“I WAS BORN IN KALAMBA ON THE
19TH OF JUNE 1861 BETWEEN
ELEVEN AND TWELVE O’CLOCK AT
NIGHT, A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE
FULL OF THE MOON.”
A HERO IS BORN, 1861
DR. JOSE RIZAL
Dr. Jose Rizal, the greatest hero of the Philippines,
was a “many-splendored” genius. He was richly dowered
by god with superb intellectual, moral and physical
qualities. Truly, he ranks with the world’s geniuses. He
was an anthropologist, botanist, businessman,
cartographer, dramatist, economist, educator, engineer,
essayist, entomologist, ethnologist, farmer, folklorist,
geographer, grammarian, historian, horticulturist,
humorist, lexicographer, linguist, musician, novelist,
painter, physician, poet, philologist, philosopher,
polemist, psychologist, satirist, sculptor, sportsman,
sociologist, surveyor, traveler, and zoologist. More than
all these, he was a patriot, hero and martyr. Unlike
many geniuses, he consecrated his God-given talents,
and even sacrificed his own life, for the redemption and
welfare of his people. Verily, a man of his heroism and
versatility appears not once in the history of any nation.
The World When Rizal Was Born
In 1861, the year when Rizal was born, the
Philippines was browsing redolently beneath the
shadow of the Cross. Pax Hispanica reigned over the
entire archipelago. The people, despite their bondage
to Spain, were enjoying their serene, simple, and
Christian way of life. Comparatively speaking, they
were better off than the subject peoples in the
English, Dutch and Portuguese colonies during that
age. The Spanish governor-general then was a good
militarist, General Jose Lemery, whose achievement
worthy of historical citation was the establishment of
the Politico-Military Government of the Visayas and
Mindanao. No bloody Muslim piratical raid, no serious
native uprising, no frightful upsurge of banditry, and
no threat of foreign invasion marred the general
tranquility of the land.
Beyond the frontiers of the Philippines, the
world was seething in the throes of political strifes,
social upheavals, and international intrigues.
Gargantuan China was prostrate, impotent to stop
the predatory Western powers who were busy
looting her riches. Her futile wars with England and
France were ended by the infamous “Conventions of
Peking” (October 22, 1860), in which she lost more
territories and was forced to grant more commercial
concessions to the imperialist “foreign devils.” To
worsen matters for the tottering Manchu dynasty,
the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) was ravaging the
rich provinces south of the Yangtze.
The Imperialist Western powers, flushed with
their victories in China, tried to make a repeat
performance in Japan, whose door was unlocked in
1854 to the world by the American commodore,
Matthew C. Perry. Their efforts were, however,
foiled by the valiant Japanese people whose
Bushido spirit outmatched by the intruders’ superior
In Indo-china, the French troops of Emperor
Napoleon III, strangely aided by Filipino soldiers
from Manila, were smashing down Annamese
resistance. In 1858 Saigon was captured by the
combined Filipino-French forces, and four years
later France acquired Cochin China.
By fire and sword, the British East India Company
armies were establishing the British raj (rule) all over
the sub-continent of India beyond the western frontiers
to Burma. The destructive Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, last
serious resistance to British imperialism in India, was
suppressed at a staggering cost of money and human
lives. England had to fight three Burmese Wars (1824-
26; 1862-63; and 1885-86) to subdue Burma.
In January, 1861, Benito Juarez, Indian-blooded
hero, entered Mexico City, at the head of his victorious
Indian and Mexican troops, and proclaimed the
restoration of Mexican independence. Archduke
Maximilian of Austria, who had dreamed of ruling Mexico
with the help of French bayonets, was executed.
March of 1861 saw the emancipation of the serfs in Russia by
Czar Alexander II. The following month of Civil War exploded in the
United States over the slavery question and the issue of secession.
Europe was in turmoil. The German States were being forged
into one nation by Bismarch, notwithstanding Austria’s opposition.
South of the Alps, Cavour and Garibaldi, in defiance of Austria’s
might, were rallying the Italians to unite and fight for Italia
Redenta. In France, the Second Napoleonic Empire, beset by
domestic and foreign troubles and misgoverned by Napoleon III, was
crumbling to pieces. Only England, of all the Great Powers, was
experiencing relative peace and prosperity. Under the able rule of
Queen Victoria she defeated Russia in the Crimean War (1853-54),
acquired rich colonies in the East, and attained a new height of glory
in diplomacy and literature.
