José Rizal ’s 160th Birthday: Life and Everything We Didn’t Know About Rizal

Jose Rizal Biography

José Rizal is turning 160 years old on June 19, 2021. As we commemorate the birth anniversary of this Philippine hero, let us also recall the significant events in his life: from the birthplace of Jose Rizal and Jose Rizal’s education to Rizal’s writings that somehow awakened Filipinos to revolt against their Spanish colonizers.

Without a doubt, Jose P Rizal is one of the most admired Filipino figures in the Philippine history for his heroic acts. In this blog, get to know this brave young man and how he shaped history with the works of Rizal.

*Cover photo sources: Left (Wikimedia Commons) | Right (Wikimedia Commons)

Who is José Rizal?

Dr. Jose Rizal is a man of many things⁠—a patriot, physician, writer, an inspiration, and a Philippine hero. He was born in Calamba, Laguna to Teodora Alonso Realonda and Francisco Mercado. Jose Rizal’s birthday is June 19, 1861. 

What’s inside this blog?

Full Name of Jose Rizal

jose rizal from NCCA

Photo credits to NCCA Official via Flickr

The full name of Jose Rizal is José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda. But when Doc Jose Rizal was still young, he went by several names.

When he was young, he was known in his family as “Pepe.” But as he grew old, he grew smarter, stronger, and more famous for so many things.

Doc Jose Rizal was known for his strong criticisms against the Spaniards and he spread the word without using the full name of Jose Rizal. Not that we’re saying he isn’t brave enough to write his opinion because he hid his identity—in fact, he’s one of the bravest Filipinos in history—using the real name of Jose Rizal wouldn’t be a smart choice because if the pen names of Jose Rizal weren’t used, who knows, the Filipinos might not gain its independence sooner. Here are the pen names of Jose Rizal that changed the Philippine history.

Laong Laan

The pen name of Jose Rizal when he was a contributor of poems and articles for the Spanish newspaper “La Solidaridad” was Laong Laan. It was the name of a railway station in Manila and goes by the meaning “ever ready”.

La Solidaridad was an organization created in Spain composed of Filipino liberals exiled in 1872 and students attending Europe’s universities, and issued a newspaper of the same name published in Barcelona, Spain. 

Aside from Doc Jose Rizal, others who contributed to La Solidaridad and used pen names were Marcelo H. del Pilar (Plaridel), Mario Ponce (Naning, Kalipulo or Tigbalang), Antonio Luna (Taga Ilog) and Jose Maria Panganiban (Jomapa).

Dimasalang

Dimasalang, on the other hand, was also the pen name of Jose Rizal. When he served as a correspondent of the same Spanish newspaper La Solidaridad, the full name of Jose Rizal was not used. Dimasalang means “untouchable.”

May Pagasa

When Doc Jose Rizal transferred to Madrid and became a member of Freemasonry, he used the pseudonym “May Pagasa” which means “there is hope.”


Jose Rizal Birthday

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The birthday of Jose Rizal is June 19, 1861. This year is his 160th birth anniversary. The birthplace of Jose Rizal is in Calamba, Laguna.


Biography of Jose Rizal

young jose rizal

Photo source: Wikidata

Complete Name of Rizal: José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda
Rizal Bday: June 19, 1861
Hometown: Calamba, Laguna

From the José Rizal education to the works of Jose Rizal, you can learn it all here (and everything you probably don’t know yet about the Philippine hero) in this biography of Jose Rizal.


The Young Rizal Life

Born to an affluent family with Doña Teodora Alonso Realonda and Don Francisco Mercado being his parents, Jose P Rizal grew up in what was said to be the first stone house in Calamba, Laguna. They were also the ones first to own a piano, a home library, and stables and carriage. Their family, the Mercados, were among the richest in Calamba.

According to experts, Rizal’s boyhood is typical, similar to other kids his age. From telling stories of his crushes to experiencing beatings, Rizal was like any other boy. Except for the fact that he was really a bright young kid. Jose Rizal’s education started at home with his mom and aunt as his first teachers. His early studies also started with his teacher Justiniano Aquino Cruz. He learned the alphabet from his mother at the age of 3 and could read and write at age 5.


