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015. josé martí: poet, patriot, dreamer - transcription

Fryda: [00:00:00] Hey, Carmen, how are you doing today?

Carmen: [00:00:12] I'm good. Today. We're going to talk about José Martí.

Fryda: [00:00:16] Joe's Marty. You know, this is what happens when we spend hours and hours and hours going into rabbit holes, doing research and digging into such an important Cuban figure. We come up with the most ridiculous theories, the weirdest names

Carmen: [00:00:31] For those of you who haven't figured it out, we're going to talk about José Martí.

We're not insane. Not totally. I have to put a tilde on the “i” and that's how, you know it Martí. If Che is an icon, then José Martí is the apostle. Like everyone knows José Martí and everyone loves him. This is not a polarizing figure. Unlike Che, José Martí is probably the most beloved figure across the entire diaspora, despite what you believe.

Fryda: [00:00:58] Yeah. And that bewildering reality is something we have to tackle in this episode. José Martí was a lot of things, basically the Renaissance man of Cuba, he was a poet, a philosopher, a journalist, a political organizer, a teacher, so many things in one person,

Carmen: [00:01:22] But the most important role that José Martí plays, I think is he is a key architect in the moral compass that guides everything in Cuban culture, morality, and even politics.

And...Politics on both sides, whether or not you agree with the revolution.

Fryda: [00:01:41] José Martí is a pre-revolutionary figure as in, he is a figure from before the communist revolution, but he inhabited a different revolution. In the 1800s Cuba was occupied by the Spanish. And that is the world in which José Julian Martí Perez was born into.

Carmen: [00:02:03] So José Martí was born in La Habana on January 28th, 1853

He’s an aquarius. His parents were poor Spanish immigrants. His father was sent to Cuba as first sergeants from Valencia.

Fryda: [00:02:20] Yeah. And so at only 16 years of age, Marti was already arrested and accused of disloyalty to Spain. It's interesting that he is one generation off from being Spanish. But at the young ripe age of 16 is already against the Spanish.

Carmen: [00:02:41] But he saw a lot of atrocities at the hands of the Spanish.

Fryda: [00:02:44] Exactly. When we get into what life is like in Cuba during that time, a lot of it was influenced by a Spanish colonial rule. And so back to Jose Marti and his early life, after he was arrested and accused, he was sentenced to forced labor. He got actually pretty lucky because he was granted clemency and deported to Spain.

The reason I say he was lucky is because a lot of other folks during this time who got accused of something like disloyalty, they were sent to the firing squad. So this teenager rebel who doesn't like Spain, and gets accused of disloyalty to Spain gets sent to Spain. And what does he end up doing

Carmen: [00:03:27]Well you know that they say “al que no le gusta el caldo le dan tres tasas” he gets to Spain and he continues with his bullshit, he continues making writings against the Spanish.

And he specifically writes Political Prison in Cuba, where he describes his experiences in Cuba and critiques the Spanish for their handling of him as a prisoner and further handling of prisoners.

Fryda: [00:03:49] So he continues to write about Spain. In Spain, let's go through the journey of José Martí, world traveler. What does he do next?

Carmen: [00:03:59]From Spain, he eventually heads up Mexico and Guatemala where he continues to write and he takes on several other jobs, including at some point he was a high school teacher. At some point he was writing for a newspaper and all of this time he continues to write on his personal views and political opinions.

And I say political opinion, but I don't actually mean political opinion. I mean, more like moral opinions that should guide politics, which is a big, it's a big Keystone into Marti's legacy.

Fryda: [00:04:33] We're talking about like notions of nationhood, notions of self, notions of patriotism, nationalism, and more. So he does this Latin American tour.And he ends up in New York.

Carmen: [00:04:46] He does end up in New York where he writes La Edad de Oro, which is one of his most famous works.. Aside from Cultivo un Rosa Blanca, aside from that poem is probably one of his most famous works. It's a collection of children's books, which is essentially to be a manual that help to guide children on how to be and how to think and how to grow up morally.

It's a book that I grew up with.

