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Cuban American Alliance

19 de mayo/May 19, 2016

A Family Legacy of José Martí

By Delvis Fernández Levy

José Martí, the most revered figure in Cuban history, was born on January 28, 1853. For many he is simply an icon on a wall or a statue on a pedestal devoid of human existence. In Cuba he is referred to as El Apóstol – the Apostle – and with other titles that exalt him to a prophet of larger-than-life dimensions. School children memorize quotes akin to biblical verses, his poems are routinely recited, and his writings are used in debates by friends and foes across the political spectrum. Martí’s thoughts encapsulate the raison d’etre of the Cuban Nation. But by fashioning mortals into paragons of history we neglect their human legacy, disregard lessons inherent in their mere existence, and relegate their partners and collaborators to the pantheon of forgotten heroes.

Arrival in New York

On January 3, 1880, in the midst of winter, José Martí arrived in New York City. There he met Carmen Miyares Peoli, a forgotten heroic figure who shared with him much of her life and aspirations during a critical period of Cuban history. Carmen not only provided him with a haven of comfort, but also served as confidante, testament executor, and faithful collaborator in the struggle to build a Cuban nation free from Spanish rule and shielded from U.S. domination.

Martí came to New York eager to unite the Cuban émigré community in what he considered to be the last war for the liberation of Cuba. Shortly after his arrival, in loneliness and in the depth of a severe winter, he wrote to a friend, “Goodness arises in sorrows, for they give strength.”

On November 28th, 1880, María, Carmen’s youngest daughter was born. She was baptized as the daughter of Carmen Miyares and Manuel Mantilla, with José Martí serving as godfather. Four years later Manuel Mantilla died and Martí became the sole father figure for the Miyares-Mantilla family.

‘Under the Shade of a Thatched Hut,’ (Bajo la sombra de un rancho de yaguas), on his last journey for Cuba’s emancipation, he wrote to Carmen and her children – Manuel, Ernesto, Carmita, and María – words with a certain depth of trust and affection for the family: “... how could I not think of Carmita and María? In their mother’s friendship, embraced by the night of a star-lit Cuban sky?”

Death of Martí

The Cuban hero fell on May 19, 1895, carrying María’s picture next to his heart as shield against bullets. Days before his death he wrote to her, “Embrace your mother, and pamper her for it is a great honor to have come to this world from that woman.”

Carmen Miyares stayed in New York after Martí's death. Martí entrusted her with his writings, and she continued contributing to Cuba’s struggle for independence through a patriotic club, Hijas de Cuba (Daughters of Cuba). A month after Martí’s death she writes to a dear friend:

This is the greatest sorrow that could possibly fall on my soul; I don't know how I’ll have the strength to withstand so much pain, I swear to you that if it were not for my children I would lay down my head and let the pain take hold of me, ending my life. Imagine what my life will be without Martí! The greatest love of my life, all my happiness has left with him. For me the light is gone and I will live in eternal darkness, I can’t understand such misfortune, don't understand such fate. Martí had melted into our souls to such an extent, that despite our misfortunes, we were happy creatures for the great and unselfish love he bestowed on us.

Letter to María

In a letter to María from Cap-Haïtien on April 9, 1895 he writes, “To my María,” in his last epistle of paternal love, words of advice on love, learning and human duty:

“Love is finesse, exquisite hope, worthiness and respect.”

“To teach is to grow.”

“Study my María, study and wait for me.”

“I find greater poetry in science books, in what makes the world, in the order of the world, in the depths of the sea, in the truth and music of a tree...”

“... human duty lies in creating pleasure rather than pain, those who know beauty respect and care for it in others and themselves.”

“May the girl students love school and learn pleasant and useful things.”

“Embrace your mother, cuddle her, for it is a great honor to have come to this world from that woman.”

“Work. A kiss. And wait for me. Your Martí.”

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