Jose Martí is both Cuba’s favourite son and its modern father. He was nicknamed the “Apostle of Cuban Independence” for his efforts in the rebellion against Spain in the late 19th century. Indeed, he lost his life in that struggle, in 1895 at the age of 42. For such a young man, he made indelible contributions to Cuba and to the rest of Latin America. Everywhere you go in Cuba, you will see statues of Martí: in public spaces, in people’s front yards, in classrooms, everywhere.
Martí was born in Havana in the 1850s. He had seven younger sisters. He joined the Ten Years War rebels in 1868 at the age of 15 and became a revolutionary. He wrote poetry supporting the independence movement and was arrested and tried for treason at 16. He was exiled to Spain after some time of incarceration in Cuba. He would continue his revolutionary writings in Spain and worked as a journalist while continuing his schooling. He made friends with Victor Hugo during this time. When he finished school in Spain, he was denied a return to Cuba, so he headed to Mexico and Guatemala where he continued his political writing and journalistic endeavours. Throughout this time he fiercely advocated for Cuba’s independence from Spain while connecting himself with revolutionaries throughout Latin America.
The Ten Years War ended in 1878, and Martí made brief visits home to Cuba during this time before moving to the U.S. for about 10 years. Martí’s wife and son joined him there, but his revolutionary fervour was not shared by his family, who soon returned to Cuba. During this time, Martí met another woman who bore him a daughter, María Mantilla, who would later have a famous son: Cesar Romero, the prolific actor also known as the Joker in the campy 60s TV Batman, among so many other roles.
While in the U.S., Martí mobilised the exile community for Cuba’s independence and toured Latin America and the U.S. extensively in pursuit of his ultimate goal: a free Cuba. He finally returned to Cuba in 1895 for the second Cuban revolution and was killed in action at the Battle of Dos Ríos on May 19 of that year.
The day before his death, Martí wrote a letter to his friend Manuel Mercado. In that letter, he included the following passage: “I am in daily danger of giving my life for my country and duty, for I understand that duty and have the courage to carry it out-the duty of preventing the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.” source This encapsulates much of Martí’s mission and philosophy: that Cuba should be free and unencumbered by imperial claims, whether those be from Spain or the United States. He saw friendship with the U.S. as a positive, as long as Cuba remained cautious and stood on its own. His philosophies live on today all over Cuba where his contributions are celebrated and cherished.
Title quote: Jose Martí