Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quest for Rizal

THANKS to reader Lucille Lozada’s question, I found an excuse to recently visit a bookstore, guilt-free.

After reading last week’s “Finding Rizal,” Lucille texted me. A retiree, she had read the national hero’s biography, and was now “ready to tackle his 2 novels and last poem.”

“Where can I buy a copy of ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and “El Filibusterismo’?,” asked Lucille.

Last Sunday, I directed her to this national chain of bookstores. By some coincidence, I was near a branch last week and decided to check out my advice.

I expected the Rizal novels to be in the textbook section because these are still required reading in high school and college. Functional reading is still the strongest motivation for many Filipinos to open a book, let alone buy one.

Reading for a utilitarian purpose—defined for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by William S. Gray in 1956 as literacy to enable adults to “meet independently the reading and writing demands placed on them”—seems to be a disservice to Rizal’s classic novels.

In the tradition of the American Adult Education Act of 1966 and the British Right-to-Read movements of the 1970s, functional literacy targets raising an adult from illiteracy to a survival level of literacy. If our educational system and reading culture only promotes reading so that we can, say, know how to read signs and follow written instructions, how will we aspire to read with sensitivity and depth the great written works, which Rizal’s two novels unquestionably are?

On the other hand, my Filipino teacher in high school, Prof. Rosario Montaño of St. Theresa’s College Cebu then, is the reason why I think of Noli and Fili as, first and foremost, love stories. Noli weaves the flowering of the first blush of romance between Ibarra and Maria Clara with the soul-destroying love of Sisa for Basilio and the doomed Crispin. In Fili, love’s underside—betrayed and vengeful—consumes Simoun, the resurrected Ibarra, as he plots to wrest his twin loves—Maria Clara and the country—from the Spanish usurpers.

Prof. Montaño got her students to read and reread the entire Noli. My first Noli copy was a Filipino translation riddled with words I could not find in my pocket Filipino-English dictionary.

If I persevered and later searched for the translations by Leon Ma. Guerrero, National Artist Virgilio Almario, and Charles Derbyshire of The Project Gutenberg, it was due to the probing questions of my Filipino teacher who made me curious about and then later care for the characters of Ibarra/Simoun, Sisa and Basilio.

Functional, school-required reading must then be also seen as a boon for reading in the Philippine context. In the hands of mentors like Prof. Rosario Montaño, the classics will always be with us.

For reader Lucille and other curious souls, this bookstore’s shelves occupied by Noli and Fili are not exactly groaning under but decently occupied by sweet-smelling copies of titles devoted to Rizal, who had his 155th birth anniversary last June 19. I brought home Ambeth Ocampo’s “Rizal Without the Overcoat,” which deserves another column. Cheers and a belated happy birthday to the Pambansang Pepe!

Question: Why is Pepe Rizal’s nickname?

Clues: Felice Prudente Santa Maria’s “In Excelsis,” the National Historical Commission, or Rappler

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 26, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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