The Latin Mind (Mente Latina) by José Martí

The Latin Mind (Mente Latina) by José Martí

The author[1]

Jose Marti, regarded as the father of modernism in Spanish literature, was born in Havana, on January 28, 1853.  He attended the Universities of Madrid and Saragossa, receiving doctorates in law, philosophy and letters. While exiled in Spain, he published “El presidio politico en Cuba”(1871), which described the horrid conditions in Cuban prisons, and “La Republica Española ante la Revolución Cubana” (1873), which urged the nascent, very turbulent, First Spanish Republic (February through December, 1873) to permit the establishment of an independent Cuban government.   In 1880, he settled in New York City where he worked as a journalist for “The Hour” and the “New York Sun” and as foreign correspondent for several Latin American newspapers including “La Nación” of Buenos Aires and Mexico’s “Partido Liberal” and wrote for La America, a Spanish language periodical.

While residing in New York, he was appointed consul for the Republics of Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina, served as a delegate to the first Pan American conference, taught high school Spanish in the New York City public schools and, gave classes to the poor and illiterate in New York’s Hispanic community.  In 1892, he founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party and its political organ “Patria” to lay the groundwork for the liberation of his homeland. In 1895, Marti returned to Cuba as part of the initial wave of an expatriate invasion determined to overthrow the Spanish colonial government (he was proclaimed a Major General by the other commanders) but died in a skirmish at Dos Rios, on May 19, 1895.  Jose Marti’s three major collections of poetry are “Ismaelillo” (1882), “Versos sencillos” (1891) and “Versos libres” written sometime during the 1880’s but published posthumously in 1913.  The main body of his writing was journalistic in nature, written mainly for newspapers and magazines.

The Essay “Mente latina”

In the essay entitled “Mente latina” (published in the November, 1894 edition), he reaffirmed his anti-colonialist and anti-racist beliefs, formulating his own Pan-Latin-American doctrine. He emphasized the need to come to terms with the continent’s multiracial identity and the importance of teaching thoroughly the history of America from the Incas to modern times, in short: “to love what is ours and not just what is not ours”, reacting against the deprecating attitude among the general population in the United States that he perceived towards the sophistication, education and capabilities of Latin Americans, an attitude, which, if anything, seems to have become more ubiquitous since his death as Americans have become more and more xenophobic.  The essay points out mundane statistics in a mundane publication from a mundane small college in the United States that objectively demonstrated how Hispanic students drastically outperformed their United States counterparts in normal head to head academic interaction.  Of course, the example was selected by Marti to make a point and is not a scientifically conclusive or sociologically valid interpretation; nonetheless, it was effective, at least from a Hispanic perspective.

Legacy for the Hispanic Diaspora

From the translator’s perspective as a Colombian who spent the vast majority of his life in the United States, it’s interesting, in a distressing fashion, that among the majority of the native born, non-Hispanic population more than a century after the publication of Marti’s essay, the stereotype of Colombians is of a violent, dishonest people, principally involved in the cultivation or distribution of narcotics, with a small “good” percentage involved in the cultivation and distribution of coffee, while in most of the rest of the world they are perceived of as hard working, intelligent, educated and motivated.

But perhaps that’s starting to change.  During the past decade, tired of a half century of war the Colombian people demanded peace, and after a complex, sometimes ill conceived, sometimes manipulated process, as 2016 turned, peace seemed a distinct possibility, freeing Colombian fiscal and human resources to attain the possibilities that ought always to have been enjoyed by a land so blessed by nature’s bounties.  Perhaps that will also lead to real independence, discarding the role of subservient baby brother that Marti so hoped all Latin Americans would do.

The dreams of continental freedom and evolution have, during the past several decades, demonstrated signs of fruition.  The political concept referred to as New Latin American Constitutionalism has resulted in experimentation, albeit sometimes problematically, with new forms of governance: discarding old oligarchies in favor of more direct popular participation, discarding control by multinationals in favor of local and indigenous interests and recognizing broader concepts of human, social and environmental rights, although not without periodic setbacks orchestrated, as so frequently happened in the past, from abroad.

Perhaps finally, out of the mists of time, the assertions of Marti, Neruda Garcia Marquez and so many others of that special breed of Latin American patriot poets are attaining the recognition demanded in Jose Marti’s very special essay, set side by side below in the original Spanish and in its English translation.

