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.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

An E-mail from María Mantilla's Granddaughters

I received today an e-mail from Victoria and Marti Romero, granddaughters of María Mantilla. It was written as a response to The Myth of José Martí's Natural Daughter.
Dear Mr. Tellechea,

I tried to post this letter from us on your blog, but it wouldn't accept it. I assume it is too long. Therefore, I am emailing it to you.

Thank you.

Victoria Romero

June 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Tellechea,

I am Victoria Romero, and my sister Marti Romero (yes, Jose Marti’s namesake) and I have read with interest your blog about our grandmother, Maria Mantilla. We have found some fabrications of the truth, and we’d like to clear this up.

First, you say that “…Maria’s four granddaughters….visited Havana to obtain recognition from the Castro regime of Maria Mantilla’s legitimacy….” There were two of us who traveled to Cuba, not four. Just Marti and I.

Second, for your information, Maria Mantilla had three granddaughters and one grandson, not four granddaughters (one of her granddaughters, our cousin Holly, recently passed away).

We went to Cuba, sir, to explore our Cuban heritage, to meet a cousin on the Romero side of our family whom we found on a genealogy site, and to participate in the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Jose Marti’s birth. We were basically there to walk in the footsteps of our grandmother’s from 50 years before. It is almost comical of you to presume we would even think of trying to meet with Mr. Castro – it is a most preposterous thought! And, for the record, we did not EVEN have in our mind to “obtain recognition…of Maria Mantilla’s illegitimacy.”

While growing up in this fascinating family, as children we never questioned the authority or honesty of the adults who were teaching us. When we asked about the handsome child in the photo with the medal on his chest, we were told it’s your great grandfather. We took that as truth. Why would we question that? Only as adults, after doing some reading, have we begun to question the validity of our grandmother’s declaration. However, as we have learned, truth is stranger than fiction.

Having said this, we would like to offer you the following tidbit of information. We are in possession of a book entitled La Patriota del Silencio: Carmen Miyares, a historical biography of our great-grandmother. The book was researched and written by Nydia Sarabia, a journalist with Granma, the Cuban newspaper among other things. I am pretty sure you may be aware of who Sra. Sarabia is; if not, you can easily gather information on her through the Internet.

We both received copies of this book directly from Sra. Sarabia during our 2004 visit to Cuba. Let me cut to the chase. In Sra. Sarabia’s book she includes a letter, or testimonial, given to her by Tete Bances, Pepe Marti’s widow. The testimonial was given years before her death. A translation of the book states:

“She requested not to publish it while she was still alive. Dona Sarabia complied with the request.

Now as time has passed and as in society no longer exist the prejudices of a bygone era during the Maestro’s life, we reveal this, although we repeat like Tete Bances, Pepe Marti’s widow, without any documentation to prove it, as a hypothesis, but with the greatest respect to all the individuals involved in this matter. Nonetheless, we found Tete Bances’ observations to be very interesting, and perhaps they may shed some light, because as Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring well explained in 1925, it may be that “the hour of truth and justice” may have arrived with Maria’s testimony given in a letter to Gonzalo de Quesada y Miranda in 1959 in her own handwriting.” (referring to a letter written by Maria Mantilla y Romero to Sr. Quesada y Miranda regarding her being the daughter of Jose Marti).

The testimonial of Maria Teresa Bances, widow of Marti’s son is as follows (regarding Maria Mantilla y Romero’s visit to Cuba in 1953 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jose Marti):

“I did not know Maria Mantilla in person. I had only references about her. This was a delicate subject with my husband, and we never spoke about Maria’s existence. However, Marti’s Centennial arrived in January of 1953. As the only daughter-in-law of Marti I was invited to a banquet, where Batista, the president in turn, was to attend. The Centennial Commission insisted I attend, although I was not all that interested, since I never cared for these official functions.

Finally, they convinced me and I attended the banquet. I was not ushered to the place I really deserved, and discretely I was seated at some distance from the presidential table. That disgusted me, but for the sake of good manners I remained there.

How surprised I was when Maria Mantilla’s arrival was announced. When I first saw her closely in person for the first time, I was impressed by her resemblance to my departed husband Pepe Marti.

I couldn’t believe that the physical resemblance would hide a relationship to Pepe. As I watched her conversing with others around her, I realized that her expressions, her smile, the way she sat, aside from her physical resemblance as her face, her hands, were so much like those of Pepe Marti, I could not but convince myself that they were related.

Despite my observations, my feminine intuition, we were not introduced and I immediately left the place. In fact, I was impacted by the resemblance, although I had no proof. Maria Mantilla was a distinguished woman. There was much of her in my husband, Pepe Marti y Zayas Bazan.”

We can rightfully declare ourselves as the granddaughters of Maria Mantilla. As far as being Jose Marti’s great granddaughters, well, who knows? It doesn’t matter to us. We are proud to be of Cuban heritage and we will continue to read and learn about the life of the man, Jose Marti.

We encourage you, sir, to check your facts before writing in your blog about people you don’t even know. We would have gladly given you our point of view and the correct information-all you had to do is ask. Do not hesitate to respond to our post.


Victoria and Marti Romero

My response to their email:

Dear Mesdames Victoria and Marti Romero,

If it were in my power to pick a daughter for José Martí, I would most assuredly choose María Mantilla. For one thing, I know that is what Martí would have wanted, because he loved your grandmother more than he loved anyone else in the world. Love is thicker than blood, and your grandmother's place in history is secure because of Martí's great love for her.

Is it necessary also to claim that Martí was her father when he himself denied in writing any such supposition? Is this not to take the part of Victoria Smith and other cynics who have cast aspersions at the purity of Martí's love for not only Carmen Miyares and María Mantilla, but the whole Mantilla family?

Live proud that your family sustained Martí emotionally and physically in his darkest hours. I truly believe that without its exemplary love and support Martí would not have been able to endure his via crucis or fulfill his apostolic mission. What greater glory could be yours than that?

It is your responsibility and that of your entire family to endeavor always to be worthy of that legacy. This requires, at the least, that you do not allow yourselves to be used as propaganda props by the Castro regime, which has robbed the Cuban people of the freedom which Martí died to obtain for them (you are, I hope, aware of that fact).

Your letter will be published in the José Martí Blog and I will answer all your points there.

With highest regards and best wishes to the descendants of Martí's spiritual family,


Manuel A. Tellechea