José Martí called it the "cuestión toral," which any Spanish-English dictionary defines as the "main or principal question," but, actually, I think that as used by Martí it means much more than that. The root of the word "toral" is "toro" (bull) which connotes in Spanish not just the centrality of the question but also its force. In English answering such a question would require one to "take the bull by the horns," which is never an easy or safe thing to do. Whether it was ever posed to him or not, Martí felt compelled to answer this question for everybody else that might be confronted with it. If not a pattern he wished to offer an example that might prove useful to others, and his authority, which always would. Martí believed that "man was naturally good" but required the "salutary influence of example" to widen the scope of his interests and direct his actions. It was necessary, therefore, to build a consensus for decency as for anything else in the world. This is Martí's attempt to do precisely that in the realm of social relations at their most intimate and revolutionary.
The question which Martí thought so formidable now sounds more sheepish than "toral," though it was certainly not regarded lightly in Martí's day when it was used to test the limits of an individual's racial tolerance: a negative answer marking the reformer as a hypocrite and a positive one as a degenerate. The question, still occasionally heard today but no longer an acceptable litmus test of one's racial attitudes, is: "Would you allow your daughter to marry a black man?" This question was usually posed to those who professed a belief in the equality of the races by those who did not. Today it is the question, not the answer, which is politically incorrect; yet, though clichèd and tendentious, it is not without value. It helped Martí, for instance, to plumb the depths of racism and its causes more deeply than in any other analysis with the exception of his classic rejection of racial divisions ["There is no basis for racial hatred because there are no races"]. It is in that light that we must view his assertion that intermarriage is a "question devoid of meaning" for him. Of course, if there are no races (as Martí contends) then one cannot speak of their mingling as either desirable or objectionable. As Martí puts it, "What already is, is."
It is still possible, however, to consider this question from an economics perspective, since those who belong to the emancipated class would necessary be in a disadvantageous position in respect to those who have always been compensated for their labor and benefitted from their own and their ancestors' exertions. To view the racial divide as an economic divide is to envision a solution to the "race problem." Economic differences are subject to amelioration, at least in a capitalist society, and Martí recognizes that it is desirable and even possible to transcend them. He considers this transformation more cultural than political, requiring a revolution in human relations rather than in human affairs. It will begin from the bottom up because it is there that all classes of men associate regularly on the closest terms. In fact, Martí believes that this transformation is already underway despite legal prohibitions and social barriers. More farsighted still is Martí's interpretation of strictures against intermarriage as societal controls intended to bolster the patriarchal order by limiting the autonomy of women as well as that of the youth of both races who rejected these prejudices. This analysis, more than just a novel conception, is a certain antecedent, if not the model, for modern thought on this and analogous subjects. If Martí's private ruminations on intermarriage had been publicized in his time, rather than wilfully suppressed till our own, Martí would indeed have become an obligatory reference on this subject.
Instead, these pages were interred in Martí's archives for 20 years by Gonzalo de Quesada, his "chosen disciple" and literary executor; and for an additional 60 years, the last 30 years of the Republic and the first 30 years of the Castroite tyranny, by Quesada's son and Martí's hereditary archivist and editor, Quesada y Miranda. It was not until the latter's death in 1975, followed, in short order, by that of his son and last keeper of the Martí archive, Quesada y Michelson, that Martí's papers came under the control of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, in whose vaults they are now stored (the remnants, that is, which were not appropriated as "souvenirs" by party leaders at the time of Quesada's passing). This particular document, uncollected for nearly 90 years, was finally published by the regime in the first volume of its Anuario del Centro de Estudios Martianos (1978), a scholarly journal with a very limited circulation whose stated goal is to synchronize José Martí's writings with Karl Marx's, studying Martí in the context of Marx (since the fall of the Soviet Union, the hierarchy has been reversed). It would indeed have been difficult to reconcile Martí's thought on this subject with Marx's. Ironically, Marx's favorite daughter did indeed marry a man of color, the Cuban Pablo Lafargue, whom Marx dubbed in his letters "the gorilla."
The "newly-discovered" document did have some obvious uses for Castro's propagandists, but these were hardly exploited by the editors. In a brief and superficial "Note" accompanying the text, the directors of the Center credited the Revolution with the abolition of racial discrimination in Cuba, as might be expected; but refrained from explaining how the rights of one group were increased while the rights of all Cubans were eliminated. The document itself was edited in a hasty manner, with many errata and supposedly undecipherable words, as well as not a few questionable conjectures and substitutions. Fortunately, CEM reproduced the original manuscript as well, which has allowed us to correct some of the misreadings; we suspect there are others, but we have incorporated only what we could decipher with confidence. Translating the text into English was also of much help in parsing what Martí had meant in the original Spanish, since whatever did not make any sense in English was likely not to stand too careful a scrutiny in Spanish either. For example, in the Center's faulty transcription, Martí sanctions the marriage of "el blanco y la negra, la negra y el blanco," when, obviously, he meant "el blanco y la negra, el negro y la blanca." (Such misreadings may interest some readers, but we shall not vex the patience of the rest by multiplying these examples).
