Jose Martí’s Havana Walk

By: Lázaro Numa

Plano de La Habana de 1853 que muestra los lugares donde vivió José Martí entre 1853 y 1870.

Havana heard José Martí’s first cry on January 28, 1853, just at 41 Paula Street, in front of the curtain of La Tenaza,1 almost a month before the death of Father Felix Varela on February 25 in St. Augustine of Florida. As if the Venerable2 had waited for the arrival of the most universal of all Cubans to leave the homeland as a legacy. Far away was Cuba knowing the historical size that would reach the one that had just opened its eyes in the sun.
It was in the city of the mid-19th century that the child’s early years passed, and in it the traces of his steps are still preserved.3 It is true that Havana did not serve as an inspiring muse on the literary and poetic plane, but Cuba encompassed everything in it. We will try to take a tour of some of those places that had the privilege of the presence of the distinguished patriot, who for carrying a star on his forehead could only walk it for sixteen years. We will be in places that the historian “did not see”, but that can provide countless epocal data to round out the true history and formative environment of the individual. That is something to be analyzed, because cities and men complement each other, the fact will never be separated from the context.
We intend to see the subject in the scene, but in the one of his time, which will allow us to have a more real and better formed idea. Some of these sites no longer exist, so we bring them here, to observe them in the present, and others have been reborn thanks to certain efforts because of the historical value they possess.
Much is said about Martí’s journey to Caimito of Hanábana, where he stumbled upon the horrors of rural slavery; also of the stay in Spain and the United States. There has been a lot of writing about the sufferings of the prison, but little is said about his urban scape for Havana. This time was vital in the patriotic formation of the Apostle. He was a man of thought, of action, but also urban. He always carried Havana tight in his soul, as silver is found in the bowels of the earth.

Casa natal de José Martí en la antigua calle Paula núm. 41
Casa natal de José Martí in the old street Paula No. 41.

The house of Paula Street is identified as the place where José Martí was born, some even often think that he always lived there, but it was not, in it only remained three years of the earliest childhood. Within the framework of his childhood years and adolescence there are a total of eight addresses where he resided within the town and another in Guanabacoa. When martí’s habanera cartography is observed, it is confirmed that this time was a true city viacrucis.
The different changes in numberings that occurred in the streets, make it impossible to identify these properties in our day, but thanks to a map of the same timeframe, they have been able to be located approximately, because it has the numerical environment of each block in 1853.
The first departure of little José Julián Martí y Pérez in the capital light in the arms of his mother Leonor Pérez, may have been to go to the church of the Holy Angel Custodian, on February 12, 1853. It was the day he received the sacrament of Catholic baptism, administered by the priest Thomas Sala.
The family attended mass at Paula’s church. This was the case until they left the second house where they lived, which was at 40 Merced Street, in the same neighborhood, one of the twenty-seven that existed in Havana intramural and extramural, spread over the first four districts of the Municipal Ordinances of 1855.4

Plano de La Habana de 1853 que muestra los lugares donde vivió José Martí entre 1853 y 1870.
Plano de La Habana of 1853 showing the places where José Martí lived between 1853 and 1870.

Next to the church and hospital of Paula has been extended the Alameda of the same name, first promenade of the villa, founded in 1777. In it he took the first steps and ran little Pepe, as he was affectionately called the close ones. He had an early family Catholic background, as well as subsequent studies.5
After a stay in Spain between 1857 and 1859, the family returned to Havana. A steady movement began here due to economic deficiencies. In this way, 32 Industry Street, in the neighborhood of La Punta, Number 3 of the Third Habanero District, was installed. There the child came into contact with the first letters in a ward school. The time on this site was brief, the father was forced to move to a small house on Jesús Peregrino street, on the periphery and at the opposite end. This was a neighborhood in formation, recognized in the Municipal Ordinances with the name of Pueblo Nuevo. If you look at the map, you will see that by the date it had a few apples. Havana at that time basically reached Belascoaín street, therefore, the Martí-Pérez family was on the margin of the city of this time, a place predestined to the poorest classes. The little boy began studying at the San Anacleto school, in queen’s street No. 113, according to the numbered map he must have been among the streets of Las Animas de Gervasio – at that time, today only Gervasio. That’s where he met the endearing friend Fermín Valdés Dominguez.
The family returned to the neighborhood of La Punta some time later, and went to 11 Refugio Street. The atmosphere of that environment must have significantly influenced him, he was thirteen years old. Next to the place was the Paseo de Isabel II and the Havana Jail. Here, contradictoryly, the recreation, the associationist splendor, but also the shootings and the vile club were interted, often publicly. Martí may have witnessed or heard of some execution, as his house almost adjoined the prison.

