José Martí (1853–1895), writer and leader of the Cuban Independence movement


José Martí is one of the most important individuals in the history of Cuba. This individual became a figurehead on the island and is now widely seen as a Cuban national hero. While he did not live very long, as he was born in 1853 and died 42 years later, but in this short time he affected millions of people. In fact, there is a good chance Cuba would not be an independent nation without his help. During his life he worked as a poet, journalist, political theorist and revolutionary philosopher.

Who They Were

José Martí was born in Havana in 1853. He originally had a passion for painting and signed up to go to the Professional School for Painting and Sculpture of Havana but he did not find much success in this creative spectrum. Instead, he tried his hand at poetry and the written word and, eventually, he was published in the Guanabacoa’s newspaper at the age of 15. The year later, the Ten Year War broke out in Cuba. At this time, he turned his time to writing about the war and politics.

What They Did

José Martí believed Cuba should be an independent and free country from Spanish rule. As an island nation, it had its very own culture, laws and way of life. After a group of Cuban med students were executed without proof or cause, he took his writings and thinking to a different level. However, living in Cuba proved to not be safe at the time, as the Spanish were tracking down anyone writing anti-Spanish literature. Due to this, he moved to Mexico and Guatemala for several years. He would respond to the Mexican newspapers and would work with other regional papers to publish his writings and have it appear inside of Cuba.

What Made Them Famous

José Martí became the voice of the Cuban people during the Ten Year War. He helped popularize the notion of independence and he really created the movement that would eventually lead to the nation’s independence. José Martí went by his second surname, Julian Perez when he wrote. He even traveled to New York for several years where he created the Revisit Venezolana, or the Venezuelan Review, where other writers could publish their writings.

He called for Cuba to push for independence against the Spanish during the 19th Century. Due to this, he is known as the Apostle of Cuban Independence. He also went on to cover not only the continual threat form the Spanish, but the potential push of US expansionism, as the United States had spread during the early years of the 1800s. He traveled throughout Central and South America, as well as visiting the United States towards the end of his life, although he did die in his native homeland of Cuba. He not only helped create an independent Cuba, but helped create the Latin American identity, as he wrote about how Latin Americans should take pride in their heritage, but not turn their backs on it.