Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rizal Day USA during the campaign period for Philippine independence

Today, 30th of December 2010, promptly at 7 o'clock this morning, His Excellency Benigno Simeon Cojuanco Aquino III, presided over the Rizal Day ceremonies at Luneta Park to mark the 114th death anniversary of national hero, Dr Jose Rizal.  As tradition dictates, he hoisted the giant Philippine flag with the assistance of top civilian and military authorities, laid a wreath of flowers at the foot of the hero's monument, and delivered a memorial message to the Filipino people. 

It's not a holiday today however. PNoy moved it earlier to last Monday, 27th December, and we doubt if the citizenry even considered giving a pause for Rizalian reflection that day before they resumed their planned activities for the extended Christmas weekend.

Except for the Luneta rites, the only other Rizal Day celebration we know of is the city fiesta of Olongapo City.  It's always been called 'Rizal Day' although we doubt if there is anything commemorative of the hero's sacrificial death amidst the noise and fun in the auditorium and around the festive food tables of the city households. 

Rizal Day on December 30 was an eventful day among Filipinos here and abroad before the Americans restored our independence on the 4th of July in 1946.  Records show that they celebrated in grand fashion with parades, dinners and other commemorative programs. 

It could be that Rizal Day morphed into the 4th of July, later replaced by the 12th of June, independence day celebrations.  In the pre-World War II days (peacetime to the old generation), Filipinos had no big historical event to commemorate (did we win the war against the Spaniards? the Americans?) yet.  As residents of an American territory, they celebrated the holidays of their colonizers.

It was a lingering veneration of Jose Rizal, and a vintage decree issued by Emilio Aguinaldo of the short-lived Philippine Republic on 20th December 1898 that kept Filipinos observed Rizal Day with pomp and ceremony here and abroad during the first four decades of the 1900s.

The Philippine Republic, a magazine that was set up by Americans to help in the Philippine independence campaign, left us records of 'how Rizal Day was celebrated in the United States'.  From issues of 1925 to 1928, we read accounts of how Filipinos in various cities in the United States, in Japan, and even Argentina kept the memory of Jose Rizal alive.

Our survey of the Rizal Day programs during those years show the following common elements --

  • Recitation of "Mi Ultimo Adios"/"My Last Farewell", sometimes with a piano accompaniment;
  • Musical entertainment featuring Filipino bands, orchestras, jazz groups, string quartets;
  • Musical numbers from Filipino and guest American singers and instrumentalists (pianists, violinists, guitarists, etc) rendering classical and patriotic songs and compostions;
  • Orations and speeches from guest speakers (pro-Independence Americans, visiting dignitaries from the Philippines, notable members of the sponsoring Filipino association);
  • Recitation of Rizaliana (biography, poems and excerpts from his other literary works);
  • Formal attire--the barong has not come of age yet; 
  • Singing of two national anthems:  Star Spangled Banner and the Philippine National Anthem.
In some cities, there were Rizal Day Queens.  We also found a playlet of four scenes, the last a re-enactment of the execution in Bagumbayan, a table d'hote of dishes with Philippine names. 

There was a group of Filipino scholars there who called themselves The Philippines Collegians, probably because they were from the University of the Philippines doing graduate work in Harvard U.  Enrique Virata, Gregorio Zara, Juan Nakpil, and their colleagues--big names later in the Philippines--organized very formal Rizal Day programs.

Here are a few reminders of how Filipinos in America remembered national hero when they were there as pensionados or self-supporting students in the universities and colleges, World War 1 veterans who opted to stay and raise families there, adventurous Pinoys who came to work in the plantations of Hawaii and California and in the canneries in Alaska, and the first generation of Fil-Ams--US-born or innocent children yet when their parents migrated there. 
  • Brooklyn, New York City, 1924.

The Filipino masons of "Gran Oriente Filipino" led the annual Rizal Day celebrations in Brooklyn, New York City. In this 1924 event, violin prodigy Ernesto Vallejo was 14 years old.

  • Boston, Massachussetts, 1924.
In the Boston area, the Filipino World War 1 veterans were the leaders in the celebration of Rizal Day.
  •  Los Angeles, California, 1924.
The Filipino Association of Southern California called this a Rizal Day meeting, and from the program, it looked like it was a music concert.
  •  Washington DC, 1925.
In this Washington DC Rizal Day, Mrs Claro M Recto, soprano, a music student in Washington at that time rendered a vocal solo.
  • Detroit, Michigan, 1925.
What's remarkable in this celebration is the table d'hote consisting of, among others, Malolos Salad with Philippine Islands Dressing,  Biak-na-Bato Ice Cream, Balintawak Cakes and Bagumbayan Coffee.  The Philippine Revolution on the table, indeed!
  • San Diego, California, 1925.
This program tells us that the Filipinos in the United States Navy at that time were not only cooks and stewards but also musicians. 
  •   Salinas, California, 1925.
This 1925 Rizal event was a three-day celebration.  Other cities also had Rizal Day Queens.
    •  Seattle, Washington, 1925.
    The chairman of the executive board of the Filipino Council of Seattle in 1925, and the toastmaster for that year's Rizal Day celebration was Victorio C. Edades, who was working his way through fine arts schooling in the city.  Victorio Edades would become a National Artist of the Philippines.
    •  Crane College, Chicago, Illinois, 1926.
    Every year the Crane College Filipino Club was among several Chicago-based associations that organized Rizal Day activities.  The picture tells us that Philippine music was very much part of the commemorative program.

    Sources of pictures and information:
    •  The Philippine Republic ( 1925-1927 issues).  Retrieved from the University of Michigan Digital Library Collection, The United States and its Territories, 1870-1925: Age of Imperialism at

    1 comment:

    1. Pare,

      Thank you for sharing some history with the Pilipinoes in America during colonial times, that we in today's Pilipino Diaspora can emulate so as to remain connected with our History and Culture.

      Art Rivera