José Martí: meaning of “Nuestra América”

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Tomorrow will be the 167 José Martí’s birthday and everyone who loves freedom, independence, dignity, sovereignty, peace and respect among nations, should pay tribute to this eternal Cuban hero, that devoted his life to fighting Spanish colonialism in Cuba and making Latin America aware of the threat the United States posed for the entire continent. The best example of this vision is expressed by Martí in his work “Nuestra América”.

“Nuestra América” was published in 1891 in New York as a direct response to the First Pan-American Conference that took place from January 20 to April 27 1890. The conference was a first attempt to establish a diplomatic relationship between North and Latin America and was crucial for Martí‘s idea of a Pan – Latin American culture. As the objective of the conference was the establishment of Pan-Americanism as a new way of interaction between the two hemispheres, José Martí tried to oppose this concept by emphasizing the opposition of the United States and “Our America“. He himself saw this conference as a key to successful inter-American relations and wanted it to be based on realism, knowledge of each other, and mutual respect.

Martí‘s essay is the reaction to a complex situation in his home country Cuba: Still under Spanish occupation, Cuba was struggling hard to become independent from Europe, while also fighting the potential threat of its neighbor North America. After the U.S. had successfully taken over California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah as well as parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Kansas from its neighbor Mexico, it seemed to be more and more interested in Cuba as another addition to its territory, especially because it was also a state of slavery. Since many Cubans had African origins the U.S. – American government was concerned that a Cuban victory over Spain would lead to a black and white republic without white dominance. However, this fact did not stop the United States from exploring new markets and regarding Cuba as a potential target for more expansion.

In addition to this threat from Cuba‘s North American neighbor it was still trying to liberate itself from its colonizer Europe. After the Grito de Yara in 1868, the first declaration of independence, Cuba was at war with Spain for ten years, which very much helped it to form a distinctive Cuban identity, but also had deep impacts on its economy. In the Pacto del Zanjón (Zanjón Pact) Spain tried to make some minor concessions that were rejected by the rebels. José Martí then founded the Revolutionary Party of Cuba in 1892 and mobilized Cuba to rise again against Spain in 1895. And in 1895, Cubans resumed the indenepdence war, led precisely by Martí, and followed by Máximo Gómez, Antonio Maceo, Flor Crombet, and others.

This is the situation in which José Martí wrote his famous essay “Nuestra América“. He tries to create a Pan-Latin American identity and to liberate Latin America from the oppression coming from its powerful neighbor North America (US) and the former colonizer Europe. The article is addressed not only to his own people, especially Cuban intellectuals living in exile, as a call for unity and common identity, but also to Europe and the United States.

To emphasize his idea of a united America he uses different approaches. He tries to distinguish America and its unique culture from its European colonizers by pointing out the characteristics of America‘s culture and population: from the hybrid identity of Latin America a “new real man“ emerges. Special attention is drawn to the youth and their obligation and chance to create a new spirit and identity within the Latin American community. An often repeated opposition in Martí‘s article is the European post-enlightenment philosophy on the one side and the American “natural man“ on the other. It is something so unique about Latin America that it even distinguishes it from its neighbor North America. Another approach Martí uses in order to define a Latin American identity is giving a negative picture of the two intruders as being despotic, perverse, premature and treacherous and, to put it in Edward Said‘s words, “other“ them.

Describing an ideal Latin American community of friendly neighbors interacting with one another, building a common identity upon their shared history and liberating the continent from both European and North American intervention is Martí‘s overall intention. To give such a negative picture of the two intruders is a way of dissociating Latin America from any foreign influence, as was Cuba‘s attempt at that time.

No way Martí referred to “Nuestra América” as what is now known as America around the world. Wherever you mention that word in the world people understand the USA. The above analysis put forward the Martí is setting a clear cut to differentiate North America (US) and Europe from the rest Latina America. He foresees what may come in the future if a united Latin America do not emerge on time.


Written by Jorge Lora

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