Rizal in Chicago

Rizal saw a different Chicago in his time. This concrete, steel and glass jungle is the present day Chi town and that guy is not relieving himself but trying to absorb the strange beauty of this mega city.

From Japan, Rizal boarded a ship that took him across the pacific to San Francisco. His boarding ticket was first class. Not that many Asians during his time could afford such accommodation. In fact, in that same ship, Chinese immigrants that boarded in Hong Kong sat in crowded quarters below. In a letter to a friend, Rizal mentioned that during the quarantine (that delayed him for days on board the ship in the port of San Francisco) it was possible that some of those people died.

From San Francisco to Provost, he wrote down some interesting sights he saw along the way. The snow covered mountains of Colorado, the Mormons in Utah, the vast prairies and the isolated cabins of Mid West America. Noticeable is how his entries were short, not as detailed compared to the descriptions he made of his trips in Europe.

Austin Craig wrote of Rizal’s time in Chicago: “The thing that struck him most forcibly about that city was the large number of cigar stores with an Indian in front of each — and apparently no two Indians alike. The unexpressed idea was that in America the remembrance of the first inhabitants of the land and their dress was retained and popularized, while in the Philippines knowledge of the first inhabitants of the land was to be had only in foreign museums”.

What was not mentioned, by Rizal and Craig, his biographer was that the “Indian” in stores were actually life size wooden figures and not real Indians. These are popularly called “cigar store Indians” here and are now collectibles. Its not placed outside stores to promote Indian culture but to attract curiosity among the smoking public. Actually, they’re more decorative in purpose than cultural.

Some years after Rizal’s death, some of his writings were brought to US soil. An impressive Rizaliana collection is in Chicago’s Newberry Library. Some of the manuscripts in their possession includes; first edition copies of Noli and Fili, his 1884 diary, notes from his clinica medica and other writings from the period of 1881 to 1887. This library, located in West Walton St., is said to hold the biggest collection of original Filipiniana writings outside our country.

The library also have in its vault the papers of the Governor Simon de Anda during his administration and struggle against the British.

Their massive Filipiniana collection is attributed to Edward Ayer, an American business magnate that started buying historical manuscripts after the US took over from Spain. He later donated his acquisitions to libraries across the US.

I’m glad that these documents are here and safe. And that they’re being cared for with the most advanced technology available. I think the American deserves our sincere gratitude for safekeeping these manuscripts away from harm during the wars that ravaged the country but these documents belongs to us. Its only right that they be brought back to a place where they’ll serve a more meaningful purpose – Filipinas.

How would they feel if the original copy of their constitution is sitting somewhere in our National Library?

Can we recover these documents?

I doubt it.

But we should try.

Its ironic that pieces of Rizal’s writings ended up here in Chicago. A town that he briefly saw and hardly spent enough time to know.

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