José Rizal

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Would you stand up for what you think is right, even against a powerful monarch living across the sea?

José Rizal did.

José Rizal was born in 1861 in the Spanish-ruled Philippines. He was a gifted student, and during his school years became especially skilled in science and languages. He went on to study medicine in Manila and later traveled to Spain to finish his degree.

While in Europe, Rizal began to question Spanish colonialism. He met other like-minded Filipinos intent on rectifying the evils of the then three-centuries-old Spanish colonial system. He formed Los Indios Bravos, an association of Filipino writers whose poems, stories, and newspaper articles demonstrated the current condition of the Philippines at the hands of the Spanish. Their goal was to raise awareness of their cruel and unjust treatment of Filipinos. Los Indios Bravos formed the basis of the Propaganda Movement: a peaceful crusade for social, political, and economic reform in the Philippines.

Rizal wrote his first book at this time, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), which highlighted the role of Spanish Catholic Friars in the colonization of the Philippines. But back home, his book was banned.

Not only that, it put Rizal in grave danger. Authorities openly hunted for him, forcing him to extend his stay abroad. 


Rizal did not let this stop him. He wrote another book, El Filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed), as well as various articles in La Solidaridad, a Spanish publication supportive of the Propaganda Movement. In these works, Rizal advocated for the equal treatment of Filipinos, limitations on the power of Spanish friars, and representation of the Philippines in Spanish parliament.

In 1892, despite the danger, Rizal returned to the Philippines. He hoped to be in a better position to help enact change. He founded the Liga Filipino (Filipino League), through which he called for rights and reforms through non-violent methods. Painted as a radical by the authorities, however, Rizal was exiled to Dapitan on the island of Mindanao. 

In a drastic turn of events, another radical organization rose up in August of 1896. Its members were called the Katipunan. They often resorted to violence, which Rizal did not approve of. Despite his denunciation of the group, Rizal was arrested on charges of sedition, and sentenced to execution by firing squad.

Rizal died on December 30, 1896, at the age of 35. Rather than silencing his voice, however, Rizal's death spawned increased support for his ideals and helped to explode the Filipino movement for independent rule.

Inspired by Rizal, the Katipunan went on to lead the revolution that toppled Spain. Two years later, the Spanish ceased to control the Philippines. Sadly, in another unexpected twist of fate, their hard-fought gains were immediately crushed when the United States invaded in 1899, claiming ownership of the Philippines after having defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War.

The Philippines would not, therefore, gain complete independence until after World War II. 

Rizal is still revered as an instrumental force in the independence movement and is remembered as a Filipino national hero.

José Rizal stayed true to his roots and fought systems of colonial oppression through the educating powers of literature. That's why he's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Candy Gourlay of London, UK, for bringing him to our attention.

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