By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – I was already a man, although still quite young, when I discovered Jose Marti. The real Marti that is, in his own words, learning about his life by reading different biographies and stories by people who knew him. Because up until then, I had only known this manipulated version of the Maestro we are taught. That he was almost a Communist and the alleged intellectual author of Fidel’s Revolution.
Luckily, I was able to free myself from this limited vision of him and discover him on my own. This is how I slowly entered his mind, or at least tried to, reading his speeches, essays, poems, letters and newspaper articles. Many young university students were exploring the real National Hero in the ‘90s, and we were all bursting with enthusiasm.
You only need one example to understand this: one day, another student showed up at my house, having gone away for the weekend, and he had discovered something great. It was Marti’s letter to General Maximo Gomez, written on October 20, 1884 (Selected Works Vol. 1 pg. 459. Edition. Social Sciences), in which he resigned from taking part in the Gomez-Maceo Plan. Some phrases are already very well-known, but the complete text seems as if it had been written for Fidel Castro himself. For me, it’s his real political testament, not the unfinished letter he wrote to Manuel Mercado in Dos Rios, which we will never completely understand.
In the letter I mentioned above, written to this great General, he described the dangers of authoritarianism, and he outlined the main ills of our society, the result of an authoritarian and radical socialist revolution, as if it were a snapshot of our reality today. That friend of mine that showed me the letter was excited and we were both brimming with patriotic zeal. He proposed things we could do for the Homeland, because the Apostle still has that ability to make us want to be patriotic and active citizens. Marti is dangerous in today’s Cuba and we didn’t even realize it in our youthful innocence.
Unfortunately, that old friend of mine hasn’t been a friend for a while now. He soon acted out in pursuit of personal growth and abstained from reading the Apostle for a long time, because “he was going to separate [him] from his personal ambitions” for others which were more altruistic and borderline suicidal. He lives abroad now and even though he follows Cuban politics, without missing a heartbeat, he says he is apolitical and no longer interested in our country; he has embraced extremist anti-feminist and personal growth philosophies, and he distanced himself from our friendship, just like he did with Marti.
But the Maestro’s words had a greater impact on me. I carried on reading his work and I discovered the poem Yugo y Estrella (“Yoke and Star”), (Selected Works Vol 1, pg. 366. Edition. Social Sciences), which I quickly learned by heart and I embraced its content like an evangelical. In the poem, his mother presents him with two choices in life, fight for freedom and justice, or subject yourself to a convenient life so you can live as best you can: you suffer if “you choose the star” or you’re just a “docile ox”. It’s easy to know which road Cuba is on, you only need to think about it a little after reading the poem.
Everything Marti wrote is a wealth of knowledge, ethical values and national education, but this letter to Gomez and this poem from Versos Libres (Free Verses), changed my life, helped to define my path and encouraged me to keep on reading.
Whoever manages to understand the most profound message in Marti’s work the first time they start reading him, is a genius. You need time to get used to his style of writing and a lot of universal culture to reach his truth. I must admit that this was a slow process for me and the more I read, the quicker I was to catch on to what he was trying to say.
However, his style is compartimentalized and seducing at the same time. Less aware minds might find his dense prose overwhelming, like in Nuestra America (Our America), or his elaborate lyricism, like in Versos Libre (Free Verses), but most people will be able to understand him and become impassioned. However, intellectual convenience makes most people prefer to just read his simpler works such as his stories for children and simpler poems. Which I believe hinders any true understanding of his work.
I suggest you stop seeing him as the perfect man who knew everything, because he wasn’t that man. I myself don’t agree with some things, but that’s natural. He was just a daring visionary, who put his heart and soul into what he believed was right; with a brilliant mind and ability to analyze; with a sensitive soul that was also deep. He is a school of thought in himself, I believe.