Rizal’s Education: A Man of Many Professions

jose rizal and the group

Photo source: Wikiwand

At the age of 11, he entered the Ateneo school then located at the Intramuros in Manila, and he was initially denied entry. But with their family’s connections, Doc Jose Rizal was allowed to study at the premier school despite knowing very little Spanish. During José Rizal education at the Ateneo, he felt isolated because most of his classmates were mestizos and he was a dark-skinned Filipino boy.

As time passed, Rizal’s life in Ateneo became more bearable. He rose through the ranks, being one of the top-performing students. He excelled in every subject he took. He was, indeed, a bright young boy.

To grant his father’s request, Rizal took the entrance examination in Colegio de San Juan de Letran but then enrolled at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and graduated as one of the nine students in his class recognized as sobresaliente or outstanding. Rizal continued his education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila to obtain a land surveyor and assessor’s degree, and at the same time at the University of Santo Tomas where he did take up a preparatory course in law and finished with an excellent mark. 

When Rizal found out that his mother Teodora Alonzo was going blind, he decided to take up medicine at the medical school of the University of Santo Tomas specializing later in ophthalmology. As expected, Rizal finished his medical studies with flying colors. 

But the story of Jose Rizal ’s education didn’t stop there. In May 1882, Rizal traveled alone to Madrid without his parents’ knowledge but he was secretly supported by brother Paciano. There she studied medicine at the Universidad Central where he earned a degree. 

At 25, Rizal completed his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker in 1887. There he used the newly-invented ophthalmoscope to later operate on his own mother’s eye. 

Apart from being known as a poet, an essayist, and an expert in the field of medicine, Rizal has other amazing talents worth taking note of. He knew how to paint, sketch, and make sculptures, and became a polyglot as he can converse in 22 languages. Aside from medicine, poetry, and creative writing, Rizal had other degrees in architecture, sociology, anthropology, fencing, martial arts, and economics to name a few.


The Women in the Life of José Rizal

This Philippine hero was known to have loved many girls (where some said he loved at the same time). But to many people’s surprise, Rizal wasn’t really the “handsome” type of guy that a woman would be attracted to in a first impression. As experts said, Rizal was not born a “cute baby”. But perhaps, with his charisma, intelligence, wit, and gentlemanliness, that caught the attention and hearts of nine different women.

1. Segunda Katigbak

Who she is: The first love of Rizal. Segunda was the sister of Mariano Katigbak, Rizal’s friend and classmate. 

How they met: There’s no written work that says how the two exactly met but knowing that Segunda studied in the same school as Rizal’s sister, he did the most logical thing that other boys would have done as well: visit La Concordia College more frequently, superficially to see his sister, but mostly to get a glimpse of Segunda.

How it ended: As the story goes, Rizal told Segunda that he was returning home to Calamba for the New Year. He told Segunda that he might see her when her steamer docks at Biñan and she passes through Calamba on her way to Lipa. Rizal waited for her and he did see her pass by on a carriage, she even waved to him but instead of following her, Rizal chose to go home.

2. Leonor Valenzuela

Who she is: Leonor or “Orang” was Rizal’s girl-next-door affair. 

How they met: Orang was Rizal’s neighbor when he stayed in Intramuros while studying at the University of Santo Tomas. The story goes that he wrote love letters to her in invisible ink to allegedly cover up his indiscretion, as he was also pursuing his next love, Leonor Rivera, at the time.

How it ended: Rizal may have been infatuated with Orang, but it’s likely that Orang didn’t feel the same way about him. Orang continued on with her life, entertained other suitors, and did not shed a tear when Rizal left the country.

3. Leonor Rivera

Who she is: Rizal’s cousin and childhood sweetheart. His most significant love and heartbreak. Leonor was the daughter of a cousin of Rizal’s father.

How they met: The love story of the two started at a young age. They met in Manila when Leonor was 13 years old, and even as Rizal left for Europe two years later, the two kept up their communication, which kept Rizal inspired during his studies. 

How it ended: Rizal’s letters to Leonor went unacknowledged for a whole year because it turned out Leonor married another guy. Leonor’s mother didn’t want Rizal to end up with her daughter so she convinced Leonor to marry Henry Charles Kipping, an English railway engineer. Not that Leonor wanted to, but her mother convinced her after she said Rizal was engaged to Ferdinand Blumentritt’s daughter.

