I stumbled upon Rizal’s Letter to the Women of Malolos written in London on the 22nd of February 1889.
I am amazed at how generations of Filipinas have been made to believe that Maria Clara is the epitome of a Filipino woman. I also wonder how many more young Filipinas will look to this character; tragic in fiction and tragic in life. She is tragedy in perpetuity. She is the immortal image of Rizal’s sweetheart Leonor Rivera. She died from complications of childbirth; the wife of a man, not of her choosing.
Maria Clara is the caricature of Filipinas brainwashed into unreasonable benevolence, concrete helplessness and sanctified ignorance during the Spanish colonization, and of the contemporary Filipinas who believe she is a national hero’s ideal woman.
She came to our lives more than a century ago, when Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere was first published in Germany. Her character, her story, is relived every day; in the portrayal of Filipinas in Arts and lives some Filipinas are forced to choose to live. She is a woman resigned to her faith and fate. She is a woman admired and loved in all appearances, but desecrated and forsaken in all significance; a bastard, a tool and a victim.
I am a Filipina, but I refuse to be Maria Clara.
I refuse to be a withered plant. Destiny sold the seeds of my freedom to my ancestors, and they paid with bitter tears and tortured flesh. The sweat of Filipinos before me planted those seeds on blood enriched land. I will not have anyone deny me a harvest. I will not have anyone deny me my place on Earth. No one will deny me the air, the waters and the sun. In honor of those Filipinos, I will grow. I will stand. I will have the strength and courage to take the place I deserve in whatever manner the universe will benefit from my choice. I will not die hidden in a convent, abused by my faith, used in politics, forgotten by passion but remembered by a shallow admiration.
I will not bloom flowers without fragrance nor will I provide another faint image, a frail figure, an innocuous specter of a woman; I refuse to be an impotent presence in the world. You may praise me for my beauty and talent, but I will also have you recognize my essence. Should the world lose sight of what I am, it will never forget who I am. I am a prized daughter. I am a respected sister. I am a beloved wife. I am an honored mother. I am a competent citizen. I am an esteemed leader.
I am a Filipina, and I refuse to bear fruits that do not satisfy. I am as loving as I am passionate. I shall live a life not just worth living, not just worth telling but worth retelling and reliving; in the memories and lives of my children and all generations that follow. Yes, I know gentle touch, kind words and loving ways. I know them so well and give them away so freely, people forget my soul has seen fathers, brothers, husbands, and children sacrificed in the altar of Liberty. Still, there are people who will sell this inheritance, procured ever so dearly, out of mere greed and ignorance. I will not have it. My daughters and my sisters will not have it.
Men can have the affairs of the State. Filipinas will have the affairs of the home. And every Filipina knows every man must eat and rest, and the nation is her home. All its affairs are hers as well. And her husband must be honored, and her children must love the home she has built, so much so that they will never be made to wither, wane nor be destitute without blood being spilled first.
So, to all young Filipinas, you have not been raised in the darkness your predecessors had to endure. You need only to open your eyes and find you were born into a democracy. You thrive in one of the most gender equal countries in the world. You have been taught the Our Father with the Preamble to the Philippine Constitution; the Ten Commandments with the Bill of Rights. You live in a country where you can find the buildings of local government, a cathedral and a mosque literally can be just a stone’s throw away from each other and experience no tension. You may be a Muslim and find yourself comfortable learning in a Catholic School.
By all means, the Philippines is not a superpower. It cannot hope to reach the standards set by the Roman Empire, the British Colonies or the United States of America, but the Filipinos are a great people; we are a great nation. I do not remember a Philippines that has desired to conquer and rule another nation. I do not know such a Philippines. The Philippines I know is one that has always aspired to be more than what it is, in its time, without having to put another nation on its knees.
You are Filipinas. You are great creatures. Respect your lineage. Acknowledge you are part Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, American and whatever, but do not make a bastard of yourself. Filipinas, do not deny yourself a legitimate claim to greatness for a mere association to it. Do not make yourself a tool. You are intelligent and talented. Do not reduce yourself to a pen, although full it is dumb until someone with an idea puts it to paper. You are not a mere sword, although sharp and sturdy; it is useless until a warrior wields it. A gun with a full chamber is useless until a marksman has cocked it, pointed it at the right direction and fired. Do not be a victim. If you have a slim chance at surviving tribulations in pursuit of a dream, take it. The worst that can happen is that you leave dust sacred enough another Filipina is willing to die for it.
Choose to be Gabriela Silang. Choose to be Teodora Alonzo, Melchora Aquino, Agueda Kahabagan, Gregoria Montoyo or Teresa Magbanua. They are real Filipina heroines. They are a part of your legitimate claim to greatness. They are proof of your capabilities. They are the history of the present that you enjoy, with a future only you can choose. Choose wisely.