Mente latina[2]

Entre los muchos libros que han venido a favorecer en lo que va de mes La América, uno hay que regocija, y no es más que el catálogo de un colegio.

No nos place el catálogo porque nos dé asunto para huecas y fáciles celebraciones a las conquistas nuevas, que con trabajos arduos se celebran mejor que con palabras sin meollo, que de puro repetidas van quitando ya prestigio y energía a las ideas que envuelven; sino porque en las páginas del pequeño libro resalta gloriosa, en una prueba humilde y elocuente, la inteligencia latina.

No nos dio la Naturaleza en vano las palmas para nuestros bosques, y Amazonas y Orinocos para regar nuestras comarcas; de estos ríos la abundancia, y de aquellos palmares la eminencia, tiene la mente hispanoamericana, por lo que conserva el indio, cuerda; por lo que le viene de la tierra, fastuosa y volcánica; por lo que de árabe le trajo el español, perezosa y artística. ¡Oh! El día en que empiece a brillar, brillará cerca del Sol; el día en que demos por finada nuestra actual existencia de aldea. Academias de indios; expediciones de cultivadores a los países agrícolas; viajes periódicos y constantes con propósitos serios a las tierras más adelantadas; ímpetu y ciencia en las siembras; oportuna presentación de nuestros frutos a los pueblos extranjeros; copiosa red de vías de conducción dentro de cada país, y de cada país a otros; absoluta e indispensable consagración del respeto al pensamiento ajeno; he ahí lo que ya viene, aunque en algunas tierras sólo se ve de lejos; he ahí puesto ya en forma el espíritu nuevo.

Bríos no nos faltan. Véase el catálogo del colegio. Es un colegio norteamericano, donde apenas una sexta parte de los educandos es de raza española. Pero en premios no: allí la parte crece, y si por cada alumno hispanoparlante hay seis que hablan inglés, por cada seis americanos del Norte premiados hay otros seis americanos del Sud.

En esa mera lista de clases y nombres, por la que el ojo vulgar pasa con descuido, La América dilata sus miradas. En esta inmensa suma de analogías que componen el sistema universal, en cada hecho pequeño está un resumen, ya futuro o pasado; un hecho grande.

¿No ha de ponernos alegres ver que donde entra a lidiar un niño de nuestras tierras, pobre de carnes y de sangre acuosa, contra carnudos y sanguíneos rivales, vence?

En este colegio de que hablamos, apenas van los alumnos de raza española a más clases que a las de las elementales y a las de comercio. Pues en el elenco de las clases de comercio, de cada tres alumnos favorecidos dos son de nuestras tierras. El mejor tenedor de libros es un Vicente de la Hoz. El que más supo de leyes comerciales es un Esteban Viña. El que acaparó todos los premios de su clase, sin dejar migaja para los formidables yanquizuelos, es un Luciano Malabet; ¡y los tres premios de composición en inglés no son para un Smith, un O’Brien y un Sullivan, sino para un Guzmán, un Arellano y un Villa!

¡Oh! ¡si a estas inteligencias nuestras se las pusiese a nivel de su tiempo; si no se las educase para golillas y doctos de birrete de los tiempos de audiencias y gobernadores; si no se les dejase, en su anhelo de saber, nutrirse de vaga y galvánica literatura de pueblos extranjeros medio muertos; si se hiciese el consorcio venturoso de la inteligencia que ha de aplicarse a un país y el país a que ha de aplicarse; si se preparase a los sudamericanos, no para vivir en Francia, cuando no son franceses, ni en los Estados Unidos, que es la más fecunda de estas modas malas, cuando no son norteamericanos, ni en los tiempos coloniales, cuando están viviendo ya fuera de la colonia, en competencia con pueblos activos, creadores, vivos, libres, sino para vivir en la América del Sur! . . . Mata a su hijo en la América del Sur el que le da mera educación universitaria.

Se abren campañas por la libertad política; debieran abrirse con mayor vigor por la libertad espiritual; por la acomodación del hombre a la tierra en que ha de vivir.

The Latin Mind

Among the many books favorably reviewed in La America’s “What’s New This Month” section, one delights, even though it’s only a school catalogue.

