How ‘Sisa’ got her name, and other Rizal stories

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‘SISA’. Jose Rizal’s second eldest sister, Narcisa, took care of Josephine Bracken.

Did you know that “Sisa,” a character in Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere,” was named after an actual person?

“Going home?” Amelia Garcia Yulo asked, taking her cue from other descendants of Rizal who were leaving Fort Santiago last Sunday as the rain grew stronger.

But then the great-grandchild of Narcisa, Rizal’s second eldest sister, decided to stay and grant an interview while waiting for the rain to stop.

“I came here all alone,” Yulo told the Inquirer in Filipino when asked who she came with for the biggest gathering of Rizal’s descendants to celebrate his 150th birth anniversary. “My husband died a few years ago.”

Sitting in a monobloc chair, she told stories of her great-granduncle.

“It was my grandmother who used to tell stories to my mom, Anita, an only child,” said Yulo, who asked that her age not be revealed. “Her name was Angelica Abreu, Narcisa’s second child.”

Back then, Yulo narrated, Narcisa, the first in the family to get married, was the confidante of Jose and their brother Paciano.

It was Narcisa who was diligent about visiting Rizal when he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, she said. “She was likened to a second mother” to her brother.

It was also this close relationship that prompted Narcisa to take care of Josephine Bracken when Rizal was imprisoned and her father had left the country, Yulo said.

“Narcisa was also with him a few times when he was in [exile in] Dapitan,” she said.

One story not many people know about, she said, was that the name Sisa in “Noli Me Tangere” was taken from Narcisa.

“A few days before he started writing ‘Noli Me Tangere,’ Narcisa visited Rizal,” Yulo said. “He asked her permission to use her name in a book he was about to write.”

“But he assured her that although Sisa’s character would be that of a mother who loses her sanity, she would be portrayed in the book as a loving mother,” she said.

Being a descendant of the national hero made Yulo feel very proud and honored.

Her mother would always tell her children to “study well, love our country and respect our parents.”

We have to live up to the name of our national hero, Yulo said.

In years past, Rizal’s birthday only meant offering flowers at his monument at Rizal Park. Last Sunday’s gathering, she said, was aimed at getting the descendants together to get acquainted with one another.

During a press conference at the Intramuros Visitors Center, Lisa Bayot, a descendant of Saturnina, Rizal’s eldest sister, said the group MyRizal was composed mainly of Rizal family members and nationalists who want to do something special for the national hero.

“Rizal transcends age, gender and nationality,” Bayot said.

Since MyRizal has become a movement, it is encouraging volunteerism among Filipinos, she added.

MyRizal has started a feeding program for children at the Baseco compound in Tondo, Bayot revealed.

There will be exhibits about Rizal by renowned Filipino artists in different museums.

In August, a nationwide essay-writing contest among students in different levels will be held in partnership with the Department of Education.

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