Author: Christopher C. Gregory-Guider

Although the celebrated Cuban Icon and writer Jose Marti died more than a century ago, actor Chaz Mena talks about him with an infectious immediacy and intimacy. “Marti was a constant subject at the dinner table when growing up, “ says Mena. “He was like a member of the family.”

With a grant from the Florida Humanities council, Mena immersed himself in Marti’s voluminous writings over the past year in preparation for a one-man theater production that will bring the fallen Cuban hero to life. In a return to the city where he spent his formative years, Mena will perform “Charla, A Chat With Jose Marti in the Chapman Conference Center on MDC’s Wolfson Campus. The performance promises to shed new light on Martí’s tireless efforts to expose injustice and his role in Cuba’s long struggle for independence.

Mena anticipates that the theme of the performance will deeply resonate with his Miami audience, but he is quick to point out that the play ultimately promotes a universal message that transcends any one ethnic group. “The message of quality Marti expressed through his life and writings is one that applies to all and one that has special meaning to Floridians,” Mena explains the connection to Florida is immediately apparent in Mena’s performance, which focuses on Marti’s trip to Ybor City in 1891 as part of his efforts to rally the region’s Cuban exiles to rise up against colonial Spain.

The play is far more than a history lesson, though. Performed in the Chautauqua style –a mode of theatre originating in fin de siecle New York—audience members will be able to interact with Mena’s character and pose questions, much as would have been the case in Marti’s actual discussions with South Florida’s late 19-century Cuban community.

Marti’s championing of the cause of the downtrodden was not without cost. He was imprisoned and deported multiple times, although Cuban officially gained independence from the U. S. in 1902, Marti was not destined to see it: He fell at the Battle of Dos Rios on May 19, 1895 after charging Spanish troops.

“Charla” A Chat With Jose Marti proves that Marti’ spirit has secured an afterlife through artists like Mena, whose performance reminds us that history is not a closed chapter of the past, but a living and breathing voice that continues to call out to us in the present.