On the northern end of New York's Avenue of the Americas, as you enter Central Park, you'll be greeted by a Cuban on horseback. A towering equestrian statue pays tribute to the "George Washington of Cuba" (as he's been called) and one of Latin America's greatest writers. Dedicated in 1965, it's become a piece of Cuban history.
Born in 1853 to poor Havana immigrants, Jose Marti helped lead the fight for Cuban independence from Spain. Like John Adams or Patrick Henry, Marti was a patrot - burning to break the shackles of colonialism. His uncompromising opposition to Spanish rule led to arrest and exile from the island at age 17. With passionate eloquence, the "Apostle of Freedom" inspired a generation of Cubans to to fight for independence. And sadly, his unwavering courage eventually cost Marti his life on a Cuban battlefield in 1894.
As much as he loved his country, traqgically. Marti spent most of his adult life in exile. A talented writer and journalist, he spent years in New York as a foreign correspondent for South American newspapers.
And he marveled at the Democratic freedoms of America. "'I am, at last, in a country where everyone looks like his own master," he wrote for the newspaper, The Hour. "One can breathe freely, freedom being here the foundation, the shield, the essence of life'".
Marti also admired the work ethic he saw in American society. He wrote about his respect for this great nation of immigrants, with its' remarkable constitution and freedom of expression. And Marti urged Latin America to adopt the same values.
But like any great journalist, Marti called a spade a spade. He criticized the excesses of capitalism, spending time in New York's ethnic slums. The plight of the poor moved Marti, and made him yearn to help the less fortunate.
This week, Cubans everywhere celebrate the birthday of this great man. If you want to read more, we have a special story dedicated to Jose Marti in the "Cuban Culture" section of my Old Havana Foods Blog. Learn more about this remarkable individual who loved freedom - a passion that's memorialized in New York's Central Park.