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José Martí: always present

José Martí: always present

by Victoria Alcalá

“Aquí falta, señores, ay, una voz / de ese sinsonte cubano / de ese mártir hermano / que Martí se llamó…” [Here, sirs, a voice is missing / that of the Cuban mockingbird / that of our brother martyr / whose name was Martí…] were the verses we would sing every Friday at my school’s “civic ceremonies” in the late 1950s. It was the cry that adults had the innocent voices of children make during the dark days of the Republic, when thousands of Cubans were being tortured and murdered for opposing the dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista.

The young people who attacked the Moncada Garrison in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953, who called themselves the “Generation of the Centenary” because the start of that struggle coincided with the centennial of José Martí’s birth, did so invoking the name of the Apostle of Cuban Independence, and in the defense of the republic that, in the second half of the 19th century, he had heralded for the day when the Island would cease to be a Spanish colony—the ideal for which Martí fell in combat on the May 19, 1895.

For Martí and for those youths belonging to the Generation of the Centenary, it was to be a republic “with everyone and for the good of all,” opposed to discrimination based on the color of one’s skin because “Cubans are more than white, more than mulatto, more than black,” or based on one’s sex since “…people’s campaigns are only weak when they do not engage the hearts of women.” Inspired by the greatest of all Cubans, the men and women who attacked the Moncada Barracks, who manned the Granma in 1956, who formed the ranks of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra and in the underground movement in the cities, all aspired to a Cuba where the poverty plaguing millions in the cities and in the rural areas (“con los pobres de la Tierra / quiero yo mi suerte echar” [with the poor of the World / I want to put my fate in], along with the illiteracy, unemployment, poor health standards, low rates of education, elitist culture and privatized medicine would, in a very short time, be just a dreadful memory. It was not in vain that its indisputable leader Fidel Castro would proclaim that José Martí was the “intellectual author” of the attack on Moncada. Martí’s ideology and example gave sustenance and unity to men and women, whites and blacks, revolutionaries coming from different strata in society, different religions and philosophies.

From those days right up to the present, Martí has been a constant presence within the work of the Cuban Revolution, in the idea of education for all (“La educación es el único medio de salvarse de la esclavitud” [Education is the only means of saving ourselves from slavery], in free access to culture (“…la madre del decoro, la savia de la libertad, el mantenimiento de la República, y el remedio de sus vicios, es, sobre todo lo demás, la propagación de la cultura” [The mother of dignity, the vitality of freedom, the preservation of the Republic and the remedy for all its vices is, above all else, the propagation of culture], in the Latin Americanist vocation (“De América soy hijo; a ella me debo” [I am a son of America; I have a duty to her), in the dignity of work (“...que es el sol y el aire de la libertad” [which is the sun and the air for freedom]. The iconography of the National Hero of the Republic of Cuba has accompanied our massive people’s demonstrations; it has been multiplied in every classroom and has served as inspiration for many musicians, poets and visual artists who have expressed their personal visions of the Apostle in a wide variety of media, genres and esthetic codes.

Perhaps the proliferation of representations and the repeated quotes from his written work, sometimes as merely incomplete ideas or out of context, the monotonous repetition of just one brief part of his poetry and the extreme idealization of the hero have worn down or stereotyped the vigorous philosophy of Martí for our young people, who seemed to have rediscovered him as a human being in the moving film by Fernando Pérez, El ojo del canario (2010). But for every child who is innocently moved by his verses, for every honored man or woman who feels the injury done to another as something personal, for every teacher who cultivates intelligence and sensibility in their students, for every doctor who cures bodies and souls in far-off lands or in their own homeland, for every assisted senior citizen and for every Cuban who is proud of their country, Martí’s legacy grows and bears fruit, continuing to provide a challenge to the future.

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