Martí himself expressed, “What did I see at the dawn of my life? I still remember those first impressions: my father on The Street of Refuge.”6 Havana was important to him in the forge of patriotic feeling. I didn’t have to get out of it to live the deficiencies generated by poverty. In the capital the number of domestic and labor slaves was high, so I could corroborate here, easily and elsewhere the horrors of slavery. He knew firsthand the dismantling of brutal colonial despotism. He lived in the city the conspiratorial and patriotic effervescence of his coterrános, very marked in the area where he moved the most. The city was his best sociopolitical school.

El teatro Tacón y el café El Louvre que conoció Martí.
The Tacón theatre and the Café El Louvre that Martí met.

After a trip with the father to British Honduras (Belize) he successfully completed primary education and entered the Municipal Primary Education School of Men, which was on Paseo del Prado No. 88, at the former San Pablo school, under the direction of the patriot Rafael María de Mendive, key man in Martí’s life, friend and patron , which took him hand in hand to high school.
The Prado and el Louvre café were places where Creole youth polemized “discreetly” over Cuba. The presence of the child with his friend Fermin in the area was frequent. At this stage he acquires remarkable knowledge, wins a group of subjects and is interested in the arts. He attended the Tacón theatre regularly, because he was helping a hairdresser who worked for the place. This allowed him to enjoy behind the scenes the stagings.
He enrolled drawing at the San Alejandro Academy, which in 1867 was located at 62 Dragones Street. By this time he lived on Peñalver Street, in the neighborhood of the same name, relatively close to the place. Apparently he was able to attend very little time or never did, as he was discharged a month. He was already in high school at the school annexed to St. Paul, which was incorporated into the Institute of Second Teaching, but in the same place in the Prado where Mendive lived. Attending St. Alexander could be difficult for him. During this period he published his first political article in the newspaper El Diablo Cojuelo.7
A fact convulsed Havana in January 1869. Volunteers attacked the Villanueva theater and ran Cuban blood. During one performance it was said, “live the country that produces sugar cane.”8 The exalted public also shouted alive to independence. According to Emilio Roig: “At the moment when the first unloading of rifles resounds, Mendive leaves his cricket, using the communication door with the adjoining house, residence of his mother-in-law, condueña of the theater […] Martí, by his side.” The historian goes on to say, “Mrs. Leonor, Martí’s mother, who knows that her son frequents Villanueva’s duties with Mendive and his family, rightly thinks that something bad could have happened to him.”9 Years later the son made the fact known and alluded to the mother’s attitude that day. Here is clear evidence of the Habanero formative environment in which the Apostle forged his independence sentiment.
Subsequently, the events of Miguel Aldama’s residence occurred, another action perpetrated by the volunteers. The capital of the island was a real space for clashes between supporters of independence and those of Spanish colonialism. In the words of Martí himself: “In 1868, the homeland burned in these and those elements. Aldama, East, University, Slaves.”10 He was imbued, despite the young age, of these and many other events. At that historical moment anyone, for the most insignificant reason, could be accused of being a traitor, which would cost him his life.

El teatro Villanueva, lugar de los hechos narrados por José Martí.
The Villanueva Theater, place of events narrated by José Martí.

