Cuban National Hero José Martí: Poet, Writer, Activist

By Victoria Cepeda, Efrain Nieves

Every time we write on historical figures, during the research process, our options, on what to bring you, expand. Thus, in our quest for content we are naturally pulled to where it all began for Native and non-Native Latin American. We are often taken back to the time when the Spanish ruled most of the Caribbean and Latin-America with the understanding how unpopular that era is among some of us but believing that certain key historical events for our culture traveled via Spain.

As the Spanish rule suffocated the lives of people, this period redifined who we are as the desire for freedom, at first nothing but whispers, became war cries that rippled across the Caribbean and Latin America. In the wake of those revolutionary wars, some men and women led, inspired and with their convinction helped liberate our people. One of those visionaries and leaders was Cuban martyr José Martí. Through his writing Marti inspired his countrymen/women to mobilize.

José Martí started his revolt at the early age of 16 writing a political piece in the newspaper El Diablo Cojuelo and a drama in verse form Abdala, published in the La Patria Libre newspaper. He also wrote one of his most notable poems 10 de octubre which was inspired by the October 10, 1868 revolt led by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and a group of Cuban patriots who took up arms against Spanish colonialism more famously known as La Guerra de los Diez Años.

Martí traveled around the world. He expressed his views fearlessly during his expedition:

  • In 1871 during his exile in Spain, Marti wrote a pamphlet titled Political Imprisonment in Cuba which referred to the maltreatment of Cubans by Spanish authority and promoted its independence. He published “A mis Hermanos Muertos el 27 de Noviembre” in honour of eight medical students executed in Havana accused of desecrating a Spanish grave.
  • In 1875 while living in Mexico City, Marti began editing and publishing current events on Mexico for Revista Universal, a broadsheet discussing politics, literature, and general business commerce. It is in the Revista Universal where he responded to anti-Cuban independence disputes from La Colonia Española newspaper that catered to the Spanish community in Mexico.
  • In 1877 while in Guatamala, he wrote the drama Patria y Libertad (Drama Indio) at the request of the government on independence. After publishing another book titled Guatemala, he returned to Cuba in 1878 and signed the Pact of Zanjón which gave slaves who fought against Spain freedom and ended the Cuban Ten Years’ War.
  • In the United States, Marti, among other posts, served as a consul for Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay while fervently promoting the independence of Cuba. He resided mostly in New York City were back then a large number of Cuban expatriates lived.
  • In 1895 he left New York to Santo Domingo and then to Cuba to join the war. He died in battle shortly thereafter in April 1895. Three years before the end of the Spanish-American war and seventeen years before Cuba gained its full independence in 1902.

José Martí’s greatest contribution to history and Latin America was his unrelenting pursuit of independence for his native Cuba, his countless manuscripts, poetry and writings that document a man’s quest and conviction. Today, we can honor his memory and legacy by writing to inform, educate and create awareness about the need for the international community to not forget Cuba. Though independent, Cuba remains unable to freely pursuit Marti’s wishes for his country.

Dos Patrias

Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche.
¿O son una las dos? No bien retira
su majestad el sol, con largos velos
y un clavel en la mano, silenciosa
Cuba cual viuda triste me aparece.
¡Yo sé cuál es ese clavel sangriento
que en la mano le tiembla! Está vacío
mi pecho, destrozado está y vacío
en donde estaba el corazón. Ya es hora
de empezar a morir. La noche es buena
para decir adiós. La luz estorba
y la palabra humana. El universo
habla mejor que el hombre.
Cual bandera
que invita a batallar, la llama roja
de la vela flamea. Las ventanas
abro, ya estrecho en mí. Muda, rompiendo
las hojas del clavel, como una nube
que enturbia el cielo, Cuba, viuda, pasa…



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