José Martí's "Nuestra América"
Abbreviated and Translated by Pamela Barnett
From José Martí, Obras completas (Editorial de Ciencias Sociales: La Habana, 1975), Vol. 6, pp. 15-23.
These are times for vigilance. Whatever may remain of the village in America has to awaken to arm itself with reason and ideas.
It is time for our America to abandon all vestiges of a parochial mentality, arm itself with reason and ideas, put an end to fraternal conflicts, join hands with its fellow nations, and prepare to defend itself from an external menace. We must march united, in close formation, like the silver in the veins of the Andes.
Those that have no faith in nuestra América lack courage and deny the courage of others because they cannot extend their feeble, decorated arms. They are ashamed of the carpenter father and ailing Indian mother that they continue to exploit. Those that prefer Madrid or Paris, let them go to the Prado or Tortoni. And to those deserters that look to the armies of North America, those delicate men that do not wish to do the work of men, did the Washington that built this land ally himself with the English during the years when he saw them coming against his own nation?
There are no nations of which we can be more proud than the suffering republics of nuestra América; raised among the silent Indian masses, amid the struggle between reason and the candlestick, over the bleeding arms of a multitude of apostles. Never in history, in less time, have nations advanced and been created from such disorganized elements. The arrogant believe the land’s purpose is to provide them with luxury. The incapacity is not in the developing country but in those who apply old, alien traditions to original nations that require autochthonous forms of government. To govern well in America is to know the elements that make up the nation, and to govern, by means of methods and institutions born in that nation, for the good of all who build it with their labour and defend it with their lives. The spirit of the government must be the spirit of the nation; to govern means to balance the natural elements of the nation.
That is why the natural man has prevailed over the imported book in America. The autochthonous mestizo has conquered the exotic creole. The struggle is not between civilization and barbarism, but between false erudition and nature. The natural man is good and submissive but will use force to regain the respect of those in power who ignore him or act against his interests. Tyrants have risen and fallen in America according to their conformity with or betrayal of these disdained natural elements. In a new nation, to govern means to create.
In nations comprised of cultured and uncultured elements, the uncultured will govern if the cultured do not learn the art of government, which requires the analysis of the elements peculiar to our American nations. Our universities should teach the art of governing. Our newspapers and the academia should promote the study of the factors that constitute our nations. The strong, indignant natural man will destroy justice that is acquired from books because it is not administered in accordance with the patent needs of the country. To know the nation and to govern it according to that knowledge is the only way to rid it of tyranny. The European university has to give way to the American university. The history of America, from the Incas to the present, should be taught in depth. Our Greece is more important to us than the Greece that isn’t ours. We may introduce the world to our republics, but our foundations have to remain those of our republics.
The struggle for freedom began in Mexico under the banner of the Virgin. The Venezuelans to the north and the Argentineans to the south set out to create republics. And since in times of peace heroism is more rare for it is less glorious than in times of war; since it’s easier to die with honour than to think logically; since governing in war when feelings are unanimous and exalted is more easily accomplished than governing after the war when thoughts are diverse, arrogant, exotic and ambitious; since the defeated forces, with feline watchfulness and the weight of reality, were undermining the newly independent republics; since the hierarchic constitution of the colonies resisted the democratic organization of the republic, or the cultured cities ignored the uncultured countryside, or book-born redeemers did not understand that the revolution that had triumphed with the soul of the land, was to be governed with the soul of the land and not against her—America is suffering the fatigue of accommodating hostile and discordant elements, the legacy of colonial rule, and imported forms and ideas in conflict with local reality and a hindrance to logical government. After three centuries of despotic rule that denied subjects the right to exercise their reason, it did not heed the unlettered masses that had helped to liberate it as it embarked on governing based on reason—for the good of all, in the interest of all, and not the reason of the cultured over that of the uncultured. The problem of independence became not the change of forms, but the change of spirit.
