Tuesday, July 09, 2013

More Observations on the Romero E-mail

In response to Vana's comment in the previous post:
I confess that I got a jolt when I saw the e-mail header in my Inbox: "From Victoria and Martí Romero." Although María Mantilla was not Martí's daughter, and her granddaughters are not María Mantilla, I was still moved. The name "María Mantilla" is known to all Cubans, not on her account, because she did nothing herself to merit her celebrity, but because of her association to José Martí, and, specifically, because of the great love he professed for her. For an earlier generation of martianos, who truly believed, in the absence of all evidence to the contrary, that she was indeed Martí's daughter, meeting her in person was almost an existential experience: to see, hear and perhaps touch Martí's love incarnate. It was an experience that brought many of them to tears, as when Mohammed's followers were in the presence of his daughter Fatima. I felt something of that, at two removes, when I was contacted by María Mantilla's granddaughters, although I know that they are not Martí's great-granddaughters and consider any attempt on their part to represent themselves as such by assertion or insinuation to be a gross imposture.

What you say about the tone of their letter is entirely true. The profusion of indignant "sirs," which lent it a certain comical effect, not altogether unamusing, was intended as a challenge: "Sir, at long last, have you no shame! How dare you deny that our grandmother was a bastard when she herself affirmed it! Sir, you are a cad because no gentleman would offend my grandmother's memory by denying her illegitimacy, or embarrass her granddaughters by so infamous a libel."

I overlooked the tone of their letter in my reply because, of course, I am a gentleman, but also because it seems to me that they are grappling with the truth and may eventually surrender to it (though for now they are stuck at the "kill the messenger" stage). "The Myth of Martí's Natural Daughter" has pushed them in the right direction, but they are still struggling, against the current, to return to the world of make-believe in which they were raised by their own admission. Nevertheless, they are beginning to understand, as I said in my reply to their e-mail, that love is thicker than blood, and that their grandmother's place in history is secure because of Martí's great love for her, not because his blood ran in her veins (which it did not). They have also gained, thanks to Nydia Sarabia's biography, a new appreciation for their great-grandmother Carmen Miyares' place in Cuban history. She was indeed a patriot, and Martí's greatest supporter and closest collaborator: the only woman in his life that was worthy of him.

María Mantilla was a beautiful child and a beautiful woman even in her last years. Everybody always said so and her photographs prove it. And, of course, even a "rival" like "Teté" Bances, the widow of Martí's only son, was impressed and captivated by her appearance on the only occasion she ever saw her (as she admits, from a distance). Believing, as everybody did then, that María was her late husband's half-sister, she naturally looked for a "family resemblance" and found it in their long tapered fingers, in the shape of their faces,and even in some similar mannerisms. But, really, is this any basis on which to fix paternity, and is "Teté" Bances, who never met Martí, the most qualified to do so? Well, she's as well-qualified as anybody else since trying to establish paternity through anthropological comparisons is pseudo-science, even crank science. Yes, comparisons of skulls (not fingers or faces) might tell us if a primitive humanoid was a distant ancestor of man; it will not tell us, however, if any two humans are siblings. Only shared DNA can do that.

Martí's sisters left hundreds of descendants (all nieces and nephews of Martí). Why haven't the Romero sisters sought out their "Martí cousins" in Cuba or Miami and asked them to have their DNA tested and compared to theirs? They went to Cuba, in 2004, supposedly to visit with a newly found Romero cousin whom they met on a genealogy chat site. Why didn't they contact their putative "Martí cousins," whose DNA held the answer to all their questions? I, personally, do not have any questions that need to be answered, nor do I fear that I would be "surprised" by the results of such a test. I am not the first person to make this suggestion and I wonder that the descendants of "María Martí" (as María Mantilla's name is written on her gravestone) have never sought to establish their claims in the only way that they can be established. If they want a definitive answer, a DNA test is the way to get. But, then again, it may be that they don't want a definitive answer. Why let reality intrude on such a charming fairy tale? Besides, one can't discredit a fairy tale; one can only expose a lie.
María Mantilla was only four when her real father Manuel Mantilla died. The only "father" that she ever knew and loved was her godfather José Martí. His love for her, which was as perfect as any father's love, may well have convinced her that what she desired most in the world was not a child's fantasy but reality. In her, we can excuse this self-delusion but not in her descendants. She did not have the benefit of knowing then all that we know now. She was never shown Martí's letter to Victoria Smith where he denies an adulterous affair with her mother Carmen at the time of María's birth. Now it really does come down to whether one believes Martí or no. María Mantilla would have believed him even if it broke her heart to know that she was not his biological daughter. Hopefully, some day her granddaughters will also believe him.


Vana said...

My Friend:

I must admit I too felt a jolt when I saw the header that you had a letter from Maria Mantilla's grandaughters, as I read the letter it struck me as you say almost comical in their indignation, and somewhat sarcastic, obviously though they did not admit it,they feel themselves as Marti's descendants, of course a simple DNA test would prove them wrong in my estimation, but they want to live in their delusion.

I too believe Marti, he was too much of a gentleman like yourself to submit himself to adultery with the wife of the man who not only gave him shelter in his home, but was his friend, it would also say very little of Carmen to have bedded the man almost upon meeting him, since Maria was born nine months later.

Am sure that the love Marti bestowed on Maria made her belive he was her father, indeed you tell yourself a lie long enough and you start to believe it.

Thank you my friend for your reply, as always I remain your friend.


Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Yes, Vana, theirs is a very peculiar dream which for anybody else would be a nightmare.

The "hour of truth and justice," as they see it, hinges on their grandmother María Mantilla being exposed as a bastard, their great-grandmother Carmen Miyares as a whore, their great-grandfather Manuel Mantilla as a cuckold, and Martí as a moral reprobate.

And for what? To satisfy their vanity? To extract an undeserved revenge on a man who was their family's friend and guardian?

If what is alleged were true — and it is not — they would at least be able to assert that the truth should not be suppressed whatever the consequences. But even then it would be ridiculous to suggest that this so-called "truth" has any relation to justice.

Justice for whom? For them? Exactly how is it that they have been wronged and by whom?

Vana said...


True, this benefits no one, not them and certainly not Marti.

Ah had he lived, how much better off Cubans would be today, and all these myths would be dispelled, this world can be so damn unfair, his heart always bled for Cuba and us, all he ever did was love us, few appreciate it.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


The Romero family's defamation of José Martí, which spans 80 years and three generations, would surely be a world record for character assassination if such records were kept. The only proof that they are his "family" is that only family goes after its own with such rancor and rapacity.

Vana said...


We hurt most those we are supposed to love, or so the saying goes.

The Romeros have not only defamed Marti's memory, but even their own ancestors, just to be linked to the greatest man Cuban soil has borned.