JOSE Rizal’s famous message for the youth is that the youth is fair hope of the nation. What he exactly said was the youth was “bella esperanza de la Patria mia” or “fair hope of my fatherland” (Rizal’s Poems, Centennial Edition, Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1962, p. 15).
He did not say that the youth was the country’s sole hope. That he said so is misquoting him. Fair hope is very different from being the only hope. This message was in his poem A la Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth), which won the first prize in a literary contest sponsored in 1879 by the Artistic-Literary Lyceum of Manila, a society composed of the leading writers and artists in Manila. He was given a feather-shaped silver pen and a diploma during the awarding ceremonies held on November 29, 1879. Only 18 years old, he bested both the indios (native Filipinos) and mestizos (Filipinos with mixed races) who joined in this contest.
Some people misunderstand Rizal because they have not read the 25-volume Escritos de Jose Rizal (Writings of Jose Rizal), which contains nearly all of his writings and philosophical thoughts. He will be misquoted once he is interpreted through one poem only. Critics should first read him thoroughly before attacking him.
They claim that Rizal was wrong because the youth cannot be the nation’s hope, for they are still dependent on their parents, do not have a voice in national affairs, and are still struggling with their lessons in schools. He was totally wrong, they add, because the young are delinquent, addicted to illegal drugs, join violent and criminal gangs, suffer from unwanted pregnancies and abortion, or give in to smoking, drinking, gambling, and other vices. For them, the faults of some young people frame the general picture of today’s youth.
When Rizal wrote A la Juventud Filipina, it was already the 314th of the 333-year Spanish colonization of the Philippines (1565-1898) – already the decadent era of Spain’s imperial glory. Under Spain, Filipinos did not have freedom and security for their lives and properties. They were forced to submit themselves and the fruits of their labor to the flag of Spain, the colonial government, and the Roman Catholic Church.
Those who fought for their rights could be stripped of their belongings, arrested, tortured, exiled, or executed. The government taxed them heavily, and the friars taxed them more. They were also obliged to render labor without pay in building roads, highways, bridges, government buildings, church edifices, galleons, and other public works.
Rizal saw the miseries of his people. He himself suffered cruelty one night when a Spanish lieutenant attacked him because he failed to give him the mandatory salute. Rizal did not see him because it was very dark. Despite the wound that he got, he was still imprisoned. Only 17, he appealed to the governor general, but the highest Spanish official in the land only brushed him aside (The Rizal-Blumentritt Correspondence, Centennial Edition, Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1961, Part 1, p. 62). Rizal wanted an end to the oppression of his people. He would like to get the help of senior Filipino citizens but could not do so because most of them were subservient to the government and the church. He saw that they would rather spend lavishly on fiestas that afterward impoverished them, and cast their fortunes into Masses and religious items like rosaries, scapulars, and statues (Miscellaneous Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal, National Heroes Commission Edition, Manila: National Heroes Commission, 1964, pp. 92-106).
Seeing that the elder generations of his time were hopeless against tyranny and were submissive to the colonizers, Rizal turned to his fellow youth. A la Juventud Filipina was for the youth of his time. It asked them to excel in the arts, sciences, and professions because it was they, not the elders, who would one day right the...