Fryda: [00:05:11] Listeners. Raise your hand, or whatever, blink twice, if you were given La Edad de Oro when you were young, uh, you know, if you're Cuban-American or Cuban likely you are, uh, blink three times, if you ended up reading any part of it. I'm so sorry. I was given La Edad de Oro and I only skimmed through parts of it. But it is still, almost like your little children's book. As a good Cuban

Carmen: [00:05:39] Yeah it’s The Original Mother Goose, but like for Cuban kids.

Fryda: [00:05:43] In the 15 years of José Martí spends in the United States he is constantly at work towards this mission of a sovereign Cuba. And what that means is he goes around talking to cigar workers, rallying for money and more towards the cause of a free Cuba.

So after those 15 years, which were so important and foundational to the history of Cuba, he ends up back in Cuba. Goes to fight against the Spanish and is killed by bullets. He was initially buried in a common grave, but then when the Spanish realized who he was, he was sent to Santiago de Cuba and he had a proper entombment.

And so that is the quick and dirty story of where José Martí went, spent his time and more or less what he did.But we wanted to learn so, so, so much more about where this man's ideas emerged. What was life like when he was raised under Spanish rule in Cuba? What of his ideas have truly influenced us to this day?

Carmen: [00:06:53] So let's rewind a little bit to 1868 when José Martí is on quinceanero. Okay. He's 15 years old and the 10 years war breaks out. And, uh, the 10 years war is also known as the great war. And it is a war in between Spain and the peoples of Cuba who are fighting for Cuba's independence. Let's talk a little bit about the players of this war.

Fryda: [00:07:20] Notoriously. The Mambices were the guerilla groups struggling to fight against the Spanish. The Mambices primarily came from el campo. They came from the farms and countryside of Cuba. Many of them were afro-decendientes. So they had African roots and they were fighting the oppression of Spanish colonialism. And so the people that were fighting on the Spanish side were Spanish fighters and Spanish military men that were sent over from Spain, or that were already inhabiting high ranks in Cuba.

So this struggle, as Carmen said, continued for 10 years. And it was bloody when it ended Cuba, they don't win.

Carmen: [00:08:05] Womp, womp, womp.

Fryda: [00:08:06] It was a big womp womp. Spain continued to try to break down the Cuban morale afterwards. And one of the things that they did was move many of the fighters from the countryside over to the city to prevent them from, you know, basically disconnect them from their resources.

And a lot of these fighters and veterans were left super demoralized. And there were so many divisions.

Carmen: [00:08:33] There are three camps, there's the autonomistas and they really wanted to make Cuba an autonomous region of Spain.

There were the anexionistas, and they wanted Cuba to be annexed by the US, somehow - think like a Puerto Rico type of situation.

And then there were the independistas who were in favor of Cuban sovereign.

Fryda: [00:08:57] The three did not get along because they wanted entirely different routes to not being just like colonially subservient for the annex. For the anexionistas, who wanted to be annexed by the US in some way, one of the reasons why these folks want it to be annexed by the US is because during this time, Cuba was pretty much an economic colony of the US.

And so they were producing a lot for the US and they were like a political colony of Spain. And so. That's where that kind of comes from. It's just like, which daddy do you want to choose?

The autonomistas were like “Spain daddy,” number two were like “US daddy,” number three were like, “We want to be our own daddies.”

Carmen: [00:09:40] José Martí was wanting to be his own daddy.

Fryda: [00:09:43] He led the independistas and it wasn't such a pragmatic way of thinking. It was like, we need to entirely start from scratch. And so one of José Martí’s crowning achievements is that somehow he brought together all these factions and he persuaded them to fight a new war for independence, both black Cubans and poor whites really had no other option for independence.

Carmen: [00:10:14] If you were a poor black person to be annexed by the US was to be subjected to all of the institutional and non-institutional racism that the U S has going on at this time. Remember, this is the 1800s.

