The Journey of Jose Rizal: From Philippines to Europe and Back

In the late 19th century, the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule, and Filipinos faced discrimination and were treated as second-class citizens. One remarkable individual who stood against this injustice was the national hero, Jose Rizal. Disillusioned by the prevailing conditions in his homeland, Rizal decided to embark on a journey to pursue further studies abroad and fight for the rights of his fellow countrymen.

Studying Abroad and Exposing Colonialism

In May 1882, Rizal left the Philippines and enrolled in a medicine course at the Universidad Central de Madrid in Spain. However, his quest for knowledge didn’t end there. In June 1883, he traveled to France to observe how medicine was being practiced in the country. During his three-month stay in France, Rizal delved deeper into his thoughts and contemplated publishing a book that would expose the colonial relationship between Spain and the Philippines.

In March 1887, Rizal’s idea materialized with the publication of his groundbreaking novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” in Germany. This novel shed light on the oppression and abuses endured by the Filipino people under Spanish rule. Through his writing, Rizal aimed to awaken the consciousness of both his fellow countrymen and the Spaniards themselves, urging them to recognize the urgent need for reforms in the Philippines.

The Propaganda Movement and Advocacy

Rizal actively participated in the Propaganda movement, a group composed of Filipinos in Spain who sought to draw the attention of Spaniards to the struggles faced by the Spanish colony in the Philippines. He penned articles for publications in Manila and abroad, engaging in discussions with overseas Filipinos about their responsibilities towards their homeland. Rizal also called upon Spanish authorities to implement vital reforms in the Philippines, such as granting freedom of the press and allowing Filipino representation in the Spanish Cortes.

Controversy and Persecution

After spending five years in Europe, Rizal returned to Manila in August 1887. However, his homecoming was met with discontent from the friars who vehemently opposed his novel, “Noli Me Tangere.” The Archbishop of Manila promptly issued an order banning the possession and reading of the book, and this order was later reinforced by the governor-general. Faced with mounting pressure from the Spanish authorities, as well as concerns for his personal safety from his family and friends, Rizal made the difficult decision to leave Manila and seek refuge in Hong Kong.

Exploring New Horizons

Rizal’s journey continued as he left Hong Kong and traveled to Macau and Japan before setting foot in America. In April 1888, he arrived in San Francisco, California, from where he embarked on a tour across several states, including Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, and New York. Throughout his travels, Rizal meticulously recorded his observations of the landscapes and cultures he encountered in his diary.

Deepening Knowledge in Europe

By May 1888, Rizal had reached England. In August, he gained access to the prestigious British Museum, where he meticulously copied Antonio de Morga’s extensive study of the Philippines, “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.” Rizal intended to annotate and publish this work as a gift to his fellow Filipinos. Immersed in his research, he took advantage of his time in the museum to read extensively about Philippine history. Rizal also maintained correspondence with various individuals, including his family, who were facing oppression under Spanish religious landowners, Filipino patriots in Spain, and his Austrian friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, with whom he planned to form an association of Philippine scholars. Between 1888 and 1890, Rizal frequently traveled between London and Paris, where he wrote ethnographic studies, delved into historical research, and expressed his political views through articles. He also regularly met with fellow Filipino intellectuals, such as Marcelo H. del Pilar, Mariano Ponce, and Graciano Lopez-Jaena, during his visits to Spain.

Completion and Financial Struggles

In March 1891, Rizal concluded writing his second novel, “El Filibusterismo,” in France. His initial plan was to publish the book in Belgium. However, financial constraints plagued him, and the much-needed support from his brother back home was delayed. Rizal found himself scrimping on meals and expenses to make ends meet. It wasn’t until September 1890 that “El Filibusterismo” was finally published in Ghent, thanks to generous donations from Rizal’s friends.

Seeking Unity and A New Life

Meanwhile, a rivalry emerged between Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar over the leadership of the Asociación Hispano-Filipino in Spain. In an effort to avoid further discord among Filipino expatriates and to foster unity, Rizal made the decision to leave Europe. After spending some time in Hong Kong, where he practiced medicine and planned to establish a new settlement called “New Calamba” by relocating landless Filipinos to Borneo, Rizal returned to the Philippines in June 1892.

Despite the challenges he faced and the hardships he endured, Jose Rizal left an indelible mark on Philippine history. His unwavering commitment to fighting for the rights and dignity of his people, his relentless pursuit of knowledge, and his extraordinary literary contributions continue to inspire generations. Rizal’s journey serves as a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and the pursuit of justice.

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