Latino community gets its monument Jose Marti bust finds home on Broadway at Fayette

September 05, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Made in granite and bronze, it is embedded firmly at the intersection of two vital city arteries.

A signpost of a new ethnic era in East Baltimore, the new 6 1/2 -foot-tall monument to Cuban poet, philosopher and revolutionary Jose Marti signals the expansion -- and permanence -- of a thriving Spanish-speaking community intent on making its mark on the city.

The monument, to be dedicated in a ceremony this afternoon, is the city's first public, permanent acknowledgment that immigrants and their children from Spain, El Salvador, Cuba and Mexico and numerous other Latin countries have settled here.

And its location -- at Broadway and Fayette Street -- is appropriate. The section of Broadway from Fells Point to the Johns Hopkins medical school is the hub of residential and commercial life for many of Baltimore's newest Latinos. So much so that for years some have been pushing a controversial proposal to name that section Spanish Town. It's not clear if or when that will happen.

For now, many are happy that, after nearly three years of looking for a site and rallying city leaders to support the idea, the Marti monument finally has become a reality.

"Jose Marti could be a role model for all the Spanish-speaking people and community members," said Dr. Luis Queral, a Cuban-American who has lived in Baltimore nearly 30 years and who chaired the 12-member Cuban American Foundation Pro Monument to Jose Marti Inc.

"Marti was a poet, a man who loved freedom. He was the symbol of Cuba's struggle for freedom and democracy." Queral said.

Marti, born in 1853, wrote extensively -- in an Argentine newspaper column, in essays and in poetry -- of liberation and democracy. His unconventional views forced him into exile in South America, but he returned to join Cuba's fight for freedom from Spain.

He died in battle at age 42.

Queral, a retired surgeon and a painter, calls Marti one of his heroes. Behind his desk in the office of his Towson home, amid books on surgery and

photos of the pope, is a row of Marti's books. In his closet rests his own unfinished painting of the scene of Marti's death.

Queral and other committee members crafted details of the monument. The mold for the bust, a replica of a Marti monument in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba, was shipped from Miami.

Half-dozen sites surveyed

More difficult than designing the monument, which is perched on a granite base, was finding and getting approval for a site.

Gloria Herrera, treasurer of the organizing board, made dozens of phone calls to city agencies and community groups for approval.

Facing consistent rejection, she and her husband, Jose, surveyed a half-dozen sites.

They were turned away from an area near Camden Yards because community leaders wanted a monument to baseball.

Several options were not centrally located. Some community groups they approached said they didn't see the point of the monument.

'Take it someplace else'

"Some people were very unfriendly," Herrera said. "They said, 'Take it someplace else.' "

In the end, the approval of city agencies late last year and of Citizens for Washington Hill Inc. -- the community organization for the neighborhood -- and more than $40,000 in private and corporate donations made it possible.

The foundation plans to continue its work, using leftover funds to purchase and donate English-language books of Marti's work to local schools and libraries.

They hope such outreach will inspire and educate other Baltimoreans and demonstrate that the city's Spanish-speaking community is flourishing.

'Spanish Town'

In fact, for more than 20 years, activists and business people in the Fells Point area of Broadway -- led by Jose Luaces of El Pescadero fish market -- have lobbied city leaders to mark their presence by designating a portion of the area as Spanish Town. The purpose would be to attract tourists and more businesses to the area, much like Little Italy and Greek Town.

The idea is controversial. Many white longtime Fells Point residents say the area is more diverse than the term would imply.

Other Latinos take issue with the orientation toward Europe -- rather than Central or South America -- that the name suggests, said Michael DiMenna of Southeastern Development Inc.

Mayor to attend ceremony

Sonia Fierro-Liparini, the mayor's newly appointed liaison to the Hispanic community, said she was not sure where the mayor -- who will attend the Marti unveiling ceremony today -- stands on the issue.

Said Haydee M. Rodriguez, director of Centro De La Comunidad Inc., a Hispanic outreach organization: "It would symbolize the growth and impact of the Latino community upon that area. But part of me thinks, why do we need this if we live in a global village?"

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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