Cuban hero a man of passion, action–Florida Today
BY LARRY JOHNSTON • ALWAYS LEARNING
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2008
For more than 45 years, the U.S. has had no diplomatic ties with Cuba. This is sad. It’s as if ignoring something will make it go away. Here is a country only 90 miles away, and our government pretends it doesn’t exist. This is the type of logic we expect from a child. Have you ever tried to think something away? It doesn’t work. There is so much we don’t know about Cuba. For example, can you name any one of its historic national heroes? Fidel Castro doesn’t count.
I’ll give you one: Jose Marti. You might say he was the Cuban equivalent of a Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau all in one. Though he was born in 1853, I had the privilege of meeting and listening to the man as played by Mr. Chaz Mena. This engaging performance came courtesy of the Brevard Reading Festival. The year was 1891, and it was the day before an important speech to a group of Cuban exiles living in Ybor City near Tampa.
Mr. Marti practiced his speech before those of us in the audience. He asked us which phrases and inflections might be more convincing and effective.
We learned his fight for independence started early. He was jailed at 16 and spent two years in prison for treason. Following his release, he lived in France, Mexico and the U.S., picking up ideas and gathering important friends along the way. He must have left quite an impression on the people of New York. They erected a statue of him on horseback in Central Park. It still is there. He must have left a pretty good impression on the citizens of Ybor City, because there is a bust of him there, too.
My brief encounter with the reincarnated Marti exposed me to a multifaceted man. He was a man of passion and action, who, together with everything else, wrote poetry and children’s books. He told us about a teacher who taught him that verbs are the heart of sentences, not the adjectives. He realized the same is true of humankind. Our worth is measured by the actions we take, not how colorful we are.
Marti returned to Cuba to fight for his country. He died leading a raid against the Spanish in 1895. But Cuba did gain its independence eventually, though some may say only temporarily.
It was a pleasure meeting Mr. Marti through Mr. Mena. Mr. Marti left behind some words you may know. Let me quote a few of them.
“I am a sincere man from where the palm tree grows, and before dying I want to share the verses of my soul . . . With the poor people of the earth I want to share my fate. The brook of the mountains gives me more pleasure than the sea.”Sound familiar? It should. His words became the lyrics to the once very popular song by the Sandpipers called “Guantanamera.” It also is the unofficial national anthem of Cuba.
Now you have no excuse for not remembering at least something about one of Cuba’s national heroes. Of course, you will be humming that song for the rest of the day. Try thinking it away and see how well it works. Then report your success to those in Washington who want to think away Cuba.
Johnston is a retired juvenile court judge who travels the country to see what he can discover, proving you’re never too old to learn something new.