José Martí and Cuba
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0118
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0118
José Martí (b. 1853–d. 1895) was born in Havana, Cuba, and lived much of his life in exile: in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, and the United States. In New York, where he lived nearly fifteen years, he supported himself by writing chronicles for US and Latin American newspapers such as The Hour and The Sun of New York, La Opinión Nacional of Caracas, and La Nación of Buenos Aires. He also served for a brief period of time as a foreign representative of several governments (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay). He was the main organizer of Cuba’s last war of independence and although he was immensely popular among the émigré community in the United States, he was little known in Cuba, until the establishment of the Cuban Republic in 1902. During this period, Martí reached a political and literary prominence that few other men could aspire to or claim. He was praised for being not only a hero, but also one of Latin American’s leading thinkers and literary figures. His work went through numerous editions (Quesada y Aróstegui). His thoughts and life were praised in every major political speech, and his image was reproduced in multiple forms. Given Martí’s importance in Cuba, it comes as no surprise that there are so many biographies about his life and a vast bibliography on his work. This article covers Martí’s life and influential writings on Cuba, the United States, and Latin America. Due to the numerous citations and references to his work, this is only a survey of the most representative work that has been produced on his life and writings. I will concentrate on key aspects of his legacy, his biographies, his literary work, his political thought, and special topics that critics have explored.
Martí’s first biographical notes appeared in American newspapers during the last war of independence and immediately after his death in Cuba. They emphasized his heroism and his plans for a new nation (Reno 1899). They were written in English for an audience that wanted to know more about the present war and its leaders. They generally praised Martí’s organizational skills, his intellectual abilities, and his plan to free his country. During the Republic, however, Martí’s biographies became highly hagiographical, with some using religious motifs to exalt his image. He was regarded as the “apostle” of Cuba (Mañach 1933), the “saint of America” (Rodríguez-Embil 1941), and a “myth” (Hernández Catá 1970). They also explore the “intimate” side of Martí in an effort to humanize him after so much mythologization (Zacharie de Baralt 1945, Quesada y Miranda 1939). After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, on the other hand, his biographers spoke of his “revolutionary” life, his commitment to Cuba’s independence, and his anti-imperialist thought (Martínez Estrada 1967, Toledo Sande 1996). They left out any reference to religion.
Hernández Catá, Alfonso. Mitología de Martí. Miami, FL: Mnemosyne, 1970.
This is a well-written but hagiographical account of Martí’s life, written by one of Cuba’s most important writers. The book originally appeared in 1929, and it traces Martí’s life from birth to death. It incorporates some of his thoughts, especially on religion and self-sacrifice, to better convey the idea of his “myth.”
Mañach, Jorge. Martí: El apóstol. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1933.
This is still José Martí’s most popular biography. It was written by one of Cuba’s leading intellectuals.
Martínez Estrada, Ezequiel. Martí: Revolucionario. Havana, Cuba: Casa de Las Américas, 1967.
Estrada, an Argentinian critic in favor of the Cuban Revolution, dedicated the last years of his life to writing this two-volume biography of Martí, where he emphasized his “revolutionary” commitment to his nation as well as characteristics of his personality.
Quesada y Miranda, Gonzalo de. Facetas de Martí. Havana, Cuba: Editorial Trópico, 1939.
In this book, Gonzalo de Quesada, the son of Martí’s inseparable friend, Gonzalo de Quesada y Aróstegui, speaks of Martí’s passion for women, books, palmistry, music, and other things that were previously overlooked by his biographers.
Reno, George. “José Martí, ‘The Master.’” In True Stories of Heroic Lives: Stirring Tales of Courage and Devotion of Men and Women of the Nineteenth Century. By George Reno, 311–320. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1899.
Reno’s articles focus on Martí’s life and his political ideals, his popularity among the émigré community in the United States, and his death in Cuba. Reno refers to Martí as “the Master,” which is the nickname Cubans in the United States gave Martí before he died.
Rodríguez-Embil, Luis. José Martí, el santo de América: Estudio crítico-biográfico. Havana, Cuba: Comisión Central Pro-Monumento a Martí, 1941.
Rodríguez-Embil’s biography of Martí received the first prize in the celebrations that predated the inauguration of Martí’s monument in Havana. It is a mixture of factual events and literary imagination. It follows Martí through his numerous trips to Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, Cuba, and the United States, and it gives considerable importance to religion, eroticism, his literary work, and his revolutionary activities.
Toledo Sande, Luis. Cesto de llamas: Biografía de José Martí. Havana, Cuba: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1996.
Sande’s biography of Martí starts with Martí’s childhood in Cuba and finishes with his death in Dos Rios. It focuses on his political career. It is divided into several chapters and it follows Martí’s pilgrimage from Spain, to Mexico, Guatemala, Venezuela, the United States, and Cuba.
Zacharie de Baralt, Blanche. El Martí que yo conocí. Havana, Cuba: Editorial Trópico, 1945.
This is Zacharie de Baralt’s personal recounting of Martí’s life in the United States. Zacharie de Baralt was one of Martí’s best friends in New York and a woman closely connected with the émigré community. She gives intimate details about his life.
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