Home of revolutionary Cuban leader Jose Marti
The Fourth of July has come to represent a joyous celebration with a three day weekend vacation or staycation spent with family and friends. As we stock up on hotdogs, potato chips, watermelon and other gastronomic goodies it is easy to overlook the significant political challenges and sacrifices our ancestors made in the pursuit of our personal freedoms.
We need only look to the current regime uprisings in the Middle East to get a sense of how important individual and political freedom is to everyone.
In the 1890’s Key West became the epicenter of the Spanish American War. While the war had its military consequences it was primarily a people’s revolt to overthrow the repressive rule of the Spanish Empire in Cuba. It all started with the Ten Year War in 1868. The revolution ended in a stalemate between the Cuban plantation owners and the Spanish government.
Individual and group revolutionary efforts continued until the turn of the 19th century. The ongoing political and economic unrest spurred an exodus of 200,000 Cubans from 1868 thru the 1900’s. The émigrés became the basis of Key West, New Orleans, Tampa and New York’s Latin American communities.
The political voice and hero of the revolution was Jose Marti. He was a highly respected author, poet and champion of freedom in Latin America. In 1883 Marti came to Key West to raise support and money for the ongoing revolution. One of his speeches was given from the balcony of cigar manufacturer Teodoro Perez’s home. He was warmly received with cigar workers pledging a day’s wage every week. Funds traveled back to the revolutionaries through the nearly 60 Cuban support clubs in Key West.
The home and famous balcony of Marti’s speech still exists at 1125 Duval Street. It currently operates as La-Te-Da and is Historic Marker No. 30.
Jose Marti’s calls to action and the outcry of the Cuban expatriates in the United States eventually led to the Spanish American War. In 1898 America declared war with Spain. The war had many twists and turns but the outcome of the ten week war was the defeat of Spain and the acquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. Cuba was free from 400 years of Spanish imperial rule and for the first time could exercise the freedoms that are guaranteed by our constitution.
While you are shopping for the weekend try adding a helping of yellow rice and black beans to the menu and remember that the Florida Keys played a special role in the freedom of our unique multi-cultural community.