The catalogue delights, not because it provides grounds for hollow and superficial celebrations concerning new conquests.  Those are better celebrated through arduous work rather than by meaningless words which, through constant repetition, deprive the ideas they encapsulate of prestige and energy.  Rather, because through humble yet eloquent evidence, this small book gloriously highlights Latin intelligence.

Nature did not supply our forests with palms or evolve Amazons and Orinocos to water our shires in vain; abundance flows from those rivers and grace[3]from the palm groves, the Hispanic mind is rational because of what the aboriginals safeguard,[4] from that which is derived from the land, lovely and effusive,[5] from what the Arab brought the Spaniard, languid and artistic.  Oh!  On the day it starts to shine, it will shine nigh the sun; the day on which we will put our rustic existence to rest.  Indian academies; cultivators’ expeditions to agricultural countries; periodic as well as continuous journeys with serious purposes to the most advanced lands; stimulus and science in our sowings; timely presentation of our yields[6] to foreign countries; copious highway networks within each country, and from each country to others; absolute and indispensable devotion to respect for other viewpoints; there you have what will come, albeit in some places it can only be viewed in the distance; there you have the new spirit, already fashioned.

We are not lacking in resolve.  Just look at the school’s catalogue.  It’s a North American school where barely one sixth of the students are Hispanic.  But not in awards; there the proportion grows, and if for every Spanish speaker six speak English, for every six North Americans commended there are another six Americans from the South.

On that meager list of classes and names, over which ordinary eyes carelessly skim, America dilates its gaze.  Within this vast sum of analogies that comprise the universal system, a summary is contained in every minor detail, whether past or future; a great deed.

Shouldn’t it gladden us when we see a thin, anemic child from our homelands competing against well fed and full blooded rivals … prevail?

In this school of which we speak, students of Hispanic origin mostly attend basic or commercial classes.  But, among the rolls of those who excel in commercial classes, two out of every three are from our homelands.  The best bookkeeper is a Vicente de la Hoz.  The one who knows most about commercial laws is an Esteban Viña.  The one who monopolizes all the awards in his class, leaving nothing for the formidable “yanquizuelos[7], is a Luciano Malabet; and, the three prizes for English composition were awarded, not to a Smith, an O’Brien or a Sullivan, but to a Guzmán, an Arellano and a Villa!

Oh!  If only these intelligences of ours were set at the level of their own time; if they were not educated for the ruffs and erudite mortarboards from the era of audiences and governors; if they were not left, in their eagerness to learn, to suckle in the rootless and galvanic literature of half dead foreigners; if the successful association of intelligence that ought to be applied to a country were matched to the country to which it ought to be applied; if South Americans were prepared, not to live in France when they’re not French, nor in the United States (which is the most prolific of these bad models), when they are not North Americans, nor in the colonial era when they are already living post colonially, competing with active, creative, lively and free peoples, but rather, to live in South America!  ….  He who in South America gives his son a mere university education kills him.

Campaigns for political liberty are launched; campaigns for spiritual liberty, for the reconciliation of man with the land in which he ought to live, should be launched with greater vigor.

[1]              Biographical Information extracted from materials found at oldpoetry.com, see http://oldpoetry.com/oauthor/show/Jose_Marti.

[2]              La América, Nueva York, noviembre de 1884. Reproducido en Obras completas. Volumen VI. La Habana: Editorial Nacional de Cuba, 1963. 24-26.

[3]              There may have been a play on words in the source text that is not easily duplicated in the target text, i.e., a word similar to the word “palmares”, “palmarés” (with the accented last syllable), means “list of winners” in Spanish.  Also, there may have been an allusion to the importance palms played in the Christian Gospels on the Sunday prior to the execution and resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene.

[4]              The Spanish original places a semicolon rather than a coma at this point, but the following clause would then lack coherence.

[5]              The Spanish original places a semicolon rather than a coma at this point, but the following clause would then lack coherence.

[6]              Translation of the word “frutos” can, even when limited to this context, be justified in very different ways ranging from the very tangible “fruits” or “products” to more intangible concepts such as “successes”, “accomplishments” or, as selected, “achievements”.

[7]              As the term was, I believe, created by Marti and has no adequate English definition, but in its current form, is adequate to convey its meaning to target audiences, it was retained as a culturally borrowed term.

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