Miami censors Amanda Gorman’s luminous poem. Will they ban José Martí, too? | Opinion

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How ignorant can you be, Miami-Dade political zealots?

You’re downgrading our children’s education challenging books — and you have no intellectual heft to know what you’re doing.

If iconic 19th century Cuban poet José Martí — who wrote his most celebrated work during his 15 years of exile in the United States — read Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” the war hero and journalist would most likely be a fan.

The Martí who gave voice and shaped the idea of a free and independent Cuba would be applauding the nation’s first youth poet laureate’s unifying message, not restricting her work, as you have done for elementary school students.

Your extremist partisanship and prejudice against Gorman’s work has brought national shame upon Miami.

Although one country and two centuries apart, Gorman and Martí share a similar sentimental tone to dissect their respective times and embrace universal democratic concepts: Empathy for the struggles of the poor. Weariness of political demagoguery that divides. Hope and vision of a better future.

In fact, when I first heard Gorman recite at President Biden’s inauguration a particular line in her poem — same line the Cuban mother of two students at Bob Graham Education Center in Miami Lakes wrongly denounced as having “hate messages” — I wondered: Has this young poet read José Martí? Is she referencing him?

“We braved the belly of the beast,” Gorman said. “We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

“And the norms and notions of what just is

“Isn’t always justice.”

Why would those evocative lines so upset parent Daily Salinas when Cuba’s most illustrious historical figure used similar words to highlight country’s worst inclinations? And we celebrate him!

Cover of Amanda Gorman’s book containing the inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey. Miami-Dade, Florida, school officials put the book on a restricted list after a parent complained the nation’s first youth poet laureate was sending “hate messages.”
Cover of Amanda Gorman’s book containing the inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb” and a foreword by Oprah Winfrey. Miami-Dade, Florida, school officials put the book on a restricted list after a parent complained the nation’s first youth poet laureate was sending “hate messages.”

Martí’s ‘belly of the beast’

In his last letter, written on May 18, 1895 from his battle camp at Dos Ríos in Eastern Cuba, the day before he was wounded and died, Martí warned a dear Mexican friend and politician of his concern that, once Cubans won the hard-fought war against Spain, the United States would want to annex the island.

He said, according to the letter in the anthology Obras Completas (Complete Works): “Viví en el monstruo y le conozco las entrañas.”

Literally, it means: “I lived in the monster and I know its entrails.”

But subsequent interpretations have turned his famous line into: “I lived in the belly of the beast and I know its entrails well.” And this longer version, which incorporates the rest of Martí’s thought “y mi honda es la de David”: “I know the monster because I have lived in its lair, and my sling is that of David.”

Explains university professor and sociologist Lisandro Perez, who researched Martí’s life “as a New Yorker,” when the poet seldom left the tri-state area and was informed by the work of journalists like Joseph Pulitzer and Randolph Hearst, who called for U.S. intervention in Cuba.

“He is conveying the idea, the strategy for the revolutionary movement he launches in 1895 that there had to be silence [secrecy], so as not to interest the United States in the Cuban situation,” Pérez said. “He feared most what the U.S. did do: Come in.”

Ban Martí, too?

So ban the Cuban patriot, too, from the questioning minds of Florida students?

If the state continues its witch hunt of ideas, political leanings and lifestyles, Martí — whose Jan. 28 birthday is celebrated every year in Miami-Dade — might just find his thoughts unearthed and censored, his stardom dimmed.

No, neither literary merit nor the honor the grave used to convey upon authors saves grand works from a Florida law that allows one parent — no matter how ignorant or bigoted the argument or the person — to challenge the mere existence of a book in a classroom or school library.

The removal of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s masterful novel “The Bluest Eye” from all Pinellas County high schools proved this back in January.

With the four books questioned, investigated by a committee under the right-wing’s parental intervention in education mandates, the misnamed group Moms for Liberty (who certainly don’t stand for the First Amendment) can now proudly claim more than 357 books banned in Florida — and counting.

Gorman’s poem was one of the four removed by the district from the elementary side of the Graham Center. Her celebrity, on-point tweets expressing sorrow and outrage, coupled by the also removal of the book “The ABCs of Black History” from K-5 students, caused a local and national uproar.

TV camera crews on their campus, the school sent a message to parents saying the bestseller “The Hill We Climb” would be available for all in the shared media center.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade K-8 bars elementary students from 4 library titles following parent complaint

No hope for Florida

I’d like to think that Martí, whose writings are used and abused by the left and right to advance political agendas, wouldn’t, in the name of any kind of ideology, stand for censorship, especially of children’s books.

“Children are the hope of the world,” Martí also famously said.

But Miami-Dade school officials, in service to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture wars, are sending a different message by largely banning the work of Blacks, other minorities and LGBTQ+ authors: Only a partisan, white-washed education is allowed here.

Because what’s behind the ban is exactly what the censors claim to oppose: political indoctrination.

A Trump inaugural poet, had he been sensitive enough to have one, would have never been banned in Miami, no matter the content of the work.

But these beautiful lines by Gorman were found offensive.

“And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow, we do it.

Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

How shameful it is that Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the son of Cuban exiles, is leading the noxious times in Florida. How shameful that Miami-Dade School Board member Roberto Alonso, who loves to wax nostalgic during meetings about his parents fleeing dictatorship and represents the predominantly Hispanic Miami Lakes district, is behind this Cuba-styled censorship, too.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Its shredding by elected officials who should be its guardians opens the door to tyrannical rule.

Amanda Gorman’s censors in Miami are accomplices of autocracy trying to make her metaphorical hill a higher climb.

But take solace in José Martí. He would find her a kindred spirit and true patriot.