Against Race

  • Oscar Montero
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


As a young boy in Cuba, probably in 1862, when he was nine years old, Martí accompanied his father, a circuit captain in the service of the Spanish crown, on trips to the countryside and to the villages surrounding the city of Havana. Martí’s father had been assigned the impossible task of preventing slave ships from docking in Cuba. Although slavery was not abolished in Cuba until 1886, Spain, often pressured by England, had agreed to put an end to the slave trade as an erratic, half-hearted prelude to abolition. During one of the trips with his father, the young Martí saw something that haunted him for the rest of his life, an image he immortalized in one of the poems in his Versos sencillos (simple verses). During a fierce storm, a slave ship unloaded its human cargo on Cuba’s shore: “Echa el barco, ciento a ciento,/ los negros por el portón” (the boat’s great door disgorges/ Negroes by the hundreds) (Selected Writings 281). The boy then saw men, women and children packed like chattel in windowless barracks. He saw a screaming mother running off with her baby: “Una madre con su cría,/ Pasaba, dando alaridos.” He saw the body of a man hanging from a tree, a man who had tried to run away and paid with his life. “A child saw that,” the poem concludes. At the feet of the dead man, the child swears “to wash that crime away with his own life” (Lavar con su vida el crimen).


White Woman African Descent National Unity Race Prejudice Independence Movement 
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© Oscar Montero 2004

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  • Oscar Montero

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