Latino News and Opinion

How Latinos were seen in Filadelfia in 1882
Por Hernán Guaracao   
14:39 | 06/14/12

Read the Spanish version of this column here

In the year 1882 there was a Latino living in the US who found the way his community was portrayed in a newspaper in Philadelphia extremely inaccurate.

He was a writer, so he put his thoughts on paper, and sent a letter to a editor of the New York City Evening Post, which had reproduced in its pages the article originally published in our city.

He wrote the following:

"We are not the destitute vagrants or immoral pygmies that "The Manufacturer" (of Philadelphia) is pleased to picture; nor a country of petty talkers, incapable of action, hostile to work".

The fight for the independence of Cuba was a raging on and living in New York, Philadelphia, and in other cities of the East Coast was a thriving community of Cuban immigrants who had come to the U.S. escaping the harsh persecution of the colonial government of Spain trying to hold on to power over the island.

One of them was José Martí, a disciple of a disciple of Father Félix Varela y Morales, the original writer who had planted the seed of independence for Cuba in the mind of his fellow countrymen when he drafted and published "El Habanero" in Philadelphia 60 years earlier.

Martí was an intellectual but also the man of action, ready to make Varela's dream a reality.

A writer, he was also a political organizer, occasionally a poet, and also a soldier in the battlefields of Cuba, where he finally died. He is today one of the towering figures in the history of Cuba, known as one of the great revolutionaries of Latin American history.

In New York, where he came in January of 1880, he lived for 16 years in the middle of a community of Latino professionals, entrepreneurs and artists who felt at home in the Big City.

Except for the occasional images of themselves they found printed in the English-language media that was the only reference the rest of the city had of their native Cuba, and their culture.

The article in "The Manufacturer" incensed the young Cuban writer who had settled in New York as a correspondent for several of the most influentials newspapers in Latin America, and occasional contributor to the New York Sun.

"Cubans," wrote Martí to the Evening Post, "are found everywhere, working as farmers, surveyors, engineers, mechanics, teachers, journalists."

"In Philadelphia 'The Manufacturer' has a daily opportunity to see a hundred Cubans, some of them of heroic history and powerful build, who live by their work in easy comfort. In New York, the Cubans are directors in prominent banks, substantial merchants, popular brokers, physicians with large practices, and engineers of worldwide repute."

The portrayal of this community in the English-language press was quite different.

According to opinion piece published in "The Manufacturer," the Cubans have "a distaste for exertion;" they are "helpless," "idle," "unfitted by nature and experience to discharge the obligations of citizenship in a great and free country."

Their attempts on rebellion against the Spanish rule "has been so pitifully ineffective that they haven't risen above the dignity of a farce."

The 36-year old writer fumed:

"Never was ignorance of history and character more pitifully displayed than in this wanton assertion...."



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