On Jan. 27 West New York officials, residents, and students of many ages and ethnicities gathered at City Hall to celebrate the legacy of a prominent figure in Cuban history, Jose Marti.
Martí was born in Havana in 1853. He created the Cuban Revolutionary Party, became a political activist at a young age, and went on to preach the ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy in Latin America and beyond.
Wednesday’s tribute featured music, a dance performance from Oneida Dance Studio, and an address from keynote speaker Felipe Gomez, vice president of the Colegio Nacional del Periodismo Cubano en el Exilio (National Association of Cuban Media in Exile).
“Marti set the tone for freedom in his generation.” – Mayor Sal Vega
Rosmery Hinojosa, a sophomore at Memorial, moved with her parents from Cuba to West New York just a few years ago. “Although many of our young people are growing up in this country,” she said. “We remember [Marti] with love and appreciate his work.”
Commissioner Alberto Rodriguez emceed the event and was joined by fellow Commissioners Fernandez-Lopez and Riccardi. “Tonight is a celebration of freedom,” said Rodriguez. “We give tribute to a person who struggled for liberty and the promise of a great country; his ideals never die.”
After the audience sang along with a recording of the Cuban National Anthem, Mayor Sal Vega garnered cheers from the crowd when he remarked, “Viva Cuba Libre!”
Vega, who left Cuba with his parents as a child, said the words of Marti are universal. “He was a great human being,” said Vega. “Marti set the tone for freedom in his generation. He represented more than Cuba; he represented the ideal of freedom.”
The students from Memorial High School practiced for a month to perform at the celebration on behalf of the school’s World Language Department.
“They have been working hard,” said Ileana Marti, a Spanish teacher at Memorial. “We’re so proud of them. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve performed in front of the public.”
The diverse group of students was made up of kids who came from Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and India.
Sophomore Jessica Leal was happy to share her heritage with others. “It’s what I was raised with,” she said, “and to share it with people so they can learn about it is a wonderful thing.”
Michael Texeira, a senior who will attend college next year to study theatre, hopes that this new generation will also be able to leave behind a legacy. “Be the best that you can be,” he said. “Respect what others have done and set an example.”
The evening concluded with the presentation of two awards representing the spirit of Marti in West New York. Juan L. Ramirez and Gladys Ramirez, owners of Ramirez and Sons, received the West New York Citizenship Award for their work and dedication to the community.
The Jose Marti Community Service Award went to Antonio Ibarria, renowned publisher and philanthropist.
After 45 years of success with his Spanish language publications El Especialito and Personalidades, in 1997 Ibarria began a non-profit organization to unite Latin Americans and preserve the values and culture of Latinos. He is currently coordinating the “Reach a Dream” program, which brings community role models into schools to motivate students.
“Marti opened the door for us to follow in his footsteps,” said Ibarria. “[This award] inspires me to continue helping the community.”
He credited his mother with providing a good example. “I guess that’s where I get it from,” he said. “It runs in the family.”
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.
Life of a patriot
José Martí was born in Havana in 1853 and died in military action in 1895, but his life extended way beyond his 42 years. A national hero and essential figure of Latin American literature, his ideals, writings, and deeds have transcended time.
Known as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence,” he fought against the impending expansion of the United States into Cuba and was a crucial figure in the Cuban War of Independence against Spain in the 19th Century.
As a writer and intellectual, Marti is highly revered, authoring poems, essays, letters, lectures, a novel, and a children’s magazine. He also wrote for many newspapers and even founded many himself including Patria, which was a key instrument in his campaign for Cuban independence.
After his death, one of his poems was adapted to the now popular song, Guantanamera, which has been covered by a plethora of musicians from Cuban born salsa singer Celia Cruz to Haitian-American hip hop star Wyclef Jean. – LRD