Martí's answer to the "cuestión toral" was part of his "Escenas," a series of outlines for dramatic works which were never completed but which Martí believed of sufficient interest to recommend their publication in his Literary Testament. This is in fact the longest of his surviving"Escenas." It bears some relation to another draft, for a book called Mis Negros, which he intended to write about blacks that had most influenced his life and moved his heart, from the slave whom he had seen flogged as a boy to the enigmatic "Isabel, homosexual" (which Carlos Ripoll identifies as possibly the first use of the word in Spanish).
There is a stream of consciousness quality about Martí's writing here, which is not uncharacteristic of him but which here appears especially pronounced. His style, consequently, is highly suggestive because elliptical. Ideas are touched upon without much elaboration, or when there is an attempt to expand on them, the result is often cursory, as when he lists the three reasons for marriage, something that would certainly admit of many more than three. This is not to imply that Martí's thinking on the subject is evasive or unfocused: he declares forthrightly that races should mix and that their fusion is desirable for society. As for himself, Martí makes it clear that it would take nothing short of a Second Coming for him to find a man (of whatsoever race) worthy of marrying his ideal of a daughter, but if there should be such a man it would not matter to him what his race was so long as his daughter loved him and he was in a position to make her happy. In that case Martí was even disposed to move with his daughter to some unnamed foreign country where black men lived as brothers and welcomed all men to the common table. Such a relocation would, perhaps, be necessary to protect his hypothetical daughter from social ostracism and his prospective son-in-law from lynching. At the same time, Martí trusted in the advent of more progressive times because he genuinely believed in man's capacity to grow and society's ultimate incapacity to stop him.
PARA LAS ESCENAS. --
Y ahora viene la cuestión toral -- la cuestión del matrimonio. La eterna pregunta. Y ¿tú casarías tu hija con un negro? Para mí no tiene esta pregunta ninguna significación. Es difícil que yo encontrase marido digno de mi hija, si yo tuviera por ejemplo la hija que yo quisiera tener, fina e ideal, con mucha mente y mucho corazón, y tan sensible, que no me la pudiesen rozar sin lastimarla el [casco], de su cabello. Si yo encontrase en un negro las altas condiciones apetecibles para darle esta gloria y consuelo de mi vida, frágil como la espuma y limpia como un rayo de sol, yo sé que tendría la sensatez y el valor de afrontar el aislamiento social, y de consentir por mi parte en acceder a la voluntad de mi hija. O la llevaría a tierra, donde se sientan en haz los negros y dan el brazo a todos los señores los negros cultos y honrados.
Pero para eso sería previo que mi hija se enamorara del negro, y que el negro demostrase, no sólo condiciones de generosidad en bruto, ni su simplicidad, que es hoy con justicia y seguirá siendo para los hombres honrados, su mayor poder, porque es la prueba patente de su mayor derecho, sino las condiciones excepcionales de carácter y de cultura necesarias para enamorar a mi hija, a despecho de la oposición y repulsa general, y los prejuicios sociales, odios a la juventud y a la mujer, que el problema negro implica.
El matrimonio no es un derecho de cada hombre sobre cada mujer, sino la unión voluntaria de dos seres de diverso sexo. Para los fines de la vida (que [van] más allá, quién es el atrevido que se arroga el derecho de declarar inseparables a dos seres, cuando los separa [p.i.] ante nuestros ojos la muerte:) La unión voluntaria. De modo que cuando exista la mutua adhesión, la voluntad libre a la vez, del blanco y de la negra, de la negra y del blanco, existirá la condición esencial del matrimonio, y se hará en la ley, porque ya está hecho en el [orden] del espiritú y en el [tribunal] de la naturaleza. Eso en cuanto a la ética de la ley. Ahora en cuanto a la práctica. Cómo se resuelve el problema? Iremos a negro? El negro vendrá a blanco? Deben mezclarse las razas. Y la otra pregunta: Puede impedirse que se mezclen? Lo que es, es.
