José Martí, the United States, and Race

José Martí, the United States, and Race

José Martí, the United States, and Race

José Martí, the United States, and Race


Essential reading for those who increasingly appreciate the enormous importance of Marté as one of the nineteenth century's most influential and most original thinkers."--John Kirk, coeditor of Redefining Cuban Foreign Policy

Fountain's wide-ranging, keen-eyed, and meticulously researched analysis covers the gamut of race relations that Marté's work probed."--Esther Allen, translator of José Marté: Selected Writings

An engaging, comprehensive, and well-balanced book on Cuba's national hero José Marté. Anne Fountain's chapters on Marté's vision of blacks are an indispensable source of information for anyone interested in the topic."--Jorge Camacho, author of José Marté: las máscaras del escritor

A national hero in Cuba and a champion of independence across Latin America, José Marté produced a body of writing that has been theorized, criticized, and politicized. However, one of the most understudied aspects of his work is how his time in the United States affected what he wrote about race and his attitudes toward racial politics.

In the United States Marté encountered European immigrants and the labor politics that accompanied them and became aware of the hardships experienced by Chinese workers. He read in newspapers and magazines about the oppression of Native Americans and the adversity faced by newly freed black citizens. Although he'd first witnessed the mistreatment of slaves in Cuba, it was in New York City, near the close of the century, where he penned his famous essay "My Race," declaring that there was only one race, the human race.

Anne Fountain argues that it was in the United States that Marté--confronted by the forces of manifest destiny, the influence of race in politics, the legacy of slavery, and the plight and promise of the black Cuban diaspora--fully engaged with the specter of racism. Examining Marté's complete works with a focus on key portions, Fountain reveals the evolution of his thinking on the topic, indicating the significance of his sources, providing a context for his writing, and offering a structure for his works on race.


A chance meeting with Franklin Knight, renowned historian of Caribbean slavery, in the Santiago airport in January 2013 led to a discussion about the continuing fascination of U.S. citizens with Cuba and with United States and Cuba connections over time. We were both leading groups of American citizens eager to travel the length of the island, Knight heading a group from Johns Hopkins University and my husband and I guiding travelers from San Jose, California. Barely five months later, as I spoke with Nancy Morejón, acclaimed Afro-Cuban poet, at a dinner in her honor in California, the conversation turned to José Martí, poetry, and race. The topics seemed bound together effortlessly. History, poetry, and race relations all linked José Martí and Cuba to the United States and to the high level of interest in Martí’s life and works today. They are all components of what is covered in this book, which should be of interest to many constituencies.

José Martí (1853–1895), Cuba’s national hero, spent one-third of his life outside of Cuba. He lived in the United States for nearly fifteen years, 1880–95, and became a prolific chronicler of life in the Gilded Age. An observer of the North American scene in all its facets, Martí reported on and analyzed U.S. race relations and incorporated these commentaries into his own thinking. Martí had seen firsthand the brutal treatment of slaves in the Cuban countryside, and, as a young man in Havana, had mourned the death of Lincoln, who symbolized the end of slavery in the United States. But while he was living away from Cuba, Martí’s horizons in regard to race broadened markedly. In the United States he stayed in the home of a black family, taught in a black school, and had interactions with people of color of all classes, including former slaves. New York provided a vibrant panorama of immigrants from Europe and the labor politics that accompanied them.

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