Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the first-prize-winning essay in the PreMYo Rizal Nationwide Essay Writing Contest for high schools sponsored by Binhi English Literacy Foundation and MyRizal150. The author is a third-year student at Assumption Antipolo.)
Doctora Doña Victorina de los Reyes de Espadaña. Even her name has pomp and frills.
Meet Rizal’s effusive and self-proclaimed doña from “Noli Me Tangere”…
As amusing as I found her, I soon realized that her character had a greater purpose than to provide a satirical image of a vain woman. Like any character of Rizal’s, I realized she was meant to teach us something about our society … I understood how Rizal used Victorina (to show us) our own flaws…
From the very start, it was easy to see that Doña Victorina was all about appearances. She was described as wearing European dresses, her hair curly and her face heavily made up.
Her appearance was an indication not just of her shallow nature but also her obsession with prestige and admiration. It was perhaps this obsession that fueled her lifelong effort to pretend to be something she was not—a Spanish woman.
Filipino by birth, Doña Victorina abandoned her true identity to get to a higher place in life. A domineering person, she was committed to do anything to gain esteem, even pressuring her husband to improve their social standing by lying about his profession.
Victorina easily turned her back on her own people, caring nothing for the fact that she had become one of their abusers.
It was easy to see how Doña Victorina became the kind of person she was. She lived, after all, at a time when being an Indio made you automatically inferior to the Spanish colonizers. She saw that she would get none of the prestige she desired unless she became one of those who were on top.
Her way of seeing things was not something she could completely be blamed for. Almost everyone tried to do the same, as they saw how the Spaniards controlled every aspect of life and how they were prosperous as a nation.
Even Rizal acknowledged that Filipinos had much to learn from our colonizers.
Victorina, though, brought her obsession to the point where she rejected her heritage. This, Rizal showed us, was what really made Victorina corrupted: She knowingly turned her back on her country for her selfish ambitions.
Victorina, the consummate “social climber,” showed that people would do anything to get attention and respect. And people like her are still present today.
Doña Victorina contributed nothing to her society, just as the social climbers of today do nothing to help our society, as they step on each other to reach the highest pedestal.
I admit that, at some point in my life, I also worked to earn the approval of others to make me feel self-important. Rizal taught us, as we read about Victorina’s shallow desires, that there was a difference between appearing to be great and being truly great as a person, and that respect earned through petty, shallow means was not worth it. Esteem must be gained through sincerity, honesty and hard work.
Doña Victorina was a character who never seemed to find security in who she really was. Aside from denying her nationality, she covered herself in cosmetics and frills to improve the appearance she valued so greatly.
The “improvements” helped her mask her Filipino identity to assume a more Spanish-like appearance: pale skin and curly hair.
For her, these physical attributes represented her integration into Spanish society. Today’s Victorinas, dissatisfied with their true identities, adopt the traits most desired by the majority, or those they believe are superior to their own. Today, people use treatments like glutathione to whiten their skin, still believing that pale skin makes one more attractive. Often, people undergo procedures to make their hair straighter, curlier or even lighter in color.
Rizal said Doña Victorina was an example of how one could forget the value of nationalism…
Colonial mentality is something most of us have in common with the Filipinos of Rizal’s time, who were made to believe that they were inferior to those who ruled over them.
In attaching a sense of inferiority to the word “Filipino,” we destroy our own opportunities for growth by assuming we can never be greater as a nation.
Pride in who we are
In his time, Rizal saw this notion of inferiority as a hindrance to achieving our full potential as a nation. Through Victorina, he wanted to show Filipinos that the only way they could rise above oppression was to embrace their national identity.
Rizal also showed us we would remain enslaved by our country’s present problems and our colonial mentality if we could not find enough pride and love to make the Philippines a better place.
Through Victorina, Rizal asked us all a crucial question: If even we cannot stay in our own country and work for its growth, who else will bother to make the difference?
In Doña Victorina’s greed and superficiality, I learned the harm that yearning for undeserved respect could bring to me and everyone around me. I realized I should concentrate on doing what I could for my community, instead of what I could gain. Most importantly, through Doña Victorina’s colonial mentality, I learned what nationalism really meant.
It meant embracing your country’s flaws to be able to work towards progress and growth; to see that there was something better out there and, using that knowledge, helping your country instead of giving up on it.
Rizal showed me that I, too, could help make the Philippines greater, even if it was just by studying well and equipping myself with knowledge I could use to help my country in the future.
I am glad Doña Victorina caught my interest so strongly. In the story of a Filipino woman who held no love for her country, Rizal renewed my sense of nationalism and armed me with knowledge and insight Doña Victorina would never gain.
Rizal inspired me with his novel to be proud of the heritage Victorina denied and to make myself a better person by becoming a better Filipino.
Disclaimer:This is a repost. To view the original article, click here.