On September 5, 1881, the Caracas newspaper La Opinión Nacional published a long piece of writing entitled “Letter from New York”, and left in suspense who the author was, hidden under the signature of “M. de: Z.”, never before appearing in that publication. Under the title was added “(From our correspondent)”, which made it clear that the writer resided in the great American city, identified at the beginning before pointing out the date of August 20 of that year. It was not until four months later, on December 24, that the chronicle of that day, the fifteenth to be published in that newspaper on January 7, 1882, was signed with the name of José Martí.
We do not know the reason for the author’s camouflage for such a long time: was Martí worried because his name might displease President Antonio Guzmán Blanco, who had decreed in July his immediate departure from Venezuela? Or was the suspicious one Fausto Teodoro de Aldrey, the Spaniard who made a career in Venezuelan journalism, owner and director of the newspaper? What can be affirmed is that those extensive chronicles about American life immediately attracted the attention of readers, as indicated by more than one witness.
In those texts, the Master studies and analyzes the American society in its numerous edges and individualities and at the same time shows his literary maturity that made him one of the initiators of what would later be called the Hispanic American modernism. The expressive richness, the weight of the image not only descriptive but also as the basis of his reasoning, his surprising and abundant creativity with the Spanish language through hundreds of neologisms, the ability to interrelate the analytical discourse with the description of suggestive accuracy, the balance between the information of current events, the narration of events and social processes, the effective use of dialogue are elements that make his original exercise of the so-called modern journalism – precisely at the time when the large-circulation daily newspaper was born and it aspired to cover wide social strata – a remarkable and singular example of unity between journalism and literature.
These features that have characterized the “North American Scenes” since those early days in La Opinión Nacional explain the tremendous scope of those texts in the Spanish-speaking world and the fact that their writer has been widely read, admired, and continued, even in our times when a large number of the issues dealt with in those “Scenes” are no longer an existing reality and have gained value in the historical plane while they have expired with respect to their current informative scope. However, how much do those Martian “Scenes” help us to understand the United States, its customs, its social psychology, its collective personality up to our days.
Those writings of 1881 and 1882 move during the first months in two great themes intimately linked: the death of President James A. Garfield and the long judicial process of his assassin Charles J. Guiteau. But Martí also refers to the struggles between the powers of the state, the year-end celebrations and the Easter holidays, the deaths of two essential writers for him, Emerson and Longfellow, as well as the centenary of the Battle of Yorktown, which gave independence to the Thirteen North American colonies. And he does not fail to mention disasters such as the flooding of the Mississippi River, the winter season, walker competitions, political struggles, the visit of the English writer Oscar Wilde, a boxing match for a prize, the rejection of Chinese immigration, workers’ strikes, women suffragists, and personalities such as the industrialist and social reformer Peter Cooper, the black orator Henry Garnet and the singer Adelina Patti.
These themes indicate the breadth of Marti’s observation of the United States and the process of his critical view of it, which would go deeper from 1884 onwards, when he had abandoned the collaboration with La Opinión Nacional and wrote for newspapers in Buenos Aires and Mexico.
Translation Red en Defensa de la Humanidad – Cuba