¿Por qué tiemblan ante la unión legal de las dos razas los que han venido haciendo sin miedo hasta ahora la fusión legal? ¿Por qué no desean un marido blanco, estos, un marido favorecido por las tradiciones sociales, para la pobre hija mulata que se tuvo con la esclava o con la concubina? ¿Por qué no corregir con la energía del carácter el defecto social creado por el frenesí de la pasión o el hábito del vicio? La fusión de las dos razas se ha hecho, y se continuará haciendo. Veamos cómo se hará de modo que no degrade al que está arriba, sino levante al que está abajo.--
Veamos si hay un peligro tan grande en los matrimonios. -- Los matrimonios tienen tres maneras de hacerse, la atracción físico-espiritual, la ocasión y la semejanza de cultura. -- La atracción corpórea es la [línea] más baja, y menos deseable, y por fortuna nuestros hombres negros están ya tan cultivados por lo menos como nosotros en este punto, y no son bestias feroces, sino que ven en la mujer a más de la hermosura las condiciones ideales. La ocasión, conspira. Y cuando sean muchas, [garantizarán] precisamente que se han acabado los horrores, y no habrá anatema. Y la cultura. Ahí está. Hay que levantarle al negro la altivez, para su propio bien, para que no [olvide] cuando vivía entre montes; y adquirirá pronto el influjo y la riqueza, que son condiciones del matrimonio. Y es necesario que tenga orgullo, sin lo cual el matrimonio no es posible.
¿Por dónde empezará la fusion? Por donde empieza todo lo justo y lo difícil, por la gente humilde. Los matrimonios comenzarán entre las dos razas entre aquellos a quienes el trabajo mantiene juntos. Los que se sientan todos los días a la misma mesa, están más cerca de elegir en la mesa su compañera, que [los] que no se sientan nunca en ella. De abajo irán viniendo de esa manera.
FOR THE DRAMATIC "SCENES" --
And now comes the principal question -- the question of marriage. The eternal question. "Would you marry your daughter to a negro?" For me that question is devoid of meaning. It would be difficult for me to find a husband worthy of my daughter, supposing I had the fine and ideal daughter which I should wish to have, with much mind and much heart, and so sensible that no one could brush against her or touch a hair on her head without wounding her to the quick. If I found in a black man the desirable attributes that would convince me to give him this glory and consolation of my life, delicate as sea foam and pure as the sun's rays, I know that she would have the sense and the courage to confront the social ostracism, and I, for my part, to accede to my daughter's wishes, even if I had to take her to a land where cultured and honest black men, living in unity, extend the hand of friendship to all men.
For that to happen my daughter would first have to be in love with the black man, and the black man would have to demonstrate, not just his capacity for generosity, nor his simplicity, which is justly regarded by honest men now, as it will be in the future by all men, as his greatest power and the palpable proof of his greater right; but, also, he must show those exceptional attributes of character and culture which will be necessary to win the love of my daughter, despite the general opposition and condemnation, the social prejudices, and the hatred for youth and women, which are also a part of the black problem.
Marriage is not a right which every man has over every woman but the voluntary union of two beings of the opposite sex. It exists to promote the ends of life [which go much farther than life itself, although who would be so insolent as to claim the right to declare two beings inseparable when death separates them before our very eyes?]: A voluntary union. So when there exists a mutual attachment and the free will to formalize it, between white men and black women, and black men and white women, the essential conditions for marriage will also exist, and such unions will be recognized by the law as they are already sanctioned by the laws of the spirit and by natural law. So much as pertains to the ethics of the law. And now as regards the practice. How will this problem be solved? Will we be treated as blacks? Or will blacks achieve the status of whites? The races should mix. And another question: Could they be prevented from mixing? That which already is, is.
Why do they tremble at the legal union of two races who have without fear consented to their illegal fusion for so long? Why wouldn't a white husband, favored by social conventions, be preferred for the poor mulatto daughter born of a slave or concubine? Why not correct with energetic character the social defect created by the frenzy of passion or the habit of vice? The fusion of the two races is already a fact, and it will continue a fact. Let us consider, then, how it should be accomplished in a way that will not degrade those at the top but elevate those at the bottom. --
Let's examine if there really is such a great danger in [inter]marriage? -- There are three ways of forming a marriage -- physical-spiritual attraction; opportunity; and cultural affinity. -- Physical attraction is the lowest and least desirable reason to marry; fortunately, our men of color are not ferocious beasts but at least as cultivated as we are and value in women ideal qualities above physical beauty. The occasion also conspires for change. And precisely when these opportunities to associate freely increase the horror occasioned by such marriages will end as will the anathema. And culture. It too will play its part. We must encourage pride in black men for their own good, that they may always remember when they were their own masters in the mountains; and they will soon acquire the influence and prosperity that makes marriage possible.
And where shall this fusion begin? Where all that is just and difficult always begins -- with the humble people. Marriages between the races will commence among those brought into close contact by their work. Those who sit at the same table every day are that much closer to choosing their mate from that table than those who have never sat there. They shall climb from below by that means.