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José Martí: The Forgotten Nationalist Fight for Humanity

Published on December 14th, 2019 at 01:14 am

By Maria Romero

Following this Cuban nationalistic theme, “Nuestra America” points out the importance of a unified identity in times of war. A revolution between colonists and their mother country is an uphill battle, as the mother country is well-armed, fed, and read. Which the people of Cuba were not, the rules of subjection were utilized to maintain such status, and to break out of the model would require a dedicated will only comradery can summon. To restore this equitable nature, those oppressed need to combine forces and fight beside one another against the oppressor. Historically European colonizers impose societal differences to preclude the rise of a sole oppressed group. Marti saw these practices in work and thought of a united front of colonized nations, which he knew Spain could not combat. If a massive Latin America country formed, they would outnumber Spain in every way, which Spain knew so they implemented concepts such as the hierarchy race in Latin American culture. When this group united they would fulfill the role as a regulator to the offenses European countries have placed upon the world. In order to correct such positions, “the idea of race needed to be made irrelevant and the identity of Cuban was to be seen superior to that of Afro-Latino” (Hatfield 197). It expanded the fight for independence to a battle for the sake of humanity, “it pitted political ideology over racial identity” (Hatfield 194). Marti in his essay, “Mi Raza,” explained how the only race is humankind and that the biological features that determined distinctive racial categories were a social construct with no meaning. “Everything that divides men, everything that specified, separates or pens them in, is a sin against humanity” (Marti). Those subjected needed to move past the idea and join the movement of unity among the colonized. From all regions, countries have experienced the same offenses, and for the color of one’s skin to be considered as a factor not to support the cause is irrational. Martí wants it to boil down to his philosophy of how the fair human condition has been violated because a social, ideological belief has taken superiority and has given power to a selective group to hurt their own. In “Nuestra America” through the use of imagery, personification, and symbolism, Marti conveys the message of the need to correct the state of the world by joining forces as one nation. Firstly, he begins the work with vivid imagery to express the juxtaposition people who once felt animosity against one another would realize their similarities and be desperate for freedom. Which is outlined in the beginning verses:

Those who once shook their fists at each other like jealous brothers quarreling over who has the bigger house or who owns a plot of land must now grip each other so tightly that their two hands become one (Marti).

In order for Cuba to win, they need their brethren to join as one and move together in this nationalistic venture. This is not merely just a war for Cuba; rather, it is a war to liberate all Latin America; he stresses the history of Latin America and how they derived from the same Indengious warriors, but were forcibly split up and imprinted to fight one another. He promotes the union of a mass Latin American superpower, like his predecessor Simon Bolivar, in order to revert Latin America to its rightful position as equals to Europeans. Secondly, Marti personifies colonization through its traits and redirects the narrative that the perceived benefits of the historical event were genuinely catastrophic. He delves into this underlying menace:

Poisonous luxury, the enemy of freedom, corrupts the frivolous and opens the door to the foreigner (Marti).

He wanted to capture the trojan horse of European inventions, while it was pleasant on the outside; in reality, it was what lead to the demise of humanity. Those who witnessed this transition can describe it as beautiful and exciting as people went from traveling by mule to horse-drawn carriages. Though these advancements were then used to conquer countries, and when the battle was over they became symbols of distinction, further perpetuating the idea of superiority. Lastly, Marti uses symbolism to end his discourse with a warning on how predator in nature this dominant complex is. He describes it as a tiger who lied in the wake, waiting to prey on its target through false gifts, and by the time they realize what occurred, they are huddling in fear. The end of the poem is meant to represent the imperialist hunter mentality:

The tiger, frightened by gunfire, returns at night to his prey. He dies with his eyes shooting flames and his claws unsheathed. He cannot be heard coming because he approaches with velvet tread. When the victim awakens, the tiger is already upon it. (Marti)

After studying in Spain and living in the United States, he knows the Darwinian-Spencer mindset of the survival of the fittest. Due to Latin America’s idleness, they have fallen victim to the attack of the tiger, and the further unaware they are, the deeper the problem is rooted. Which would be detrimental to the perfect state of freedom as it would be lost. Marti knows Cuba is not up to such standard, but Latin America as a whole is, and in order for his country to win independence, all of Latin America needs to separate itself from the tiger. It needs to fight back and wake up and realize the hypnotic state it has been under, so that “the justice of nature can prevail” (Hatfield, 1). Which is to be free and equal, to be able to live alongside one another.

