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A poet and a journalist, José Martí spent his short life fighting for Cuban independence. He died in 1895 during a failed attempt to win freedom for Cuba.
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Sometimes called the Apostle of the Cuban Revolution, José Martí was born on January 28, 1853. He showed a talent for writing and revolutionary politics at an early age. First exiled from Cuba in 1871, Martí spent much of his life abroad. In 1895, he returned to Cuba to fight for its independence. He died on the battlefield.
"The Republic...should be the unjust predomination of one class of citizens over the rest, but the open and sincere equilibrium of all the real forces of the country."
Born to poor Spanish immigrant parents, José Martí showed a talent for writing early on. He had several poems published by the time he was 15. At 16, Martí also proved to be a revolutionary in the making. He supported efforts to cut ties with Spain, which held Cuba as one of its colonies at the time. Begun in 1868, this conflict between Cuban nationalists and Spanish loyalists became known as the Ten Years' War. To advance his cause, Martí created a newspaper, La Patria Libre. He also wrote several significant poems during this time, including "Abdala," in which he dreamed of liberation.
Martí was arrested and sentenced to six years in a political prison, reportedly for criticizing a pro-Spanish friend. After serving six months of hard labor, he was released and deported to Spain. There Martí published Political Imprisonment in Cuba, about the harsh treatment he received in jail. He also furthered his education, studying law first at Central University of Madrid and later at University of Saragossa. Martí completed his degree in 1874.
By 1875, Martí had moved to Mexico, where he continued to campaign for Cuban independence. He contributed to several newspapers there and became involved in Mexico City's artistic community. But he soon became disenchanted with the country's government, and moved to Guatemala in 1877. Martí became a college professor at the Universidad Nacional, where he taught literature, history and philosophy.
Martí returned to Cuba when a general amnesty was declared in 1878 after the Ten Years' War had ended. He tried to practice law there, but the government refused to let him. Instead Martí found work as a teacher.
Another uprising, known as the Little War, erupted the following year. Farmers, slaves and others clashed with Spanish troops in Santiago de Cuba. Martí was arrested and charged with conspiracy in the wake of the rebellion. Again, the revolutionary writer was forced to leave his homeland.
By 1881, Martí had settled in New York City. He wrote in both English and Spanish for several newspapers, including a regular column for Buenos Aires' La Nación. Tackling a variety of subjects, Martí was as skilled at social and political commentary as he was at literary criticism. He wrote well-received essays about such poets as Walt Whitman and he shared his impressions of the United States as a correspondent. In one of his most famous essays, "Our America," he called for Latin American countries to be united. Martí suggested that these countries learn from the United States, but establish governments that are based on their cultures and needs.
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