4. Consuelo Ortiga y Rey

Who she is: She was the daughter of Don Pablo Ortiga, a former mayor of Manila.

How they met: As written in Consuelo’s diary, she first met Rizal in Madrid on September 16, 1882, and apparently they talked the whole night. Consuelo had a penchant for asking Rizal to write her poems and verses, and he would happily comply. The most well-known of these is entitled A La Señorita C.O. y R.

How it ended: The story ended because Rizal was the best bud and the “two-timer”. Eduardo de Lete, one of Rizal’s compatriots, apparently was attracted to Consuelo. It forced Rizal to back out of whatever budding relationship he had with her. Another reason is that Rizal was still engaged to Leonor Rivera that time.

5. Seiko Usui

Who she is: Seiko Usui is  the “O-Sei-San” that Rizal called. The 23-year-old lady worked at the Spanish Legation in Tokyo. 

How they met: Then 27-year-old Rizal started working at the Spanish Legation in February 1888. He saw Seiko walking in the garden and caught his attention and asked the gardener who she was. Because Seiko spoke both English and French, the two managed to build up a friendship and eventually a relationship. Seiko also taught him Japanese and their dates were spent mostly exploring parks, shrines, and museums such as the Imperial Art Gallery.

How it ended: After a month-long relationship, Rizal had to leave for San Francisco in April 1888.

6. Gertrude Beckett

Who she is: Gertrude, or Gettie as what Rizal called her, was the daughter of Charles Beckett, Rizal’s landlord when he stayed in London in May 1888.

How they met: After his stay in the US, Rizal traveled to London and stayed in the boarding house run by Charles Beckett. Gettie had her eyes on Rizal, helping him with his artwork. Her assistance helped Rizal finish his works ‘Prometheus Bound’, ‘The Triumph of Death over Life,’ and ‘The Triumph of Science over Death.’

How it ended: Some sources said that it was only Gettie who wanted more out of their friendship, while others said that Rizal got cold feet, which made him decide to leave London for Paris in March 1889, perhaps in an effort to let Gettie down easy.

7. Suzanne Jacoby

Who she is: Suzanne was a Belgian woman who was the niece of Rizal’s landladies in Brussels.

How they met: What’s up with Rizal and boarding house romantic affairs? His stay in Brussels included spending a lot of time with Suzanne, and they attended the city’s summertime festival together.

How it ended: It seems that he just wasn’t into her. It seems that Rizal was not really just into her. He left her a box of chocolates, which according to Suzanne, she didn’t even open, possibly to keep as a memento. She wrote to him two months later, telling him about the unopened box of chocolates and urging him to hurry back. Rizal returned to Brussels in April 1891, but only so he could keep working on El Filibusterismo.

8. Nellie Boustead

Who she is: The half-Filipina Nellie was the daughter of British businessman Eduardo Boustead. She was also the fiancée of Antonio Luna.

How they met: Rizal had been friends with Nellie’s family, and he used to fence with Nellie and her sister Adelina at Juan Luna’s studio. It got to the point where Rizal actually considered proposing to Nellie, probably because of the rebound blues talking because at the time, he had just learned that Leonor Rivera got married to someone else.

How it ended: Some said that Nellie wanted Rizal to convert to Protestantism, and her mother didn’t approve of a man who didn’t have the capacity to give her daughter a good life. But the relationship didn’t end in tears, as the two had a decent breakup. Nellie even wished him well in a letter as he was about to leave Europe.

9. Josephine Bracken

Who she is: The wife of Rizal, his last love before he died. Josephine was born in Hong Kong to Irish parents.

How they met: The two met when Josephine and her adoptive father George Taufer went to the Philippines and then to Dapitan to see Rizal, to treat Taufer’s eyes. Though Rizal’s sisters thought that Josephine was a spy for the Spanish, Josephine and Rizal eventually fell in love and they lived together in Barangay Talisay in Dapitan. Their son Francisco was stillborn.

How it ended: After Rizal’s death, Josephine returned to Hong Kong and lived with her father. She married Vicente Abad in1900 and they had a daughter named Dolores. Josephine died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. 