On 28 January 1869, Mendive was arrested and imprisoned as a result of the revolutionary demonstrations in the theatre and for being his home – a place where Martí spent a lot of time – a conspiratorial meetinghouse. The boy’s family is forced to change residence. The father was already watching the son’s patriotic inclination and knew how dangerous this could be. The rebellious son referred to his rude father’s concerns when he said, “For I would not be surprised to see you defending the freedoms of your land tomorrow.”11 This time they move to Guanabacoa, but only for a month’s time. It may be thought that it was to keep the teenager away from the complex political situation that reigned in the capital, especially given the boy’s ideas and how close he was to Mendive. They returned to the city to reside at 55 San Rafael Street, on the same edge of the Columbus neighborhood, where it remained until October 21, 1869. While there, Martí is charged with the crime of infidence, had written the famous letter where he called a condiscrime apostate. He was arrested and taken to jail. Four months later he was sentenced to the sentence of six years in prison, in the section known as La Criolla, intended for forced labour.
The neighborhood of San Lázaro saw the row of condemned people passing every morning in which he went, battered and shackled – “from which he could never take away the ulcerations”– José Martí to work to the quarries: “I have also opened stones, and I have jumped mines, and I have loaded their pieces into the streets,” said the Cuban leader years later and continued to express about the presidio : “I have squatted,–no!–I have seen eat!–a filthy slug that fed us food in a wooden tub;–rice gnawed, fetid potatoes, scraped bones:–I have seen my hands and feet as broken as if they had been nailed to my cross.”12 This was perhaps the fact that marked him most throughout his life and which definitely made him suffer in his own flesh the cruelty of Spanish colonialism.
On September 5, 1870, he was sentenced and sent to the Island of Pinos. In December he was allowed to return to the capital, but had to leave the country and pay the expenses. On 15 January 1871 he left for Spain. He did not return until January 1877, the trip was intended to prepare for the return of his relatives to Cuba. In a previous letter to his friend Manuel Mercado he anticipated from Veracruz: “There is fate challenged, and soon it will probably be overdue: I finally go to Havana, with properly legal documents, and name julián Pérez, second names of mine, so it seems to me that I make myself a minor betrayal”.13 I only kept here for a space of one month.
He returned to Cuba again on August 31, 1878 and settled in Havana, on Industria Street. Later he moved to the Cerro neighborhood, to Tulipán Street No. 32, where José Francisco Martí Zayas-Bazán, the beloved son, was born.
Quickly began their conspiracy movements. He was part of the Cuban Revolutionary Central Club and later became a sub-delegation of the Cuban Revolutionary Committee. Due to the revolutionary activities he maintained he was forced to move constantly from directions, from Industria Street to Cerro and from here to Guanabacoa. He was arrested on 17 September and deported to the peninsula on 25 September 1879, and never returned to his hometown again.
I have insisted on the wards where the Apostle lived because they are always a basic cell in the forge of senses of belonging in the inhabitants of any city. They are active “agents” in the formation of personalities. Martí went through a significant number of those that existed in his day, where poverty and marginalization were taught. He lived in the neighborhood of Paula, San Nicolás, La Punta, Pueblo Nuevo, Peñalver and Colón. Often the greatness of the figure causes detail to be overlooked, but this was undoubtedly vital in his later life and in his unsurpassed revolutionary stance. As important as the patriotic or intellectual work martyred, it is to understand and know man, the human being within the realities that touched him to live. Havana, the neighborhoods and their teacher Mendive contributed to their Cubanity.
With the death of José Martí in Dos Ríos on May 19, 1895, after an arduous work in exile for the Cuban cause and his return to the homeland with Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, Havana did not erase the image of the hero. As early as January 28, 1899, Cubans emigrated to Cayo Hueso placed a tarja on the facade of their birthplace. This was the first public tribute to the figure. In 1900, the Association of Ladies and Gentlemen by Martí managed to acquire the house to be given to Leonor Pérez, thanks to the gesture today the property is preserved.
On February 24, 1905, after a long process of popular survey, the first sculptural monument to his memory was unveiled. In the place that one day occupied the Queen of Spain in the Central Park of Havana, the work carried out by the sculptor José Villalta was placed. In his own right, the Apostle was responsible for the seat, as a symbol of long years of fighting the Spanish colony. In 1958 the largest statue of Martí that exists in Cuba was built, that of the monument of the Civic Square, present-day Plaza de la Revolución. After one hundred and sixty-five years after the birth of the distinguished Cuban and thanks to the efforts of the City Historian Eusebio Leal Spengler, an old yearning was fulfilled, having in Cuba a replica of the equestrian statue of José Martí, sculpted in bronze by Anna Hyatt Huntington, whose original is located in The Central Park of New York; it was located in the Park March 13.
If the city that saw the birth of the most universal of Cubans did not have the privilege of preserving its mortal remains, out of elementary sense of respect and gratitude, it has assumed the responsibility to keep alive its image and presence as a perpetual legacy, because a Havana without Martí, would be like a city without light. Ω

1 Curtain of La Tenaza: Cloth of the Wall of Havana between the half bastion and the door of La Tenaza, fragments of these military construction elements are still preserved in the area.
2 Pope Benedict XVI declared Father Félix Varela and Morales, a Cuban priest and philosopher, venerable and was an important step in the process of beatification of the religious.
3 Guillermo de Zéndegui: Scope of Martí, Havana, P. Fernández y Cía, 1954, 1st. Edition.
4 Municipal Ordinances of havana, Havana, Government Printing and General Captaincy, 1855, pp. 12-16.
5 By the date, the subjects of the Christian Doctrine and Sacred History were obligatory in the second teaching.
6 Ibrahim Hidalgo de Paz: “José Martí, 1853-1895: Chronology”, Havana, Center for Martyred Studies, 2011, in José Martí: Complete Works, Havana, Editorial of Social Sciences, 1975, 2nd. edition, t. 22, p. 367. Available at
7 El Diablo Cojuelo: publication in the form of a flyer, made by José Martí and Fermín Valdés Domínguez. In Cuba, freedom of printing was decreed on January 9, 1869. Thanks to it, the first and only issue of the newspaper was published in Havana on January 19, 1869.
8 Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring: “Martí in the tragic events that occurred in Havana in January 1869”, Carteles, Havana, May 3, 1953. Consult The author points out that what the text of the work said was: “Let the nightingales – who feed on cane live!” live.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibrahim Hidalgo de Paz: “José Martí, 1853-1895: chronology”, ed. cit., p. 370.
11 Adem.
12 Ibid., p. 371.
13 José Julián Martí Pérez: “Letter to Manuel A. Mercado, Veracruz, 1st. January 1877”, in Complete Works, Havana, Center for Martyrdom Studies, Critical Edition, 2009, t. 5 (1877-1878 Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala), p. 13.

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