Born in Havana in 1853, José Julián Martí y Pérez was the son of poor Spanish immigrants.
Thanks to the aid of his teacher, Martí was able to attend high school at the time the Ten Years’ War, Cuba’s first struggle for independence. Martí quickly committed himself to the cause, publishing his first newspaper La Patria Libre (Free Fatherland) in 1869. Soon thereafter he was arrested for denouncing a pro-Spanish classmate and was sentenced to six years of hard labor in a Cuban prison.
Freed after a few months, Martí began the exile that would characterize the better part of his life. He went to Spain where he published, El presidio político en Cuba, a rousing attack on Cuban prisons. His university studies occurred in Madrid and Zaragoza followed by a return to the Americas.
I wish to leave the worldI wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun
From 1881 until his fateful return to Cuba in 1895, Martí spent much of his time in New York City. He reported on life in the U.S. for many Latin American newspapers including Opinión Nacional (Caracas) and La Nación (Buenos Aires). His editorial contributions ranged from article for children (Edad de Oro), poetry (Versos sencillos 1891), and essays on his views about the United States.
While Martí admired the U.S. for its commercial vitality and for the impact of its founding fathers, he denounced America’s imperialist attitude toward its southern neighbors.
Despite his busy literary career, Martí spent much of his time planning another second Cuban struggle for independence. He insisted that the next war should be short (to avoid U.S. intervention) and fought with a “republican method and spirit” (to forestall the possibility of a military dictatorship.)
In 1892 he founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party to organize the coming struggle.
By early 1895, Martí’s preparations for revolution were complete. He and his followers were set embark from Florida with materials and men. Instead, U.S. authorities seized the ships and materials. Martí arrived in Cuba without supplies and support. He was killed in a small skirmish within weeks of landing in Cuba.
It was only in the 1920’s and 1930’s that Martí was embraced by a new generation of nationalist Cubans as “el apóstol,” and cherished by many other Latin Americans. As the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío noted, Martí belonged to, “an entire race, an entire continent.”
The José Martí Memorial is located on the northern side of the Plaza de la Revolución in the Vedado area of Havana. It consists of a star-shaped tower, a statue of Martí surrounded by six columns, and gardens.