Anna Velas-Suarin

Quo vadis? [160 years of Dr. Jose Rizal and our own search for meaning]

Happy birthday, Lolo Jose! And happy birthday to me, too!

Today is your 160th and my 2nd birthday in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, in 2020, I experienced my first-ever virtual birthday celebration. It was surreal, to say the least. I think many things we used to take for granted back then now appear surreal because of this pandemic.

You were born in 1861, a time when life was so simple you didn’t imagine yet that 160 years later, we will have world wide web and your enigmatic half-smile-half-frown-but-not-quite will be all over cyberspace. Our worlds are as far as our imagination can bring us, yet, we probably thought of the same things and dreamt of the same goals.

What were your thoughts every June 19th?

Family. Country. I imagine that we always prayed for the same things. Good health and happiness for our loved ones. Progress for our country. The freedom of choices.

I imagine the deep bond between you and your mother. Just seeing the smile on the face of my Mom today (via video call) is enough for me to say, “thank you for this day.” 

The tapestry of your life with your mother, and our common mother (our Inang Bayan), is set upon a burning fire. Sometimes, dying, sometimes raging.

Did you ever feel like you failed her? Because no matter if I give my best, I still feel, I failed my own. Our songs may reach the skies….yet, down here, we ask, are we failing Mother Gaia, too?

Our mothers, the ones who offered their wombs for our birth—are we still with them and they with us? When we stand our ground and speak up for our flags or the common goods, why are we being pushed into a very dark place? And then we realize, we forget our power. Our dreams are put on hold.

I think about you today. And imagined you sacrifices, even much much bigger than what I had to go through. This dark place was nothing compared with what you had to go through in that silent and lonely chamber in Fort Santiago. You were shot in Bagumbayan, even called a traitor.

I ask myself today—why?

Why is it that our society failed to see your soul? Why were you called a traitor? I ask this to myself, too. I’m not a hero and will probably never be one. But we experience a little part of the pains of being called someone you are not—and only because we posed questions that must only be asked in whispers. Never openly.

Have we grown up differently and seeing “things” that others do not see (or want to see)? Perhaps, as someone had written, we are not of this world—we are aliens perhaps? That from where we come from, there are rules to keep. Rules that may seem too archaic for our times. Even in 1861. These are the new rules and, strangely, we can’t seem to learn how to play by them:

  • Don’t rock the boat too much.
  • Pretend you’re not seeing or hearing it. (Or look the other way.)
  • Act stupid or blind. (Smart and brave ones don’t cut it.)
  • Don’t even speak up anytime you see breaches.
  • Don’t. Just don’t. Not a single world.

It is frightening. Are we losing our soul in the process?

And yet, we think of you constantly. Your death is ours. Your dreams are intertwined in our dreams. Yet, as you remain alive in our memories, we seem to be fading fast into the wilderness.

Yet, we are still alive. And today is my birthday. I am celebrating my life. I am celebrating yours. 

Today (19 June), 160 years ago, a hero was born.

We cannot promise you heroism. But maybe, just maybe, we can remain alive and do our best to use this lifetime to do what must be done. If we could just do a little percentage of what you did, we will already be free.

I honor you, my hero. And no, we cannot fail our mothers. We cannot fail you. I cannot fail me.

Happy birthday, to us. To you.


Mama Earth loves you: This is not a paid blog. I do not request for donation to maintain this blog but please make our tribe and Mama Earth happy by planting a tree (or trees!) on your birthday/s!

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