And to be annexed by the Spanish is to continue on in perpetual slavery. So why would you do that? And if you're a poor white person, either way, you're still at a disadvantage because you are still at the bottom of the totem pole. So you want none of this. So Martí really rallied around the concept of Cuban independence calling for a massive overhaul of Cuban society on behalf of these peoples calling for a complete restructuring of economic, social, and political spheres in the vein of loyalty for their homeland.

Fryda: [00:11:00] So back to the 15 years that he spent in the US, his relationship to the United States and his thoughts around the United States, they were complex, especially at first, he admired the project of the United States and admired the kind of liberty that exists in the United States over time.

I know that that changed. It changed drastically. New York was like a big wake up call for him. And he didn't like it.

Carmen: [00:11:27] During Martí's time in New York. He learns the ugly truths of the time. New York right now is experiencing the industrial revolution. The suffragist movement is basically simmering. Okay.

It's not simmering yet. It's on the pot waiting to simmer, but that's what's happening. And the US hasn't figured out a lot of it's very, very bad problems. They haven't figured out health care. They haven't figured out poverty. They haven't figured out labor law. There's a lot of racism going around like really, really bad racism.

So José Martí walks into this, and then he's just like, “You guys are monsters.” He literally wrote that.

Fryda: [00:12:01] But he spends a lot of time in the United States for 15 years. Pretty much while he is everywhere he is writing, reporting, reflecting. And he's writing prose, journalism and poetry. In New York, he writes for Patria, which is a newspaper about... you guessed it! La Patria, homeland.

And so he does not give up. This man goes up and down the east coast, he manages to organize the cigar workers, did a ton of fundraising for supplies. Essentially, he planned the war of independence. He was killed when he returned to Cuba. What happens after he died? This war that he helped to start. He never got to see it truly in action, and he never got to see the aftermath.

Let's actually go into some of the figures of this war. We have Maximo Gomez, Antonio Marceo. I'm sure if you're cubing, you have heard these names, but let's go into who they are...

Carmen: [00:13:00] Essentially Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles is José Martí.

Fryda: [00:13:07] Yeah, we have the triad. We have José Martí being Bubbles of the Powerpuff Girls. And we all know why. Maximo Gomez, he was a major general. He was actually Dominican. So he was born in the Dominican Republic, but he fought so hard for both the Dominican war of independence and the Cuban war of independence.

So this dude is, is pretty intense, uh,a major general, and Cuba's 10 years war against Spain. So he was a veteran and he became Cuba's military commander in Cuba's war of independence.

Carmen: [00:13:41] And then we have Antonio Maceo who is Buttercup. He is going to fuck you up.

Fryda: [00:13:45] Lieutenant General, Jose Antonio de La Caridad Maceo y Grajales . . Second in the man.. second in command of the Cuban army of independence, we know he's been called the Bronze Titan. He's Afro-Cuban.

He was wounded several times in battle. This guy continued to fight and fight. We have these figures who, other than Jose Marti are military figures, figures who are part of the various war efforts and military figures who have entirely different visions for how to rule Cuba afterwards and what independence means.

Carmen: [00:14:22] Tale as old as time...

Fryda: [00:14:24] Tale as old as time. José Martí who actually writes and warns about how caudillismo or militancy in Latin America in Cuba is a thing that he fears the most passes away and Cuba remains at the hands of military officers. But back to the end of the war of independence towards the end, the USS Maine, which is this ship was blown up as part of the war of independence in 1898. And the US saw that as reason to intervene, the US finishes defeating Spain and out of that comes something called the Platt Amendment.

Carmen: [00:15:12] Yeah It establishes us dominance over Cuba.

Fryda: [00:15:15] This is an anexionista victory, a victory where Cuba ends up being almost annexed by the United States because the Platt Amendment laid out a bunch of different conditions that were later on, used as justification for an occupation of Cuba.

That happened for several years in the early 1900s. The president, Howard Taft, became the provisional governor of Cuba. During that time, I would imagine that it didn't quite feel like a victory and the way that they imagined it for the folks in Cuba, it would have been fine if the US would have kept engaging economically with as a sovereign country.

