Remembering José Martí (1853–1895)
José Martí was born in Cuba on this day in 1853. His parents were Spanish and settled on the island. At the time, Cuba was a Spanish colony, and Martí's generation played a major role in the long and very costly Cuban War of Independence. My father's grandfather was part of that generation and stood up to Spain in the second half of the 19th century. My grandmother's cousin fought in that conflict.
Martí was more of an intellectual than a warrior. His poetry and books are read in every university all over the world. In 1966, one of his poems or "versos sencillos" became the lyrics for "Guantanamera" the pop song recorded by The Sandpipers. ("Yo soy un hombre sincero de donde crece la palma" or "I am a truthful man from the land of palm trees.")
Martí was killed in 1895 in a confrontation with Spanish troops. It happened a couple of years before the Maine exploded in Havana's harbor and the U.S. intervened.
From our early days in the U.S., my father had a picture of José Martí on the wall of his home office, where he'd play chess. It was next to a pre-Castro "peso bill" with Martí's picture framed on the wall. It was nostalgia and a reminder that the pre-Castro peso actually had the same value as a dollar. My father was a banker in Cuba, so he knew a thing or two about the exchange rates.
Martí's picture was a part of our family pictures on the wall. It was there among our First Communion photos, my parents' wedding, the grandparents, and other souvenirs from Cuba. My guess is that most Cuban families have a picture of Martí on their walls, too.
My parents also had a Martí quote on their wall: "Nunca son más bellas las playas del destierro que cuando se les dice adiós."
It loosely translates to "the beaches of the exile are never more beautiful than when you wave good-bye to them." It's a reminder that many Cubans came to the U.S. hoping for a return to a free Cuba. As my mother used to say, the quote took her back to a beautiful and lovely place called Cuba.
So we remember Jose Martí today and all of those conversations I had with my late father about the man he called "the Apostle of Cuban independence."
PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk).