A challenging dinner toast

I would have wanted to be there; it must have been exhilarating, jubilant, and inspiring for Filipinos away from home, living in Madrid where it was, surprisingly enough, electrifying because of liberal, radical, scientific ideas nonexistent at home. In 1884, Filipinos in Madrid had no identity. They were mistaken for Chinese or Japanese because of their complexion and slanted eyes, but then, two Filipinos won a gold and silver medal in the Madrid Exposition, so unexpectedly. There were rumors that they had to conceal their place of birth, and since they had Spanish-sounding names, no one bothered to check. So they won!

Juan Luna bagged one of the gold medals (there were three) for his dramatic and impactful “Spoliarium” and Felix Resurrección Hidalgo won a silver medal (among 15) for his disquieting “Vírgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho.” Euphoric, the “colonia Filipina” in Madrid organized a dinner at the Restaurante Inglés in honor of Luna and Hidalgo; Don Maximo Paterno probably paid for the feast where about 60 guests were invited, including Spanish officials known for their liberal policies like Moret, Morayta, Azcarraga.  Larador, a Cuban, was among the guests and so were intellectuals, writers, and artists. The Propagandists were there and Jose Rizal was asked to give the toast, which turned out to be more like a political speech.

On that day, 25 June 1884, according to his diary, Rizal, earlier in the day, won the top prize for Greek in his school, but he had ran out of money so had not eaten the whole day until that dinner at the Restaurante Ingles. We know that champagne was served and he probably drank a glass on an empty stomach, which must have emboldened his spirit to the point of recklessness. In between lines praising Luna and Hidalgo, he attacked the “myopic, pigmy-minded” Spaniards in the Philippines and was careful to refer to Spain as Madre España and not Madre Patria.

He was eloquent, his toast was long yet relevant. He said Luna and Hidalgo were glories both of Spain and the Philippines; they could have been born in Spain because genius has no country, it can blossom everywhere like light and air, it is everybody’s patrimony, is as cosmopolitan as space, life, and God Himself.

“The patriarchal age is coming to an end in the Philippines; the illustrious deeds of the sons [of the country] are no longer accomplished within its boundaries; the Oriental chrysalis is breaking out of its sheath; brilliant colors and rosy streaks herald the dawn of a long day for those regions, and that race, plunged in lethargy during the night of its history while the sun illumined other continents, awakes anew, shaken by the electric convulsion produced by contact with Western peoples, and demands light, life, the civilization that was once its heritage from time, thus confirming the eternal laws of constant evolution, periodic change and progress….”

He described the paintings of Luna and Hidalgo and propounded that these embody “the essence of our social, moral, and political life; humanity in severe ordeal, humanity unredeemed, reason and idealism in open struggle with prejudice, fanaticism, and injustice….”

Then he continued: “Just as a mother teaches her child to speak so as to understand his joys, his needs, his sorrows, so also Spain, as a mother, teaches her language to the Philippines, despite the opposition of those who are so short-sighted and small-minded (miopes y pigmeos) that, making sure of the present, they cannot foresee the future and will not weigh the consequences, soured nurses, corrupt and corrupting, who habitually choke every legitimate sentiment and, perverting the hearts of the people, sow in them the seeds of discord whose fruit, a very wolf’s bane, a very death, will be gathered by future generations….”

Finally, the toast: “I ask you then to drink a toast to our painters, Luna and Hidalgo, exclusive and legitimate glories of two peoples! A toast for those who have helped them on the arduous paths of art! A toast for the youth of the Philippines, sacred hope of my country, that they may follow such excellent examples; and may Mother Spain, solicitous and ever mindful of the good of her provinces, soon put in effect the reforms that she has long planned; the furrow has been plowed and the soil is not barren. A toast, finally, for the happiness of those fathers and mothers, who, deprived of the affection of their sons, follow their courses with moist eyes and beating hearts from that distant land, across the seas and space, sacrificing on the altar of the common good the sweet comforts which are so few in the twilight of life….”

Rizal’s speech was reported in a Madrid newspaper, “El Imparcial,” the very next day, and years later, on 25 September 1898, “La Independencia” printed it in full. W. Retana, an early biographer of Rizal, said that when he made that speech, the Spaniards (in Madrid) were unaware of the demands of the Filipinos in the colony because none of the latter had dared talk about the Philippine condition in public, for fear of being labeled filibusteros.

The National Museum of Fine Arts where Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” dominates an exhibition hall should place Rizal’s challenging “brindis” beside the famous painting, in its original with translations in English, Tagalog, and other languages. As you probably know, today is Juan Luna’s birthday. (Sources: Guerrero, Leon, The First Filipino, 1969 & Retana, W, Vida y Escritos del Dr. Rizal, 1907)