Works and Life of Rizal: Where He Awakened the Filipinos

For Rizal, the pen was mightier than the sword and he proved that. He was very vocal of his opinions against the Spaniards and through Rizal’s writings, Noli Me Tángere (Touch Me Not) and El filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed), he exposed the corruption and malpractices of government officials and the Spanish friars. Because of that, he became the enemy of the state.

In July 1892, he was exiled without trial to Dapitan, Mindanao for allegedly instigating sedition. There Rizal built a school, a hospital and a water supply system, and taught and engaged in farming and horticulture. Then from November 3 to December 29, 1896, Jose Rizal was held in Fort Santiago in Manila, where he was sentenced to death for allegedly supporting a brewing revolution against Spanish rule.

The martyrdom of Rizal was the point that led him to his demise by a firing squad of Filipino soldiers of the Spanish Army at the Bagumbayan, now known as Luneta or Rizal Park. The works and life of Rizal may have ended his life but it began a new life for the Filipino nation. The Jose Rizal history, truly, is something worth remembering.


Facts About Jose Rizal

  1. He was a polyglot. He was fluent in 22 languages: Hebrew, Filipino, Ilokano, Bisayan, Subanon, Chinese, Latin, Spanish, Greek, English, French, German, Arabic, Malay, Sanskrit, Dutch, Japanese, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish and Russian.
  2. He was also a polymath, a man of many professions. He was an ophthalmologist, farmer, historian, painter, journalist, playwright, novelist, engineer, and educator. He also had varying degrees of expertise in economics, ethnology, sociology, anthropology, architecture, cartography, martial arts, dramatics, fencing, and pistol shooting.
  3. He was a good sculptor at a very young age.
  4. Rizal was a small man. He was just 5 feet and 3 inches tall, had a waistline of 25-26 inches and had a big head.
  5. There are three animals named after Rizal:  abogonia rizalie, a type of small beetle; Drago Rizalie, a species of dragonfly and Racoforus Rizalie, a species of toad. 
  6. When he was studying in Spain, Rizal had to pawn a ring owned by his sister Saturnina just to pay for his exams. 
  7. Rizal stuffed unknown papers in his pockets and shoes on the eve of his execution. He did this because he presumed that his corpse would be turned over to his family after his execution. But as we all know, his body was dumped by Spanish officials in an unmarked grave in Paco cemetery. The papers have since deteriorated and the contents of which were never identified. 
  8. Rizal’s favorite fruits were lanzones and mango. On account of his former cook in Dapitan, his meals consisted of three viands. His breakfast consisted of hot chocolate, rice and tuyo. 
  9. Rizal had his third unfinished work or novel. Known by historians as “Maka-misa,” this unfinished work was started by Rizal in 1892 in Hongkong. Maka-misa is not actually a title of the novel but only a single chapter of the unfinished novel. He began writing it in Tagalog but gave up and continued writing in Spanish 
  10. Rizal made humorous comics in Germany entitled “The Baptism of Two Brothers.” He made the comic strip to entertain the children of his landlord. He used cuss in that comic strip. 
  11. While in exile in Dapitan, Rizal wrote an extensive written discourse on witchcraft (kulam) with translation entitled the “Treatment and Cure of the Bewitched.”  A part of it explained that witches are not always old and ugly. 
  12. Rizal established a school while in Dapitan with 21 pupils who were never asked to pay but were required by Rizal to work for the community.
  13. Rizal has never been proclaimed a national hero. According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), there is no law, executive order or proclamation that has been enacted or issued proclaiming any Filipino historical figure as a national hero.  

Frequently Asked Questions About José Rizal

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Q: What is the full name of Jose Rizal?
A: Dr Jose Rizal full name is Jose Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda.

Q: When is the birthday of Jose Rizal?
A: Jose Rizal birthday is June 19, 1861.

Q: When is Jose Rizal’s death?
A: Jose Rizal’s death is on December 30, 1896, celebrated in the Philippines as Rizal day.

Q: Where was Rizal executed?
A: Rizal life ended at the Bagumbayan, now known as the Luneta PArk or Rizal Park in Manila. He was executed by a firing squad on December 30, 1896.

Q: What are the works of Jose Rizal?
A: The two most popular writings of Jose Rizal tagalog that awakened the Filipinos are: 

  1. Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
  2. El filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed)

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