“APPEARANCES” (This is an Essay submitted by a High School

(This is an Essay submitted by a High School Student. This is a shortlisted entry to Inquirer’s Contest in
commemorating Jose Rizal and his works; 04 December 2011)
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 Tangere who 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 the Philippines, 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 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 the Philippines, 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 the Philippines, 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 the Philippines. 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 the
Philippines the 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 the Philippines greater, 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 the Philippines truly needs.
required as an explanation on each number. Your answers should be somehow in relation with the aforementioned essay.
Why do Filipinos tend to be someone that they are not? What could be the root cause of this mindset? Why? -10 pts
What is your ultimate ambition in your life and why? What could be the effects if we are too much consumed by our
ambition? Why? -10 pts
What is the difference in appearing great and being truly great as a person? Provide 2 opposing known personalities
in our society that best exemplify such difference. Justify your answers. – 10 pts
Cite two instances in which you conform yourselves to the traits most desired by majority. Why did you act on such
conformity? – 10 pts
Why is it that a sense of “inferiority” is always attached to the word Filipino? Have you felt the same sense of
inferiority? Why? – 10 pts
As a student of your own course, how can your resolve this issue of inferiority. Justify your answers? – 10 pts