Latino Studies José Martí
Alfred J. López
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0072


José Julian Martí y Pérez (b. 1853–d. 1895) was the founding hero of Cuban independence and stands among the half dozen most important Latin Americans of the 19th century. Beyond his accomplishments as a revolutionary, he was a giant of Latin American letters whose poetry, essays, and journalism rank among the most canonical texts of their time. As a poet he pioneered Latin American modernismo; his works, such as Ismaelillo (1882) and Versos sencillos (Simple verses, 1891), were considered masterpieces. His work as a US foreign correspondent appeared in South America’s most respected newspapers of the 1880s and stands today among the most important journalism of the Gilded Age. Martí also published four plays, a novel, and a newspaper, Patria, which served as the independence movement’s official publication. He also worked at various points as an editor and translator, a secondary teacher and university professor, and a diplomat. His collected works fill twenty-six volumes, with previously unknown writings still emerging. Martí’s life falls into three distinct phases: childhood and adolescence in Cuba (1853–1870); first exile and subsequent life in Spain, Mexico City, and Guatemala (1871–1878); and after a brief return to Cuba and subsequent second exile, his mature revolutionary period in New York City (1881–1895). Martí’s exile from Cuba occurred after his arrest and imprisonment for conspiracy. He spent his first four years abroad in Madrid and Zaragoza, where he earned a law degree. After graduation he rejoined his family in Mexico City, but he fled the country after the rise of the dictator Porfirio Díaz. While in Mexico Martí met Carmen Zayas Bazán, who he married in 1877 and brought to Guatemala, where he had emigrated. But political disagreements with President Justo Rufino Barrios forced the couple to leave the country. After an abortive attempt to resettle in Havana after the Ten Years War (1868–1878), Martí lived his last fifteen years in New York. By the 1880s New York had a sizable exile community and a history of Cuban activism, making it the perfect base for Martí’s revolutionary aspirations. Although he was virtually unknown in Cuba when he died in battle in 1895, by the 1930s Martí had become Cuba’s “apostle” of independence, his name synonymous with Cuban nationalism. Generations of Cuban governments further burnished his legend, which reached its apogee with the 1959 Cuban Revolution’s claim to Martí as its primary inspiration. The emigration of hundreds of thousands of Cubans fleeing the revolution further spread Martí’s fame to the United States and Europe. Although Martí was not a Latino in the narrow sense, his lived experience of exile and life in the United States has made him a key figure in the history of Latin American immigration to the United States and the forging of Latino/a identities.

General Overviews

Although books and essays on Martí began appearing shortly after his death in 1895 and continue to abound, most pre-1960 publications are hagiographies, few attempting serious critical evaluation of his life and work. Much of the posthumous mythology that has grown around Martí is the direct result of such writings, as scholars and ideologues have avoided the internal contradictions and complexities of his writings for their own political purposes. Decades of ideological warfare between the Cuban government and US-based exiles in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution have further deepened this problem, in effect producing two incompatible versions of Martí to suit their respective ideological imperatives. As a result, very little Martí scholarship produced before the 1990s moves beyond official or otherwise politically managed portrayals. Since the mid-1980s, more substantive examinations of his life and work have appeared both in Cuba and abroad, raising Martí scholarship to a level more deserving of his stature and importance. Abel and Torrents 1986 and Belnap and Fernández 1998 signal the direction and scope of this paradigm shift by their critical focus on Martí’s political writings and the range of scholars and positions represented in those collections. As general overviews, Fernández Retamar 1970 and Estrade 2000 offer an instructive contrast in this regard; Fernández Retamar’s introduction to Martí, although solid in its scholarship, hews closely to Cuban state orthodoxy, whereas Estrade’s more expansive study delves deeper into the critical problems and contradictions of his work. Montero 2004 is representative of current approaches, informed as it is by Latino/a and New Americanist scholarship. Lomas 2009 is to date the only major study of Martí in the specific context of Latino/a studies. Hidalgo Paz 2003 and Rodríguez-Silva 1996 are primarily reference works, although the latter’s chronology of Martí takes a more narrative approach and thus functions more as a general introduction.

  • Abel, Christopher, and Nissa Torrents, eds. José Martí: Revolutionary Democrat. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1986.

    This collection focuses on Martí’s political work but also provides a useful general introduction to his work. Its publication presages renewed scholarly interest in Martí beyond Cuba and the US exile community.

  • Belnap, Jeffrey Grant, and Raúl A. Fernández, eds. José Martí’s “Our America”: From National to Hemispheric Cultural Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

    This groundbreaking collection brings together a range of scholars from American, Latino/a, and Latin American studies whose broader hemispheric approach ushered in a new and productive era in Martí studies.

  • Estrade, Paul. José Martí: Los fundamentos de la democracia en Latinoamérica. Madrid: Casa de Velásquez, 2000.

    This important book presents a comprehensive overview of Martí’s political ideology and revolutionary vision in the context of both Cuban independence and a broader hemispheric politics.

  • Fernández Retamar, Roberto. Martí. Colección Los Nuestros 3. Montevideo, Uruguay: Biblioteca de Marcha, 1970.

    Fernández Retamar is widely considered Cuba’s preeminent Martí scholar. This book provides a useful overview of Martí’s life and work, albeit from a decidedly Marxist perspective. It is also recommended as an introduction to Fernández Retamar’s extensive body of work on Martí.

  • Hidalgo Paz, Ibrahím. José Martí, 1853–1895: Cronología. 2d ed. Havana, Cuba: Centro de Estudios Martianos, 2003.

    This expanded edition of Hidalgo Paz’s book is indispensable for anyone seriously interested in Martí. It provides a detailed chronological timeline, with weekly and at times daily entries encompassing every aspect of his life and work. It also contains separate listings of Martí’s domiciles, travels, and publication history, each in chronological order.

  • Lomas, Laura. Translating Empire: José Martí, Migrant Latino Subjects, and American Modernities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

    This ambitious but significantly flawed book presents Martí as an exemplary titular “migrant Latino subject,” reading his US writings through the multidisciplinary lens of Latino/a, American, and postcolonial studies. The book has been highly praised in some circles but has also drawn criticism for its methodology and some questionable translations.

  • Montero, Oscar. José Martí: An Introduction. New York: Palgrave, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403973634

    Although not a biography, this slender volume provides an overview of themes and issues, such as race, gender, and modernity, of particular interest to contemporary scholars of Martí.

  • Rodríguez-Silva, Delfin. Cronología martiana: La ruta apostólica de José Martí 1853–1895. Miami, FL: Ediciones Universal, 1996.

    Like Hidalgo Paz 2003, this chronology emphasizes Martí’s revolutionary writings and activities but takes a more narrative, anecdotal approach, with longer entries organized into years and months. Unlike Hidalgo Paz’s 2003 chronology, this one has not been updated since its original 1996 publication.

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