How I met Dr. Jose Rizal at the Brooklyn Bridge

A portrait of Rizal as artist. Photo:

By Nestor Palugod Enriquez

The Statue of Liberty in the Hudson River greeted our Navy ship to New York City 50 years ago. My eyes eagerly scanned the New York skyline as I was waiting for the Liberty Call announcement. The panoramic view from the water was incredible, I would swap it to a view of the water as I stepped ashore, Liberty Call, Liberty Call…

Manhattan Island is a liberty paradise for any sailor. In just few hours, I would be staring at the bottom of my beer glass, feeling refreshed, a common experience for sailors after a few days at sea. A few more glasses were enough to rewind my memory back to another time in the same zone. “Bottoms up” easily put me in the mood for taking more liberty of my past life.

Over a century ago in the spring of 1888, Lady Liberty first stood on the harbor, joining the Brooklyn Bridge as an icon of New York. I met Dr. Jose Rizal on my liberty tour in Mid-Manhattan. Other icons I encountered include the first equestrian George Washington monument historic in Union Square in 1856 and another statue located in Greenwich Village. These were part of the landscape near Madison Square Park where Rizal lived.

Rizal said: “Was in New York; big town, but there everything is new. I visited some memorials to Washington, the great man who, I think, has no equal in this century.”

I was surprised to hear his admiration for the revolutionary George Washington rather than Jefferson. Rizal would distance himself from violent revolutions and the likes of Bonifacio. George Washington was the American general of the war for independence in the battlefield and father of the country.

Rizal has many gifts, however. He supplemented his numerous writings with almost Instamatic sketches of the places he visited. At the time, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883 and became the longest suspension bridge in the world. There were already Filipino sailors boarding around Brooklyn Navy Yard during that time. The architecture remains a marvelous sight in East cityscape. Charles Adams Platt, a prominent New York etcher, painted the bridge in 1888, but I have been looking for the copy of the rough sketches by Jose Rizal. It took me years, and I finally found a copy of his sketch.

Rizal's sketch

I sober up as I saw the Gothic twin towers and steel suspension cable. I drove over this bridge many times as I lived in Brooklyn later in my life. It is the same as it was when Rizal left in New York on board the City of Rome, the Titanic ocean steamer of the 1880s.

The portrait is worth thousands of words without language to understand or speak. City of Rome is said to be the second largest ship in the world. On board the ship they published a periodical at the end of the voyage.

“There I became acquainted with many people, and as I carried a yo-yo with me, the Europeans and Americans were astonished to see how I could use it as a weapon of offense. . .I was able to speak to all of them and understand them in their own languages,” Rizal wrote in one of his letters.

The luxury steamer brought Rizal to Liverpool, he took the train to London and spent 1888 Christmas with the Beckett family. Again he showed his engraving skill when he etched Gertrude Beckett, he was in love, in the language of Shakespeare.

He has many gifts, and I was fortunate to have his company on my Cinderella Liberty excursion in the Big Apple.

Nestor Palugod Enriquez is the president of the Filipino American National Historical Society-New Jersey.

One Comment

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