Common cause should have been made with the oppressed to establish a new system opposed to the oppressors’ interests and habits of government. The tiger, frightened by the gunfire, returns to the prey at night. It dies, issuing flames from its eyes and with its claws to the air. Its approach is imperceptible, for it approaches with velvet claws. When the prey awakens, it is held down by the tiger. The colony continued within the republic. Now nuestra América is saving itself from its mistakes—from the presumption of the capital cities, the blind triumph of the disdained rural people, the excessive importation of alien ideas and formulas, the unjust and impolitic disdain of its aboriginals—and the republic is struggling against the colony. The tiger waits behind every tree and at every corner. It will die, claws extended in the air, flames shooting from its eyes.
But these countries will save themselves, because, with the moderate disposition that appears to prevail, through the serene harmony of Nature, on the continent of light, and influenced by the critical philosophy that in Europe has replaced the philosophy of experimentation and phalanxes absorbed by the previous generation, an authentic man is being born in America, in these authentic times.
We were a spectacle with the chest of an athlete, the hands of a dandy and the visage of a child. We were a masquerade bedecked in garments from England, Paris, North America and Spain. The silent Indian retreated to the mountains. The alienated Negro sang alone and unknown among the waves and wild animals. The campesino, the creator, blind with indignation, revolted against the disdainful city, his own creation. We were epaulettes and togas in nations that came to the world in sandals and headbands. The genius would have been in drawing together the headband and the toga with the generosity and spirit of the nations’ founders, unfetter the Indian and make room for the capable Negro, to fit liberty to the bodies of those who rose up and fought for it. Instead we retained the judge, the general, the scholar and the ecclesiastic. Neither the Yankee nor the European book provided the key to the Hispanic American enigma, and every year our countries amounted to less. Fatigued from useless hate, the conflicts between the book and the sword, reason and the candlestick, the country and the city, nuestra América is now experiencing love. Our nations are standing up and greeting each other. They understand that the salvation of our nations rests in our people’s creativity, and they are applying local solutions to local problems. They understand that the forms of government must accommodate the natural elements of a country; that to be viable, liberty must be sincere and complete; that if the republic does not embrace everyone and move forward with everyone, it will die. The tiger within and without will take advantage of the cracks. If the infantry is left behind, the enemy will surround the cavalry. On their feet, with the joyful eyes of workers, they greet each other, from one nation to the next, the new American men. Those that govern in the republics of our Indians are learning Indian languages.
America is saving itself from all the dangers that menace it. Some of our republics are under the weight of the sleeping octopus. Others hastily drain their lands as if to recover the lost centuries. Some forget that Juarez’s carriage was drawn by mules: luxury corrupts, is the enemy of freedom, and opens the door to exploitation. Others, with epic spirit, heighten their virility from a threat to their independence. And others, rapaciously at war with their neighbours, build huge armies that can devour them. But nuestra América also faces an external threat, one that comes from the differences in origin, methods and interests between North and South America, and very soon an aggressive and enterprising nation, disdainful and ignorant, will approach nuestra América demanding close relations. The greatest danger is the scorn of our formidable neighbour who doesn’t know us. However, the northern republic is restrained by the need to preserve its honour in the eyes of the world’s nations. Therefore, nuestra América has time to act with discreet and unwavering pride to forestall this threat, to show itself to be one in spirit and intent, to replace the neighbour’s ignorance and scorn with knowledge and respect. One must have faith in the best and distrust the worst in men, and allow the best to be shown so that it prevails over the worst. There should be a pillory for those who stir up useless hate, and another for those who fail to tell the truth in time.
There can be no hatred of races because there are no races. Race is an abstraction that cannot be justified by any objective observation of Nature, where victorious love and turbulent yearning highlight the universal identity of human beings. Love emanates, equally and eternally, from human bodies that are diverse in form and colour. Ideas that foment hatred of races are an assault against humanity. As nations develop in proximity to other nations that are different, they acquire peculiar characteristics of ideas and habits, expansionism, vanity and greed that may precipitate a grave threat to weak and isolated neighbouring countries deemed inferior by the stronger nation. To think is to serve. One should not ascribe an innately evil predisposition to another nation because it is different from ours. Nor should one conceal the details of the problem that can be resolved, for centuries of peace, through timely study and urgent tacit union of the continent’s soul. Already the unanimous anthem resounds throughout hardworking America that is carried on the shoulders of the new generation; from the Bravo to Magellan, and the suffering islands of the sea, the Great Semí has watered the seeds of the new America!
Copyright 2004 Pamela Barnett