Spain, unlike England, fared ill under the rule
of a woman – Queen Isabela II (1833-68). She
had lost her rich colonies (except Cuba and
Puerto Rico) in the New World. Her decadence
was accelerated by the chronic Carlist War, the
ruinous political squabbles, and the bungling
policies of her inept monarch.
Such was the global situation at the time of
The Birth of A Hero
Near midnight of Wednesday, June 19, 1861,
when the Philippines was in deep slumber, a frail
baby-boy was born to the Rizal family in
Calamba, Laguna. It was a moonlit night, being
“a few days before the full of the moon.” The
delivery was exceedingly difficult, and the mother
almost died. Her seemingly miraculous survival
was attributed to Our Lady of Peace and Good
Voyage. Years later Jose Rizal recorded in his
boyhood memoirs: “It was a Wednesday, and my
arrival in this valley of tears would have cost my
mother her life had she not vowed to the Virgin of
Antipolo that she would take me on a pilgrimage
to that shrine.’
The baby boy was baptized by Rev. Rufino
Collantes in the Catholic church of Calamba on
June 22, 1861, three days after his birth. His
godfather was Rev. Pedro Casañas. He was
named “Jose” by his pious mother, in honor of St.
Joseph. It was customary for Catholic parents to
name their children after the saints.
The full name of the baby boy, who was
destined to become the greatest genius and hero
of the Philippines, was Jose Protasio Rizal
Mercado y Alonso Realonda.
Jose was the seventh of the eleventh children of
Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonzo Realonda. Both
father and mother were Filipino parents – devoutly religious,
educated, industrious, affectionate but strict, hospitable and
The hero’s father, Francisco (1818-1898), was born in
Biñan, Laguna, on May 11, 1818 and died in Manila on
January 5, 1898, at the age of 80. He was an educated farmer
having studied Latin and Philosophy at the College of San Jose
in Manila. In early manhood, after his mother’s death, he
moved to Calamba and became a tenant-farmer of the
Dominican estate. He married a college-bred Manileña,
Teodora Alonzo Realonda, on June 28, 1848. Dr. Rizal, his
greatest child, affectionately called him “a model of fathers.”
He was quiet, serious, frugal man, taller than the average
Filipino, with wide shoulders, brown complexion, prominent
forehead, large dark eyes, large ears and firm jaws.”
The hero’s mother, Teodora (1826-1911), was
born in Manila on November 8, 1826 and died in
Manila on August 16, 1911, at the age of 85. A
graduate of Santa Rosa College, she was talented
woman with high culture, business ability and
literary gift. Dr. Rizal, loving her as much as his
father said of her: “My mother is more than a
woman of ordinary culture; she knows literature
and speaks Spanish better than I . . . She is a
mathematician and has read many books.” Aside
from helping her husband in farming and
business, she looked after the education and
moral training of her numerous children.
Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora Alonzo Realonda
The Rizal Children
God blessed the marriage of
Francisco Mercado Rizal and Teodora
Alonso Realonda with eleven children –
two boys and nine girls. These children
were as follows:
1. Saturnina (1850-1913) She was the
oldest of the Rizal children. She married
Manuel T. Hidalgo.
2. Paciano (1851-1930) He was the older brother of Dr. Rizal.
After his younger brother’s execution, he joined the Revolution and
became a general. After the Revolution he retired to his farm in Los
Baños and led the life of a gentleman farmer. He died an old
bachelor, though he had a common-law wife.
3. Narcisa (1852-1939) She married
Antonino Lopez, a school teacher of Morong,
4. Olympia (1855-1887) She married
Silvestre Ubalde, a telegraph operator from
5. Lucia (1857-1919) She married Mariano
Herbosa of Calamba.
6. Maria (1859-1945) She married Daniel
Faustino Cruz of Biñan, Laguna.
7. JOSE (1861-1896) The “lucky seven” in a
family of eleven children. He married
Josephine Bracken, a pretty Irish from
8. Concepcion (1862-1865) She died at the
age of three.
9. Josefa (1865-1945) She did not marry;
she died an old maid.
10. Trinidad (1868-1951) She died an old
maid, like Josefa.
11. Soledad (1870-1929) She was the
youngest of the Rizal children. She married
Pantaleon Quintero of Calamba.
Ancestry of Rizal
Jose Rizal, like a typical Filipino, was of mixed
ancestry. In his veins flowed the bloods of both
East and West – Negrito, Indonesian, Malay,
Chinese, Japanese and Spanish.
