words which reveal the heart of Rizal as few other things do:

"A cross on Calvary and a just man nailed thereon changed the ethics of half the human race; and before Christ, how many just men wrongfully perished and how many crosses were raised on that hill! The death of the just sanctified his work and made his teaching unanswerable. . .

"Spain, we have spent our youth in serving thy interests and the interests of our country; we have expended the light of our intellects, all the fervor and enthusiasm of our hearts in working for the good of what is thine, to draw from thee a glance of love, a liberal policy that would assure us the peace of our native land. Spain, thou hast remained deaf, and wrapped up in thy pride, hast pursued thy fatal course and accused us of being traitors merely because we love our country, because we tell thee the truth and hate all kinds of injustice. . . . What dost thou wish us to tell our wretched country, when it asks about the results of our efforts? Spain, must we some day tell Filipinas that thou hast no ear for her woes, and that if she wishes to be saved, she must redeem herself?"

How these paragraphs fit the year 1936! (The date of this book's publication) Independence, Italy in Ethiopia, distracted China, Japan in Manchuria, the gold rush in the Philippines, and the fratricidal war in Spain!
_______________
(01) Written in July 27, 1888. Epistolario Rizalino, 5 vols. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1930-1938, vol. 3, p. 33.
(02) A Filipino exile.
(03) Austin Craig. Rizal's Life and Minor Writings. Manila: Philippine Education Company, 1927, p. 97.
(04) He meant mules.
(05) Dia Filipino, Dec., 1921.
(06) This was printed in the Cologne Gazette. The letter is dated London, June 8, 1883, and quoted in Dia Filipino, Dec. 1919.

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