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PreMYo Rizal 1st Prize Winner High School: Doña Victorina’s Lesson on True Colors By Marisse T. Sonido from Assumption Antipolo, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City

Doctora Doña Victorina de los Reyes de De Espadaña.  Even her name itself has pomp and frills written all over it.  Meet Rizal’s effusive and self-proclaimed doña from Noli Me Tangerewho instantly caught my attention with her abundance of frills and comical dialogue.  As amusing as I found her, I soon realized that her character had a greater purpose than to provide a satirical image of a vain woman.  Like any character of Rizal’s, I realized that she served to teach us something about our society.  Reading from this perspective, I understood how Rizal used Victorina as a way to see our own flaws and work past them.

From the very start, it’s easy to see that Doña Victorina is all about appearances.  She is constantly described as wearing a European dress, beset with plenty of curls and painted with an abundance of cosmetics.  This show of appearances, though, is more than just proof of her shallow nature but also shows how obsessed Victorina is when it comes to achieving prestige and admiration.  It is perhaps this obsession that fuels her life-long efforts to pretend to be something she’s not:  a Spanish woman.  A Filipino by birth, Doña Victorina is a woman who easily abandons her true identity for one that will get her to a higher place in life.  A domineering person, she’s committed to do anything to gain esteem, even intimidating her husband to improve their social standing by lying about his profession.  Victorina easily turns her back on her own people, caring nothing for the fact that she now becomes one of their abusers.

It’s easy to see how someone like Doña Victorina became the type of person she is.  She did, after all, live in a time where being a native of thePhilippines, or “Indio,” made you automatically inferior to the Spanish colonizers.  She saw that she would get none of the prestige she desired unless she became one of those who were on top.  Truthfully, I believe that her way of seeing things isn’t something that she can completely be blamed for.  During that time, it was something almost everyone believed as they witnessed how the Spanish controlled every aspect of life and how they were more prosperous as a nation.  Even Rizal acknowledged that we Filipinos had much to learn from our colonizers.  Victorina, though, took this belief to a point where she rejected her heritage.  This, Rizal shows us, is what really makes Victorina corrupted:  the fact that she knowingly turned her back on her country for her selfish ambitions.

Clearly, Doña Victorina’s purpose is to show us that it’s easy for anyone to be consumed by ambition.  Victorina, the consummate “social climber,” embodies that people would do anything to get attention, or respect.  Despite the time gap between our society and Rizal’s, these people are still present today.  They are the same people who tear each other apart, trying to come out on top in terms of fame or influence or those politicians who proclaim their good deeds to earn the approval and support of the public.  Doña Victorina as a social climber contributed nothing to her society, just as the social climbers of today do nothing to help our present society as they clamber over each other to reach the highest pedestal.

I admit that at some point in my life, I worked to earn the approval of others too for self-importance.  Rizal teaches us as we read about Victorina’s shallow desires that there is a difference in appearing great and being truly great as a person, and that respect earned through petty, shallow means isn’t worth earning at all.  What really matters is esteem gained by sincerity, honesty and hard work.

Doña Victorina is also a character who never seems to find security in who she really is.  Aside from her denial of her nationality, she constantly covers herself in cosmetics and frills to improve on those appearances she values so greatly.  To her, these “improvements” help mask her Filipino identity and help her assume an appearance more like those of the Spanish:  pale-skinned, with curly hair.  For her, these physical attributes represent her integration into Spanish society.  Aren’t these physical traits, after all, the first way people differentiate between our race and theirs?  Again, people similar to Victorina in this respect are still present in our society.  Dissatisfied with their true identities, these people conform to the traits most desired by the majority, or those they believe are superior to their own.  Today, people use treatments like glutathione to whiten their skin, still believing that pale skin makes one more attractive.  Often, people also undergo treatments for their hair, to make it straighter, curlier or even a lighter color.  Like Victorina, being unsatisfied with appearances could represent a deeper source of discontent:  unhappiness with one’s heritage.

Rizal describes Doña Victorina as an example of how one can forget the value of nationalism.  Of course, every nation has its flaws and it’s only realistic to acknowledge them.  Currently, though, many of us Filipinos are growing more dissatisfied with the situation in our country.  Tragedies like typhoon Ondoy and the Maguindanao Massacre have scarred many, along with rampant corruption, poverty and violence.  This dissatisfaction tears away at the love and pride we have for thePhilippines, prompting us to look for better horizons elsewhere until we have completely turned our backs on our homeland.

Sometimes, it isn’t for the same selfish reasons as Doña Victorina’s.  11% of Filipinos, for example, leave the country as overseas Filipino workers in hopes of finding a secure future for themselves and their families.  It’s not out of hatred for thePhilippines, but because our country’s many flaws make some people feel that they have to leave it behind in order to move forward.  Frequently, though, it also originates from colonial mentality.  It’s something most of us have in common with the Filipinos of Rizal’s time, who were made to believe that they were inferior to those who ruled over them.  Today, we are no longer colonized but we have terms like “first world countries” and “third world countries” that emphasize the big difference between economically progressive nations and developing nations like ours.  These imply and influence us to think that no matter what we do, these powerful countries will always be better in every aspect.  Whether it’s the quality of products they produce, the sturdiness of their infrastructure, or the distinctiveness of their culture, we Filipinos automatically assume that these more prosperous countries are better than thePhilippines.  In attaching a sense of inferiority to the word “Filipino,” we kill our own opportunities for growth by assuming that we can never become greater as a nation.

In his time, Rizal saw this notion of inferiority as the same thing that hindered the potential we had as a nation.  Through Victorina, he wanted to show the Filipinos in his society that the only way they could rise above oppression was to embrace their national identity.  In the same way, Rizal shows us that we will remain enslaved by our country’s present problems and our colonial mentality if we can’t find enough pride and love to make thePhilippinesthe better place we desire.  Through Victorina, Rizal asks us all a crucial question:  if even we can’t stay in our own country and work for its growth, who else will bother to make the difference?

In the form of Doña Victorina’s greed and superficiality, I learned the harm that yearning for undeserved respect can bring to me and everyone around me.  I realized I should concentrate on doing what I can for my community instead of what I can gain.  Most importantly, through Doña Victorina’s colonial mentality, I learned what nationalism really means.  It means to embrace your country’s flaws to be able to work towards progress and growth; to see that there is something better out there, and using that knowledge, to help your country instead of giving up on it.  Rizal showed me that I too can help make thePhilippinesgreater, even if it’s just by studying well and equipping myself with knowledge I can use to help my country in the future.

Looking back at Noli Me Tangere, I can say I’m glad Doña Victorina caught my interest so strongly.  In telling me a story of a Filipina who held no love for her country, Rizal renewed my sense of nationalism and armed me with knowledge and insight Doña Victorina will never gain.  He inspired me with his novel to be proud of the heritage Victorina denied and to make myself a better person by becoming a better Filipina.  A timeless teacher, Rizal’s lessons for us Filipinos are something we will always need.  Just as he did the people of his time, he will always serve to open our minds and to push us to become the change thePhilippines truly needs.