Rizal’s paternal great-great-grandfather was a
Chinaman named Domingo Lam-co, a native of
Chinchew, “China’s City of Spring”. His father,
Francisco, was a great grandson of Lam-co. Both
his father’s father and grandfather had been
Capitanes (town mayors) of Biñan.
It is said that on the maternal side, Rizal’s ancestor
was Lakan-Dula, the last Malayan King of Tondo. A
maternal great-great-grandfather was Eugenio Ursua, of
Japanese blood. Jose’s mother Teodora belonged to a clan
of gifted men. Her brothers Gregorio, Manuel and Jose
were men of unusual talents. Her father, Lorenzo Alberto
Alonso, was an engineer who was awarded by Spain with
the coveted decoration of “Knight of the Grand Order of
Isabela the Catholic.” Her maternal grandfather was Manuel
de Quintos, a prominent Manila lawyer. Her paternal
grandfather, Cipriano Alonso, was a Captain of Biñan. In
1849, when Governor Narciso Claveria ordered the Filipino
families to choose new surnames from a list of Spanish
family names, the children of Lorenzo Alberto Alonso
adopted the name ‘Realonda”. Hence Teodora Alonso
became Teodora Alonso Realonda.
Lorenzo Alberto Alonzo and Manuel Alberto Alonzo
The Name “Rizal”
The original name of the Rizal was “Mercado”. It
was a surname adopted in 1731 by Domingo Lam-co,
the paternal Chinese ancestor. In English, it means
“market”. Evidently, Lam-co liked it because it
appealed to his business nature and also because it
reminded him of his Chinchew ancestors who were
In the year 1849, as mentioned above, Governor
Claveria issued a decree directing all Filipino families
to choose new surnames from a list of Spanish family
names. The purpose of this gubernatorial decree was
to Hispanize the Filipino surnames which were difficult
for the Spanish authorities to pronounce, much less to
Jose’s father, Francisco, scanned the list of
Spanish surnames sent to Calamba, such as
“Cruz”, “Santos”, “Ramos”, “Rivera”, etc. he did
not like these surnames. Being a man of
independent character, he chose his own surname
Rizal, which was not in the list recommended by
the Spanish authorities. He considered this new
family name as more fitting for his farming clan
than Mercado which signifies “market”.
The term “Rizal” came from the Spanish word
rcial which means “green field” or “new pasture”.
Mercado which means “market”
Rizal which means “rice field”
The Rizal family was one of the richest families in
Calamba during the time prior to its persecution by the
friars. Rizal’s parents, by their industry and frugality, were
able to honestly build up a large fortune. By present-day
standards, they were rich. They were the first to build a
large stone house in Calamba, the first to own a carruaje
(horse-drawn carriage), the first to have a home library
(estimated to consist of more than 1000 volumes) and the
first to educate their children in the colleges of Manila.
The Rizal family raised rice, corn, and sugar on large
tracts of land rented from the Dominican estate of
Calamba. It operated a sugar mill, a flour mill, and a
home-made ham press. It engaged successfully in the dye
and sugar business and in the barter trade (exchange of
products with other towns).
Teodora, the hero’s mother, owned a store in
town which sold many articles of trade needed by the
people. She was a successful businesswoman, and the
profits of this store augmented the family income.
In due time, the Rizal family was able to purchase
another stone house in Calamba. This was another
proof of the family affluence.
Not only was the Rizal family of Calamba’s richest
families; it was, withal, highly esteemed and
respected. Combining wealth and culture, hospitality
and charm, it participated in all social and religious
activities in the community.
Don Francisco and Doña Teodora were
gracious hosts to all visitors – priests, alferez
(lieutenant of the Guardia Civil), Spanish
officials, and Filipinos – during holidays such
as Christmas, town fiesta and other
occasions. Beneath the Rizal roof, all guests,
irrespective of their color social position, or
economic status, were treated equally – with
all courtesy and hospitality.
The house of the Rizal family was one of the
distinguished stone houses in Calamba during the Spanish
times. It was rectangular in shape, “of adobe stone and
hardwood with a red-tiled roof.” Behind it were the poultry
yard full of turkeys and chickens and the garden of tropical
fruit trees – atis, balimbing, macopa, papaya, santol, tampoy,
It was a happy home where parental affection and
children’s laughter reigned. By day, it hummed with the
jubilant noises of the children at play. By night, it echoed with
the dulcet notes of family prayers. Both parents and children
were harmoniously united by strong ties of affection and
Such a wholesome home, naturally, bred a wholesome
family. And such a family was the Rizal family.