Carmen: [00:15:57] Yeah. But the problem was that they came in and then they were like “I’'m in charge.” Now we have an entire century of us intervention in Cuban, domestic affairs, not necessarily just economic ones.

Fryda: [00:16:07] José Martí he was also very suspicious of US expansionism and United States’, potential intervention and Latin American affairs.

And José Martí also believed that to also be a danger of Latin American independence as well, relating history to Jose Marti's writings. These are a few things that did end up becoming part of reality- Caudillismo, US expansionism and then morally based politics in Cuba. Yeah. But didn’t he want that?

Carmen: [00:16:44] You did want that. Yeah. I want to talk a little bit more about those moral writings that later has informed the political sphere in Cuba.

José Martí's writings and ideology. Really laid down the foundation for everything that has happened since the revolution. Actually Fryda, when you and I were researching this episode. I remember thinking like,” I don't know anything about Cuba before the revolution!” and that's not, that's not by mistake.

That's just all we freaking talk about. So a lot of the communist rhetoric in the communist regime in power in Cuba right now, and for the past 60 years has been calling on the individual to morally agree and comply with the politics of the revolution. And that makes it so much more personal. That ideology being so tightly interwoven into the fabric of society… That is how the revolution ended up making Martí. That's how they actually presented him. Yeah, not necessarily because he started it, you know?

Fryda: [00:17:46] No, he didn't necessarily start back, but the revolution, the Cuban revolution is called a revolution. Marciano which means it is based upon Marti and Martinez, revolutionary ethics.

Carmen: [00:17:58] Yeah. A lot of his doctrine really laid down the foundation for everything that has happened since he died. And most importantly, what it really, really means to be a Cuban person, much of the social fabric is made up of these literary threads that Marti wrote.

Fryda: [00:18:11] Brotherhood and love and egalitarianism and duty and decorum and dignity. So these are all the terms that were used by Marti to talk about the political future of Cuba.

Carmen: [00:18:26] And look if that's what being Cuban means then I'm here for it, sign me up. However, be careful what you wish for because beyond being Cuban, which is all of these things we can all agree on, but beyond that, a lot of his social and political preachings were then used by the leader to the communist revolution to establish a society where politics and morality are not a union, but rather one whole thing.

Fryda: [00:18:49] One Cuban historian, Jorge Ibarra says that Martí wished to install a moral Republic based on ethical values. Now, those are some strong words, but when we go and fast forward into the future… Do we think that the regime that exists today in Cuba is a Republic that is based off of values? Even if that sounds high and mighty and beautiful, When it's like, you either believe this or you die or you believe this, or you don't belong. You're either your entire body, mind and soul is revolutionary or it isn’t, that is a Republic that is based far too much on ideals.

Carmen: [00:19:37] Well, this is why we say that Jose Marti Bubbles, because he's like so idealistic and all of these beautiful things that he's really gunning for are amazing.

But then, you know. Then we ended up now, here.

Fryda: [00:19:52] And we in no way are saying, oh, let's blame José Martí on that, I think was it, Martí was just writing about a nation that was ready to form.

Carmen: [00:20:02] And then people, imperfect people, went and took it to the next level.

Fryda: [00:20:07] Another part of José Martí's vision, other than some of the ideals that we're mentioning is he also, he really suspected that caudillismo or militarism would take over Latin America. And in a sense that is exactly defining the kind of military- backed guerilla revolution that ended up coming about in Cuba and the kind of militarism that also exists today. There's so many ways where we could be like, okay, the things that Martí thought and felt influence Cuba, but also his worst nightmares.

Carmen: [00:20:49] One thing that I do want to pick a bone with is Martí's views on women. José Martí wrote this one piece called Escenas Americanas where he was expressing admiration for North American women who at the time were demonstrating for their rights. He said that they were mujeres varoniles . He's basically saying that women who are fighting for their rights are man-ish.

