January 28, 2013 marks the 160th birthday of Jose Martí, the Cuban national hero whose poems and writings transcend all national, cultural, and ethnic barriers to embrace the overarching concept for which he lived his life: Liberty.
Martí was born in Havana, Cuba in 1853. A true revolutionary at heart, he was convicted of treason by the Spanish authorities at the young age of 16 and sentenced to six years hard labor. A year later, he was exiled to Spain, where he studied and received doctorates in law, philosophy and letters. While in Spain, he began writing about the horrors experienced by Cuban political prisoners and began his lifelong quest of freedom for the Cuban people.
Throughout his life, Martí would live in Spain, Mexico, Guatemala and New York City, but his heart and soul were always in Cuba, where he returned in 1895 to fight for independence. He fought valiantly and gave his life for his patria on May 19, 1895. On his birthday, we remember not only Jose Martí, the war hero, but also the man, the poet and philosopher who lived and breathed liberty. Our nation, our people and we, ourselves can learn valuable lessons still today from Señor Martí.
“Liberty is the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect.” – On the heels of Inauguration Day, we read this quote from Jose Martí, who gave all his talent in search of liberty. Today our nation faces unthinkable threats, both internal and external, but we must never sacrifice liberty in order to secure an imperfect, and perhaps false, security.
“Nuestro vino es amargo pero es nuestro vino.” (“Our wine may be bitter, but it is still our wine.”) – As Latinos in America, we sometimes find ourselves in a precarious situation. We want the American dream. We work for it. Our parents and our children believe in it. We love this country, our country, but we remember and long for what was lost when our families came here. This is our lot. This is our fate. This is our vino. Love it. Embrace it. We belong to two worlds.
“It is a sin to not do what one is capable of doing.” – This quote by Martí reminds us that we all have purpose. We all have talents. Let’s live our lives honoring the hard-fought freedom gained by the sacrifice of those who came before us. Let’s honor them, and ourselves, with lives of liberty.
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis verso del alma.
By Being Latino Contributor, Lissette Díaz. Lissette is a Cuban-American writer and attorney living and practicing law in New Jersey. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.