Marti, Jose (Jose Julian Marti Perez)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Marti, Jose (Jose Julian Marti Perez)

Marti, Jose (Jose Julian Marti Perez) (1853-1895) Cuban poet, journalist, nonfiction writer, and translator

Through his writings, the martyred freedom fighter Jose Marti led Cuba’s fight to throw off Spanish imperialism. Born in Havana, he developed into a patriot at an early age. He hated slavery and Spanish tyranny as well as the threat of American imperialism. At age 16, while writing for the underground papers El diablo cojuelo (The crippled devil) and La patria libre (The free country), he went to jail in chains at hard labor for treason after police seized a letter he wrote, reproving a teenaged acquaintance of joining the Spanish army. Upon release a year later, he published El presidio en Cuba (Political Imprisonment in Cuba, 1871), in which he expressed his distaste for incarceration: “It drags with it this mysterious world that troubles the heart; it grows, nourished upon every somber sorrow” (Marti 1999, 5).

Marti began studying civil rights law at the universities of Madrid and Saragosa before returning to the Western Hemisphere in 1874. In Mexico, he reported for Revista Universal (Universal review), and at age 24, he taught history, literature, and philosophy at the University of Guatemala. The next year, authorities charged him with treason and deported him to Spain, where he lived apart from his wife, Carmen Zayas Bazan, and their infant Jose. After returning to Cuba and then being again deported to Spain, Marti escaped to Venezuela and then to New York in 1881. From that base, he worked with other exiled Cubans to win their country’s independence, and over the ensuing years, he wrote and traveled extensively in pursuit of his causes.

During his long fight against Spanish imperialism, Marti supported himself by composing propaganda against political imprisonment and by translating literature from English, French, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. He wrote about Native American art and class war for Spanish and English newspapers and served as a consul to Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In his texts, he incorporated the SATIRE of Mark Twain and the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson alongside paeans to the anti-imperialists through world history; yet, he also feared American territorial and economic designs on Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Back in New York City, Marti mustered Cuban exiles from Key West and Ybor City, the Latino section of Tampa, Florida, to support Cuban liberation from both Spain and the United States. In 1895, with fellow patriot, he returned to Cuba to lead a rebellion against Spanish troops. On May 19, 1895, in Dos Rios, he died in combat from three bullet wounds. His name and likeness can be seen today on a Miami radio station; the Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida; Cuban coins; Havana's airport; and a monument in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion.

Called the “apostle of liberty,” Marti earned a place in the world canon for his lyrics, particularly the words to the folk classic Guantanamera (1891), popularized in the 1960s by the folk singer Pete Seeger. Marti's popular Versos Sencillos (Simple Verses, 1891) apply color and imagery to describe the dangers to a sincere heart. His aphorisms, rich in NATURE references, champion liberty, civil rights, and compassion. In an essay on the American poet Walt Whitman, Marti pled the case for art: “Who is the ignoramus who claims that poetry is not indispensable to a people? … [It] is more necessary to a people than industry itself” (Marti 2002, 187). He declared his work necessary to the soul for initiating desire, faith, and strength. To promote his ideals, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awards the annual International Jose Marti Prize to champions of liberty.


Marti, Jose. Jose Marti Reader: Writings on the Americas.

New York: Ocean Press, 1999.

------- . Selected Writings. New York: Penguin, 2002.  . Versos Sencillos: Simple Verses. Translated by

Manuel A. Tellechea. Houston, Tex.: Arte Publico Press, 1997.

Rotker, Susana. The American Chronicles of Jose Marti: Journalism and Modernity in Spanish America. Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2000.