The thing is that Martí believed that women held this role in society, that they were morally superior, that they were these fine, delicate flowers that we all needed to take care of and look after. And that women were this, uh, elegant part of humanity that awaited the men from the battlefield with open arms. I reject that as a woman making a podcast in the 21st century, I reject that entirely,

Fryda: [00:21:43] Especially given where he comes from, we get why he would think this way, but here's the issue. This isn't about whether Martí thought this way back in the day, but it's more the fact that to this day, we still read those same writings and many in our community admire that for any of our listeners that might not understand why we would be peeved at being admired and being considered beautiful and noble.

One thing I'll say is that when you are placed on a pedestal for being a certain kind of being, if you, for any reason, deviate from that kind of being you're brought down low and you're no longer good enough as a woman. And that is the biggest problem.

Carmen: [00:22:28] Also, nobody is complaining about being called beautiful and noble.

So please don't come for me. It's just that if we're talking about a guy who is rallying gung-ho about egalitarianism, this is completely in contradiction of that. And also it dismisses the struggles of women and non-male identifying peoples throughout history and in society even to this day. Plus why is it bad for women to be manly or masculine?

And also why is womanhood being defined by a man? Uh, I don't know. Listen, I need to get off of this soap box because I digress.

Fryda: [00:23:00] Another thing that he did say is that these mujeres from North America would not please the poetic and noble Cuban race. That right there shows you the dark side of that perception of women.

Carmen: [00:23:12] And I know that you also relate to this and many other women, I'm sure we were brought up this way, we were brought up to exemplify what it means to be a woman in this exact script. You must be polite, you must be pleasant. You must be quiet. All the things. I'm not literally, I've been a giant ass failure as a woman, since I was conceived.

Terrible. I don't know what to say about that, but here I am.

Fryda: [00:23:37] Which is why it's better off for you to be seen for your humanity and for your versatility and to not have to fit in a particular like women box. And so. We've gone through so many ideological components of Martí's writings. And why is it so important for us to go through this?

Well, to this day, his writings are treated as gospel. This is the apostle, let me list out a variety of the different figures and types of people that admire right. For that, you know, that Castro was trying to overturn yeah… built a monument for José Martí. Then the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro is considered a Marciano revolution.

So a revolution that is founded on the ideas of Martí. Okay. You flee Cuba and you end up in the United States. You raise your kids in Miami and they La Edad de Oro they recite Cultivo una Rosa Blanco . So all forms of Cubans, whether you're all the way on the left, all the way on the right, or who, who knows where and what generation, somehow we all go back to José Martí.

Carmen: [00:24:51] And if you’re not Cuban, and you're like, “well, I don't really know what you're talking about….” Um, hello, if you've ever heard or jammed to Guantanamera? That’s José Martí.

Fryda: [00:25:07] Yeah, the Yo soy un hombre sincero, de donde crece la palma, that is from José Martí's poem Versos Sencillos. Yeah. Cuba's most famous song? The lyrics are José Martí. Cuba’s airport, Marti airport, the national library, Martí, the coins, Martí. This guy is everywhere. And so why and how are so many people across all sorts of different political, national generational spectrum? How, how are they all in favor of José Martí?

Carmen: [00:25:45] So I think that people are able to look at Martí and see something beyond the revolution, because first of all, he was around before the revolution, the Cuban communist revolution. That is that's number one, number two, he's not militant, actually. That is the one thing.

He was anti militant. Three he's a writer and a poet, and he knows how to communicate very eloquently. When we're talking about a lot of the rhetoric that it turns off a lot of people about the revolution. It's a lot of militant-forward, a lot of like, “you must be with us or you're against us.”He never presented it that way.

He was all about inclusivity. He is the one who organized a bunch of different factions when people were disagreeing back in the day when he was organizing.

He's somebody, who's a people person and he knows how to speak to people and get them on his side. So there's that, and a lot of his writing is actually not even political.

A lot of it is moral as we have said.

Fryda: [00:26:41] So he's this very nuanced man. Right. And his writings were very nuanced.

