Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight
The Republican National Hispanic Assembly dedicates this National Hispanic Heritage Month spotlight to Poet and journalist José Martí, who spent his short life fighting for the freedom of Cuba, that the years would fall prey to dictator Fidel Castro.
José Martí was born to poor Spanish immigrant parents in Havana, Cuba, on January 28, 1853. Demonstrating natural artistic abilities from an early age, he initially pursued studies in painting before turning his energies to writing. By the time he was 16, his poetry and other work were appearing in print. At the same time, he was developing his literary talents, Martí was forming his political consciousness as well. He was passionate about the growing revolutionary efforts to liberate Cuba from Spain, known as the Ten Years’ War, and soon devoted his skills as a writer to advance the cause. To that end, in 1869, Martí created the newspaper La Patria Libre, in which he published several significant poems, including the dramatic “Abdala,” in which he described the liberation of an imaginary country.
After being exiled from Cuba for his political views, by 1881, Martí settled in the Big Apple, New York City, where he wrote in both English and Spanish for several newspapers, including a regular column for Buenos Aires’ La Nación. Tackling a variety of subjects, Martí was as skilled at social and political commentary as he was at literary criticism. He wrote well-received essays about such poets as Walt Whitman, and he shared his impressions of the United States as a correspondent. In one of his most famous essays, “Our America” (1881), he called for Latin American countries to unite. He also suggested that these countries learn from the United States, but establish governments based on their own cultures and needs. He also continued to write and publish poetry during this time, including the collections Ismaelillo (1882) and Versos Sencillos (1891). In addition to writing, Martí worked as a diplomat for several Latin American nations, serving as a consul for Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. However, he never forgot about Cuba during his time abroad. Traveling around the United States, Martí developed ties with other Cubans living in exile.
Martí soon joined forces with two nationalist generals from the Ten Years’ War, Máximo Gómez, and Antonio Maceo, and raised funds from Cuban exiles and political organizations to support their efforts. On January 31, 1895, Martí left New York City to make his way to Cuba, where he and his supporters arrived in on April 11 to began their fight. Martí was shot and killed by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos on May 19.
Martí is now considered a national hero in Cuba. The famous patriotic folk song “Guantanamera” features lyrics adapted from his Versos Sencillos and was later made famous when it was recorded by many, many Americans and Hispanics throughout the world.