What can one say about a country that celebrates a poet/essayist/philosopher/journalist as a national hero? Granted, José Martí was also a fierce fighter for Cuban independence from Spain and died in battle on May 19, 1895, shot by Spanish troops in Dos Ríos, Cuba.
However, it is his writings that appear to be his most powerful and lasting legacy. Exiled from Cuba due to his political activity against Spain, he spent many years in the United States and while there, he wrote a passionate report following the 1886 execution by hanging in Chicago of the Haymarket martyrs. And so, let’s commemorate this May Day with words from José Martí…
Every human being has within him an ideal man, just as every piece of marble contains in a rough state a statue as beautiful as the one that Praxiteles the Greek made of the god Apollo. — José Martí
Memorial José Martí, Plaza de la Revolución, Havana
To educate is to give man the keys to the world, which are independence and love, and to give him strength to journey on his own, light of step, a spontaneous and free being. — José Martí
Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana
Men are like the stars; some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive. —José Martí
Display at the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, Havana
Man can never be more perfect than the sun. The sun burns us with the same light that warms us. The sun has spots (stains). The ungrateful only talk about the spots (stains). The grateful talk about the light. — José Martí, La edad de oro
Courtyard of El Sitial Moncada, Havana
In a time of crisis, the peoples of the world must rush to get to know each other. — José Martí
Bookseller stall in the Plaza de Armas, Havana
I have a white rose to tend
In July as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me. — José Martí
Dagoberto, our waiter at a bar on the grounds of Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, Havana — the white rose he made and presented to me
If translated back into Spanish, those last words may sound familiar to you…
Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.
This Playing for Change YouTube video may refresh your memory, then there is Pete Seeger. The above is one of four stanzas from Martí’s Versos Sencillos that are often used as lyrics to Guantanamera.
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