Furthermore, Marti expanded on his nationalistic theme in “Simple Verses,” that those involved in this revolution need to be passionate and hopeful that society can reach this amicable aspiration. War is daunting, and it requires people to think of the goal before they consider their needs. It is a collaborative effort that requires people to wager their lives and risk the possibility of dying as martyrs. This would be the most valiant sacrifice, and it would be for love for humankind. A war cannot be won unless the masses wholeheartedly surrender themselves to the cause, and while Latin America is expansive, a large force is required when combating countries like Spain. The key to triumph is human solidarity and an adaptation of European Humanism. Marti wanted to use the same concepts that influenced the rise of individualism to create the common good. Which begins by eradicating the, “‘silent partner’ but the staunch adversary of human exploitation and dehumanization of the human subject in Humanism” (Kronenberg, 4). Martí agrees that Humanism can promote the wellbeing of the population, though oftentimes Humanism has been used as justification for selfish viewpoints. As a Marxist, Marti wants Humanist thought to revolve around compassion with an association of virtue and happiness (Kronenberg, 5). Society needs to be understanding rather than cut-throat because then the measure of success is enjoying one’s fruits of labor at the expense of others. In order to promote such ideas of simplicity and humility, his poem, “Simple Verses” revolves around the theme of selflessness. Through the use of hyperbole, juxtaposition, and antithesis, Marti creates a sharp contrast between how perfect people were until they were tainted with Imperialism, which transformed them from sincere to devious. He begins the poem by describing how diverse and knowledgeable the Cuban community is with the land:

I’m a traveler to all parts
I know...all the strange flowers that grow (Marti).

He exaggerates how sparse the Cuban community is and their knowledge of the island not to promote the Cuban identity, but to portray how people once were connected with their environment, communities, and society. When people interact in different regions other than their own, they form reasoning that different does not make it inferior. He shifts the direction of the poem when he describes how his family deteriorated before him, and he is in jail:

I rejoiced once and felt lucky
The day that my jailer came
To read the death warrant to me (Marti).

The natural reaction would be anxiety when read one’s death warrant though Marti claims to be pleased with such news. After all, he would be joining his dead father, depressed mother, and stolen sister, who all like he are symbols of crimes imposed on colonial subjects. Life, youth, kindness, and strength were taken in some form by this individualistic mentality, and to find the escape from it would cause positive emotions. Declaring independence is treason, and any proof that connects people to such movement would be a cause for execution. Marti is unsettled with the abandonment of freedom, though dying as a martyr to bring back such a perfect state is a courageous act worth celebrating. Though he also warns them at the end of his poem not to run blindly into this beautiful ideal of equality in hopes of recognition.

All is beautiful and right,
All is as music and reason;
I know when fools are laid to rest
Honor and tears will abound,
And that of all fruits, the best
Is left to rot in the holy ground (Marti).

His message is for people to be altruistic and to fight for the sole concept of freedom, which as people who live on Earth, do it for the improvement of society.

Ultimately José Martí never could advocate for his egalitarian world society as his philosophy of freedom died with him on the battlefield. He spent years cultivating a master plan that never could breed fruition. Martí is considered to be the Father of Cuba and has been accredited to the 100% literacy rate of Cuba, the stable social life, and a resurgence of patriotism. It leaves a gap of wonder if he were to have lived would the poet have revolutionized the world and would this Marxist ideal be possible. Cuba underwent a Communist Revolution, which Fidel Castro accredits Martí as inspiration. It leaves an unlimited amount of possibilities on how Martí’s view on the human condition and its necessity for social collaboration, unity, and compassion could have transpired. His view was constructed by the effects of Colonialism and first-hand experience of Imperialism, which he equated it down to the battle of the oppressed and the oppressor. His works “Nuestra America” and “Versos Sencillos” will forever enrapture his utopian vision. This nationalist sentiment for humanity has been forgotten, and it is likely possible that the world is still in the battle of the oppressed and the oppressor instead of living as harmonious equals, and perhaps it will always be that way.

Works Cited

Belnap, Jeffrey G, and Raul A. Fernandez. Jose Marti’s “Our America”: From National to

Hemispheric Cultural Studies. Durham [N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998. Print.]

Hatfield, Charles. “The Limits of ‘Nuestra América.’” Revista Hispánica Moderna, vol. 63, no.

2010, pp. 193–202. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40927302.

Kronenberg, Clive W. “Equality, Solidarity, and the Human Condition: Categories of Humanism in José Martí’s Anti Colonial Critique.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 41, no. 4, 2014, pp.28–47., www.jstor.org/stable/24573997.

Loughridge, Rachel. “Jose Marti’s ‘My Race’: A Translation.” Phylon (1940-1956), vol. 6, no. 2, 1945, pp. 126–128. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/271406.

Marti, Jose. “A Sincere Man Am I (Verse I) by Jose Marti.” Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea, By Jose Marti - Famous Poems, Famous Poets. - All Poetry, All Poetry, https://allpoetry.com/A-Sincere-Man-Am-I--(Verse-I)