José Martí

Alfred J. López

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
José Martí

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History



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.

Article.  7477 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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