How do students of American Literature learn to recognize the background and heritage of Hispanic-American authors?

Jose Marti: 1853 – 1895
Mini-Lecture by Dr. Elizabeth Livingston Davidson

One of my favorite poets when I was growing up in Miami, Florida was Jose Marti. I listened to many songs composed from his beautiful lyrics set to music. I was six years old, attending Epiphany Catholic School in 1962, when the first large wave of Cubans fleeing the Castro regime arrived in Miami. Many of the children were sent to Catholic schools such as mine, and I made many friends. Most of the other elementary school kids, like myself, had never even heard of the “Hero of Havana,” but in the years to come Jose Marti was recognized as the voice of Cuban freedom. This is the one of the earliest authors who fits the definition of Hispanic-American because Jose Marti wrote in both Spanish and English.

By Jose Marti

I cultivate a white rose
Cultivo una rose blanca
In July as in January,
En julio como en enero,
For the sincere friend
Para el amigo sincero
Who gives me his hand frankly.
Que me da su mano franca.
And for the cruel person who tears out
Y para el cruel que me arranca
The heart with which I live,
El corazon con que vivo,
I cultivate neither nettles nor thorns;
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo;
I cultivate a white rose.
Cultivo una rose blanca.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Jose Julian Marti y Perez was the son of poor Spanish immigrants. Thanks to the aid of his teacher, he was able to go to high school just at the time of the Ten Years’ War. Cuba’s first struggle for independence from Spanish colonial rule began. Marti quickly committed himself to the cause, publishing his first newspaper, La Patria Libre (Free Fatherland), in 1869. Soon he was arrested for denouncing a pro-Spanish classmate and was sentenced to six years at hard labor.
Freed after only a few months, Marti began the exile that would characterize the better part of the rest of his life. He went to Spain where he published El presidio polico en Cuba, a rousing attach on Cuban prisons. He received his university education in Madrid and Zaragoza and then returned to the New World.
From 1881 until his fateful return to Cuba in 1895, Marti spent much of his time in New York. He reported on life in the United States for many newspapers in Latin America. He wrote everything from a magazine for children to poetry to essays on the nature of life in the U. S. that he admired for its energy and industry as well as its notable statesmen, particularly the framers of the Constitution. However, Marti denounced the imperialist nations of some factions in the government.
Despite his busy literary career, Marti spent much of his time planning the second Cuban struggle for independence. He insisted that the next war should be short (to avoid U.S. intervention) and fought with a ‘republican method and spirit’ (to forestall the possibility of a military dictatorship). In 1892 he founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party to organize the coming struggle. By early 1895, his preparations were complete. He would set sail with the generals from the last struggle and considerable supplies from Fernandina, Florida.
Then, U.S. authorities seized the ships just as they were about to set sail. Marti arrived in Cuba without any special authority and no way to keep his generals in check. He was killed in a small skirmish not two weeks after he had landed.
In the 1920s and 1930s Marti was embraced by a new generation of nationalist Cubans as el apostol and cherished by many other Latin Americans as well. As the great Nicaraguan poet Ruben Dario noted, Marti belonged to “an entire race, an entire continent.”
We only have to read his writing and learn the history of his struggle to realize that Marti believed that freedom and justice should be the cornerstones of any society. He could never accept the curtailment of the natural expansiveness of the human spirit, for truly he believed that man’s redemption would come through love and unfettered reason. Therefore, his doctrines are, and must be, at odds with the totalitarian dogma that has existed in Cuba for the past forty years.

“Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think, and to speak without hypocrisy.”

“Like bones to the human body, the axle to the wheel, the wing to the bird, and the air to the wing, so is liberty, the essence of life. Whatever is done without liberty is imperfect.”

“Happiness exists on earth, and it is won through prudent exercise of reason, knowledge of the harmony of the universe, and constant practice of generosity. He who seeks it elsewhere will not find it for, having drunk from all the glasses of life, he will find satisfaction only in those.”

“Talent is a gift that brings with it an obligation to serve the world, and not ourselves, for it is not of our making. To use for our exclusive benefit”

(“Thoughts” from: )

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