Article below was Published Friday,
Woman donates note written by Jose Marti to UM
For most of her life, Carmen Alea Paz has treasured a fraying caramel-colored piece of paper scribbled with the thoughts of a great man.
The author was Cuban Independence War hero Jose Marti and the writing -- a reflection on the flag -- is believed to be one of his celebrated pensamientos. Paz, now a Cuban exile who lives in California, won the rare original and a certification of its authenticity at a Havana writing contest in 1948.
``It's a little piece of my heart,'' Paz said Thursday afternoon as she donated her Jose Marti note to the University of Miami's Cuban Collection, the largest compilation of publications, documents and historical memorabilia outside of the island.
Paz's gift is the fifth original Marti writing the library has obtained.
``I have loved it deeply,'' a teary-eyed Paz said. ``It is a miracle how it came to be in my hands. Now it is where it belongs.''
With flowery flair, Marti speaks of the flag as a noble symbol of a people that should always be 'risueña y libre', joyful and free.
``It's a beautiful thought on the flag,'' said Esperanza B. de Varona, curator of UM's Cuban archives. ``A treasure.''
The story of how the prized Marti writing found a home in Miami spans a century.
Marti is believed to have penned the thought while he was himself an exile in New York at the end of the 19th Century. The note became part of the collection of writings left to his personal secretary, Gonzalo de Quesada, after Marti died in 1895 during the War of Independence.
Decades later, Carmen Alea grew up in the Havana of the 1930s learning to love the patriot, poet, philosopher and journalist whose writings for children are among his most famous works.
Her father -- a devoted follower of Marti -- passed on his admiration.
``I was 7 years old when my father took me to the home where Marti was born,'' Paz said. ``I remember he told my mother to put me in my best dress as if we were going to visit a castle.''
When they got to the house on Paula Street in Havana, her father turned to her and said: ``In this house was born the greatest man Cuba has ever had.''
For the rest of her life, Paz would love Marti as much as her father did.
``Please forgive me for saying this,'' she said, ``but my father always said, `In this home, it's Christ and Jose Marti.' ''
So much so that Paz studied as a young woman at the University of Havana's Seminario Martiano, a center dedicated to the study of Marti and directed by Gonzalo de Quesada y Miranda, the son of Marti's secretary.
It was there she won the writing contest for a piece she wrote about Marti and the Cuban Revolutionary Party. She proudly collected her prize, along with the certification signed by de Quesada y Miranda.
``My whole family loved this manuscript,'' Paz said.
But the triumph of the Cuban Revolution separated Paz from her beloved manuscript.
She was forced to leave it behind with her parents when she fled the communist takeover of the island on a Pan Am flight on Jan. 6, 1962.
In exile, her efforts turned to survival and getting other relatives out of Cuba. The family settled in Santa Monica, Calif., where Paz became a Spanish teacher, a fiction writer, and an activist on behalf of the preservation of Cuban culture in exile.
Her father wrote to her every single Monday. The mail between Cuba was so slow the letters took months to get to her -- once even two years.
One day in 1970, while Paz was in the midst of a deep depression over the separation from her family, one of her father's letters arrived.
When she opened the envelope, Paz found a short letter and a clipping from the government-sponsored newspaper Granma. When she unfolded the clipping, out slipped the Jose Marti note.
``I almost collapsed when I saw this,'' she said. ``Papá was crazy to send this in the mail. I think it was God's intention to save it.''
Days later, the certification arrived the same way.
Some years ago, Paz, who teaches Spanish and literature at the University of Northridge in California, began to think about the future of her prized possession.
It was old and delicate, falling apart around the edges. She had no means to preserve it. Although several places in California wanted it, she decided to donate it to the University of Miami collection ``because of the labor of love going on here.''
The university's collection of Cuban historical artifacts and documents has been put together throughout four decades of exile by a team of dedicated Cuban librarians.
``We have letters by Marti, by Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez [Cuban Independence War heroes],'' said Lesbia Orta Varona, the Otto G. Richter Library's head of microforms/reserve department. ``Some of these are treasures families have preserved for years and somehow got out of Cuba. Sometimes, that's all they took with them.''
Ironically, the Cuban libraries and archives on the island, which house the most valuable collections, don't have the resources and technology to adequately preserve the valuable materials, Orta Varona said.
The Miami librarians have heard from colleagues on the island that a lot of things are decaying -- enhancing the significance of what's preserved in Miami.
``Fortunately,'' Orta Varona said, ``here we have the methods to preserve these documents.''
That's the kind of home Paz wanted for her beloved Jose Marti note.
``Now it's in the proper place,'' she said, ``a safe place.''
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald
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