When Love Affects History

Apr 20, 2023, 4:10 AM
Eufemio Agbayani III

Eufemio Agbayani III


Last Tuesday, many of us marked the birthday of Leonor Rivera. Her birthday gained a little bit more attention this year due to the recently concluded GMA-7 series Maria Clara at Ibarra which, coincidentally, was made availbale on Netflix this week.

The attention was particularly because of the belief of many that the character Maria Clara was patterned after Leonor who was Jose Rizal's first true romantic love. The parallels are there: like Crisostomo Ibarra, Rizal had to leave behind his love to pursue higher studies which could help his townmates.

Unlike Maria Clara, who entered a convent rather than marry the choice of her real father, Leonor was pressured into marrying the English engineer Charles Henry Kipping who was involved in connecting the town of Dagupan in Pangasinan with Manila. The railroad would connect her native Camiling, Tarlac to a wider transport network.

This was partly because Leonor's mother, Silvestra Bauzon, intercepted letters from Rizal and hid it from her, making her think that he had forgotten her. Silvestra had feared that Rizal's status as an opposition figure against Spanish colonial policies would bring danger to her daughter's life.

It's not an unwarranted worry. We know of Gregoria de Jesus who endured so much hardship as wife to revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio. Bonifacio's own sister Espiridiona was married to Teodoro Plata who was among the men executed by the Spaniards on February 6,1897 for their participation in the Revolution.

Leonor may have been safe, but she was melancholic. She married Kipping on June 17, 1890. It is believed that only after the wedding did Silvestra reveal the letters Rizal sent Leonor, and as part of her mourning for him being the one that got away (TOTGA), she burned these letters and had them hidden in a box. She also reportedly refused to play the piano which she was very talented in. For his part, Rizal kept a lock of Leonor's hair with which he mourned bitterly when she died on August 28,1893 after giving birth to her second child.

This sad love story reminds us that our heroes were human too with emotions that affect their decisions and outlook in life. For me, it went beyond stories when I was able to see the slippers Leonor had stitched for Rizal on display at the NHCP Museo ni Jose Rizal Calamba. We exhibited it with an original photo from the NHCP Museo nina Leon at Galicano Apacible during Leonor's 150th birth anniversary. (Leonor, Rizal, and the Apacible brothers were cousins.) I was also able to see some of Leonor's personal effects--including the famed box supposedly containing the ashes of Rizal's letters--at the Yuchengco Museum.

And during last year's Rizal Day, I met her great grandson Michael Kipping during a tour organized by Bea Dolores of Renacimiento Manila. During that tour, we placed flowers on the spot where Rizal was shot, and Kipping planted a flaglet as one would for the tomb of a soldier. It was a poignant act of Leonor's kin recognizing the emotional toll of having to end her relationship with Rizal for his love for the country. Even though Leonor did not choose to end this relationship, we still have to recognize her sacrifice.

Hopefully, when our Rizal class professor asks us to memorize Rizal's romantic partners, we see this not just as intriga but as integral part of Rizal's story of sacrifice for the nation.



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