Carmen: [00:26:47] I don't know if this comes from being a poet or being a writer or just having that special sauce that he had or what it is, but he is a person who is capable of presenting very complex arguments that validated many different perspectives that disagreed with each other and still somehow consolidate them in a way that no other figure from the communist revolution has managed to do.

And that is very, very powerful because it's not divisive. There's no controversy there. How are you going to fight someone who's telling you that everyone should be free and happy and equal and help each other out? No one!

Fryda: [00:27:23] A lot of his writings can stand to bolster a lot of different ideas in standing for Cuban sovereignty and Cuba as a nation...

If you are a part of the communist regime, you, you like that. If you're not part of the communist regime, you want Cuba to be so-called “free." In his liberalism, people who are outside of Cuba and associate themselves more with American liberalism might be able to still agree with Martí. And also, he is part of a fight for democracy and independence, which I think can resonate a lot with even American patriotism and folks who might see José Martí very similar to the forefathers of the United States.

The last thing that I feel that like manages to relate to Cuban Americans who have left Cuba is that many Cubans consider themselves to be living in exile. And José Martí spent 15 years in exile. Yeah. And so a lot of things about Jose Marti's identity continues to be relatable. And yet a lot of things about José Martí's ideals managed to bolster the current revolution.

And so it's wild, it's wild. And it's super interesting.

Carmen: [00:28:38] I wonder José Martí would think of that actually. And what he would think about the state of Cuba as it stands today.

Fryda: [00:28:43] He would’ve done an “ I told you so,” on American expansionism, I would say for all of Latin America. And he would have also hated the fact that there was so much caudillismo, more throughout all of Latin America, including Cuba, how there was so much military forces rising up to rule these countries.

I think that maybe he might've been a hopeful of the initial ideals of the revolution, especially when the initial ideals were all like democratic and sovereignty and whatever. But if he looked at Cuba today, he would not be, I, I don't think that given what he writes about, he will do that same little walk around that he did around New York in the 1800s and be like, this is a monster there, monster.

Carmen: [00:29:27] This is a monster.

Fryda: [00:29:29] Absolutely because he would see people going to prison the same way that the Spanish got him to prison for his ideologies. Like he would actually be in prison today in Cuba, I think. Because he would have some special thoughts that were not quite in line with the revolution you'd end up in all sorts of trouble.

Carmen: [00:29:46] I think definitely José Martí would be one of those people that if we had a party and somebody with a Che t-shirt walks in and then another person wants to fight the dude with the Che T-shirt I think José Martí would sit there with some bongos and be like kumbaya, you know, like that would beJosé Martí.

Fryda: [00:30:01] He would also be like Guantanamera…. In the spirit of what José Martí do, and what would I say? Our cubanismo of this episode is un dicho by José Martí. A nice quote from him:

Carmen: [00:30:15] Las palmas son novias que esperan.

Fryda: [00:30:25] The Palm trees are girlfriends or brides that wait - because women should be waiting for you when you come back from war.

Carmen: [00:30:34] The second part of it is “Y hemos de poner la justicia tan alta como las palmas”

Which I'm still peeved about the women thing. But honestly, I do think that this is a really beautiful Martiism. We're going to call it that.

Fryda: [00:30:47] It shows an admiration for Cuba’s nature and the palmas and it also shows his romanticism and more and how the second part of the phrase is about justice, how he manages to do something so innocent and then talk about justice.It totally encompasses his approach.

Carmen: [00:31:03] He's a poet, a true poet.

Fryda: [00:31:06] Y con eso Carmen, take it easy. Thank you guys for listening.

Carmen: [00:31:12] A big shout out to Vidal, Cristine, Peter, Dee, Derek, Andy, Ryan, Jose, Susan, Salia, Catherine Lauren, Kayleigh. Amauri, Kristen, Sarah, Karena, Jason, Daniel, Josh, Ivett, Kellis and Jesse, you guys are amazing.

Thank you so much for continuing to support us on Patreon. If you want to reach us, we are at And if you want to hang out on social media, we are @teikisipod on all of the platforms we hope you'll tune in for the next one. And again, thank you so much. Take it easy.

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