The First OFW

A business card Dr Jose Rizal used for one of his many careers (opthalmologist).  Thanks to the Lolo Jose's Philosophy and Quotes Facebook page!

A business card Dr Jose Rizal used for one of his many careers (opthalmologist). Thanks to the Lolo Jose’s Philosophy and Quotes Facebook page!

[ Note : Our national hero was certainly not the first OFW abroad but probably one of the most famous.  Please help and see if this draft of a short talk at the Sentro Rizal launching tomorrow (at the Philippine Embassy in Wellington) will be interesting enough to keep kabayan who will be present from falling asleep. 🙂  Thanks for any comments, stay safe all Kiwinoys in Wellington and the rest of New Zealand as well as typhoon-conscious Philippines! ]

SIX YEARS ago migration was not on top of my priorities.  Like any Filipino, we all dream of going abroad, but I had a steady job back home at the time and had just started a relationship with my girlfriend.  However, the planets aligned to give me a chance to stay in New Zealand.   A short stay became an overstay, legally of course, I found a job, lost my job, found another job, my visit visa expired, applied for a work visa, received one, asked my girlfriend to join me, married my girlfriend in Wellington, and before I knew it, 2007 had become 2013.  But my point is, although migrating to another land is a desirable outcome in our lives, we sometimes do not plan for it.

Dr Jose Rizal, whose birthday (19th June) we incidentally celebrated earlier this week, was probably one of those people who didn’t plan to go overseas.  First, as many of us know, he was an exceptionally intelligent person.  According to many internet sources, he was a polymath and a polyglot.  The first means being knowledgeable in many fields.  The second means being able to speak many languages.  You and I probably learned this in school, but we may not always remember that Dr Rizal was able to acquire a lot of this knowledge by going abroad and staying there for a long period of time.  Because of his travels and learning, he was able to train for specialized medical practice that enabled him to restore his mother’s eyesight.  He was able to learn to speak fluently 11 languages and understand as many as 22 languages.

It was abroad in Europe where Dr Rizal wrote and published two novels that would be part of Philippine history, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

For sure, Dr Jose Rizal did some of his most important work abroad, but his time overseas was almost surely his loneliest.  He was away from his first love, and he often faced the bitter winter cold with the least possible comfort.  But through it all, his fortitude served as an example for all of us future migrants to follow.


Personally, I can identify with our national hero not just because of his love for country and adventurous spirit, but also because he spent a long time overseas, just as I am doing now. To learn, to refresh himself, to stay away from the troubles of home, and just about anything else, his travels were quite useful to him.

One thing that would have been a source of comfort to him so many days away from home, had it been available, was a library of books and periodicals about the motherland.  Being a very literary and well-read person, such a facility would have been of immense comfort to him, especially as he was going through a lot of challenges at the time.

Of course we know that he did not have that luxury.  Almost a century and a half later however, we as migrants no longer need to do without, whenever we need Filipiniana resources about our culture.

We have, in the embassy located in our adopted country’s capital a generous collection of books, articles and related items about Filipino history, culture and the arts.

It is but fitting that the works of Dr Rizal and some of our heroes are located here as well, for it is their blood, sweat, tears and inspiration that made possible the freedom of future generations and most probably part of the reason we are here today.

Kudos to the Philippine Embassy under the leadership of Her Excellency Virginia H Benavidez and this initiative of creating a Sentro Rizal not just for ethnic Pinoys but for every student of history and letters, who may have even the slightest interest in Philippine history and culture.  Even without asking, I know everyone will be welcomed here.

Thank you very much!


One thought on “The First OFW

  1. Pingback: is it just me or r u unsurprised when a kabayan gets a bullet, garrote or hot chair abroad? | YLBnoel's Blog

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