21 June 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On 19 June 2020, Sentro Rizal Washington DC, in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippines on the Potomac Project (POPDC), US-Philippines Society, and The Rita M. Cacas Foundation, hosted a webinar, entitled “Serving Rizal”, in celebration of the 159th Birth Anniversary of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal and the 2nd Anniversary of Sentro Rizal Washington DC.
Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, author of “The Foods of Jose Rizal” and “In Excelsis: The Mission of Jose P. Rizal – Humanist and Philippine National Hero”, headlined the event.
Felice Prudente Sta. Maria delivered a presentation anchored on the question, What would I do if Jose Rizal were to drop by for a chat?” She highlighted the various foods and meals that were present during some of the significant moments in the hero’s life, and the values that he continues to represent for the present generation of Filipinos.
Ms. Sta. Maria said Rizal believed that “Every Filipino can not only be capable of genius but capable of being honorable”.
“You’re bringing us back to the region. We are Asians and we should be thinking about food in Asia. Your proposal to look at the ‘Asian-ness’ in us is very good,’ said Filipino scholar and historian Dr. Bernadita Churchill in her response to the main presentation.
History professor Xiao Chua said, ‘(Rizal) was also looking at food and human rights. How Rizal fought for human rights, although not explicitly saying, for Filipinos to have food on the table. The concept of human rights in the Philippines is not just about political rights and civil rights but also of having food”. Professor Chua further underlined Rizal’s description of food in his written works as a reflection of the great social inequality in the Philippines under the Spanish colonial administration.
Chef Jam Melchor, founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, remarked, “Revisiting history is very important, especially for us chefs because this will jumpstart an in-depth discussion of food history. I think Rizal is indirectly the first food activist.” Chef Melchor also proposed that the food community focus not on whether a dish or food is Filipino, but on how it becomes Filipino.
As part of the celebration, Sentro Rizal Washington DC invited the public to submit short videos of what they would serve Dr. Rizal for his 159th birthday. Submissions were received from The Bahamas, Canada, the Philippines, and Washington, D.C., with a variety of dishes such as champorado, pork humba, longganisa bake, coffee dalgona, pancit, and vegan tinola.
To synthesize the discussions, Ambassador John Maisto, president of the US-Philippines Society, underscored how Rizal’s advocacy for human dignity and freedom continues to resonate in the present times, not only in the Philippines but also in the United States.
“As with the rest of the world facing this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sentro Rizal is transitioning to the ‘new normal’ and bringing its programs online. We hope this will allow us to reach a wider range of audience not just here in the US but also in the Philippines and possibly in other countries as well,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel G. Romualdez stated in his remarks.
“In conclusion, I want to remind our viewers that all of us can be a modern-day Jose Rizal not just by emulating his love for our country and our food, but by serving our communities and fellow Filipinos during this time of uncertainty. Our Filipino frontliners are the best examples of this service. Let us remember them as we make our own contributions and do our part in realizing a free, united, and safe Philippines,” Ambassador Romualdez further said. “Serving Rizal” is available for streaming on the official Facebook page of the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C.