Queridas ni Rizal: the Ambeth Ocampo lecture

The weekend before the MIBF, I attended the Ambeth Ocampo lecture at the Ayala Museum. I wanted to go to the lecture since I saw the announcement go up on Facebook — it’s been years (don’t ask how many!) since my History 165 (Rizal and the Emergence of the Filipino Nation) class, but I haven’t forgotten the fun I had that semester!

It was good a friend reserved a slot for me at the lecture, as nothing turned out as planned. I found myself on the other side of the metro, drumming my fingers on my lap inside a cab as I was stuck in heavy traffic for over an hour. The friends I was supposed to go to the lecture with suddenly found themselves caught up in urgent business, and I was afraid I wouldn’t make it! I got to Ayala Museum at exactly 3 pm. Good thing I was waved through when I presented my receipt so I managed to snag one of the last seats in the jam-packed hall right before the lecture started.

First, I must apologize for the bobbing heads in the photos. There were about a couple hundred people in front of me, but I wasn’t complaining, as dozens of people were standing at the far end of the hall. But my luck ends there, as in keeping with the comedy of errors I’d experienced that day, my phone’s battery was dying so I wasn’t able to record anything and I did not even have anything to write with, so no notes either. Plus (facepalm!) I brought the wrong camera (not enough zoom, no time to stop at home to switch cams!) so bobbing heads it is, hehehe.

Sir Ambeth kicked off the lecture by exploring the word “querida,” particularly how it connotes “mistress” in Filipino culture, when its original meaning in Spanish is “darling” or “sweetheart.” I mention this because I remember being confused about it when I was young, because in Addams Family, Gomez called Morticia “querida.” Haha!

Then he proceeded to comment on the two Rizal rumors that never seemed to die, and a la Mythbusters, presented the case for both:

#1: Rizal as Hitler’s father: BUSTED.
Rizal was nowhere near Germany the year (or nine months before) Hitler (ahem, Alois Schicklgruber)
was born. Read Rizal without the Overcoat!

#2: Rizal as Jack the Ripper: PLAUSIBLE!
No conclusive evidence, but Rizal was indeed in London, copying out Morga’s
Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas in the British Library during the time
Jack the Ripper was active, and the killings stopped when he left London.
Plus he was trained in medicine and was good with a sword!
(and, as Ambeth Ocampo says a student pointed out, they have the same initials: J.R.!!! LOL)

The lecture also touched on the challenges of doing research on Rizal, the most glaring of which is how people in authority gloss over the facts to project a better image of the National Hero.

The main course for the lecture, was of course, the lady loves of Jose Rizal, and the evidence for each. This is not a full gallery, as some of them have no photos. And yes, bobbing heads again.

Segunda Katigbak – the first love, engaged to someone else.
Their romance apparently set a pattern for Rizal’s future relationships.

Leonor Rivera, “Taimis” –  actually Rizal’s cousin.
The model for Maria Clara, and saddest story ever!
Forced by mother to marry a foreigner, she burned all of Rizal’s letters and
sewed the ashes in the hem of her wedding dress — so that she would feel
her lost love crumbling at her feet while she walked down the aisle
(and here the audience bursts into a collective Awww!)


the second Leonor: Leonor Valenzuela, or “Orang”
— Rizal went to Spain

O-Sei-San. Said to be daughter of a samurai.
Rizal returned to the Philippines, heartbrokenly writing “Sayonara” in his diary

the English lass, Gertrude Beckett, daughter of Rizal’s landlord
(for extra rice, Ambeth Ocampo said!)
Pet names: Gettie and Pettie
Gertrude was madly in love with him, and Rizal ran away to Paris.

Nellie Boustead for whom Rizal nearly dueled with Juan Luna  sorry, it was Antonio!
Rizal proposed but Mrs. Boustead did not approve of him.
Plus, Nellie wanted Rizal to convert to the Protestant faith ( Miss Universe?!?)

Suzanne Jacoby from Brussels, who called Rizal a “naughty little boy”

Josephine Bracken, whom Rizal considered his wife.
Fought the family in court for rights to Rizal’s estate, but lost.
Also a sad story – died penniless in Hong Kong, buried in an unmarked grave.

Oh, Rizal had the moves all right, the “girls-don’t-pay-attention-to-me -I’m-not-handsome-I’m-not-tall-I’m-not cute” kind. Thirteen women in all, and Rizal only proposed to three of them:  Leonor Rivera, Nellie Bousted, and Josephine Bracken. The rest he ran away from, swift as the wind, before the relationship could get serious!

The lecture explored theories on why Rizal did not get married:

or is it because, as Rizal puts it, “in critical moments in [his] life [he has] always worked against [his] will?”

Ambeth Ocampo puts forth another interesting theory, woman # 14, his mother, whom he has also referred to as “querida.” His mother, who cradled his skull long after he was executed:


We may never know the answers, but it’s fun to theorize.

I’ve listened to the girlfriend chronicles in class (never missed Hi165, and front row, too), and read them in the books, but I thoroughly enjoyed this lecture — never a dull moment, indeed, and I learned a lot of new information, too (baby Peter…. and the piña hankies, boo hoo hoo!). And I bet the 500 other people who spent Saturday afternoon at the lecture will agree with me.


P.S. The lecture came with a free copy of the newest Looking Back book, Chulalongkorn’s Elephants. There was a crazy line for signing at the lecture — I got it signed at the MIBF instead!

P.P.S. Flips Flipping Pages will be discussing the Looking Back books in November! Will post more details in a few weeks.

8 thoughts on “Queridas ni Rizal: the Ambeth Ocampo lecture”

  1. Thank you for blogging about Querida Ni Rizal. I missed this one (BY A WEEK) because I mistook the date for the manga lectures in Ayala Museum. Anyway… You covered it pretty well for someone with limited resources. At least you were ON TIME. Thank you again!

    1. :) Hehe, see, someone already pointed out a detail I got wrong.

      Must’ve been a real bummer to miss it. I think there’ll be another one before the year ends.

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