What is an American?

Mandatory Foreword

Before embarking on the details and facts of this hardworking Puerto Rican thinker and doer, it is necessary to devote a couple of lines into clarifying what an American is.

There is North America, Canada, the United States and Mexico.  There is Central America with the following countries: Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama. Central America also includes The Caribbean: the island of Cuba, the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and the United States territory/island of Puerto Rico. 

There are also many other islands and smaller islands in the Caribbean, like Aruba, Barbados, Bahamas, Jamaica, Martinique, Saint Thomas and Trinidad & Tobago, among many others.

Up comes South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.

All of them are Americans. 

Although the term is widely used and accepted to refer to a citizen of the United States, in all fairness, a person from North America is an American and a person from South America is an American.

Eugenio María de Hostos was known as Citizen of America (Ciudadano de América).

Who Ever Said North Had to be Up?

Map of AmericaCredit: http://ultraviator.comCredit: http://ultraviator.com

The Importance of Eugenio María de Hostos

Thinker, Educator, Writer, Feminist, Abolitionist, Revolutionary

The Thinker

Compared to not only the greatest thinkers of his time, but often to Plato for his approach on education, Hostos was a humanist that promoted common sense attune with the circumstances.  Described as maker of the American conscience promoting civic responsibility, kindness, truth and beauty.

He promoted individual being without the need for greed or selfishness. He saw harmony in nature.

"The general laws of the Universe are the sum of necessary conditions, through which celestial bodies gravitate, our planet verifies its revolutions, live in it and realize their destiny vegetables, animals, men, society and humanity".

The works of Eugenio María de Hostos are so vast and cover such diverse topics, that scholars described them as "Hostos Thinking" (El Pensamiento Hostosiano).   His philosophy is found in his Complete Works, which consists of 20 volumes.

Hostos believed in the possibility that men could be perfected through education.

The Educator

He viewed education from a moral perspective.  He taught to learn.  He taught others the skills necessary to acquire knowledge.  In other words, he emphasized critical thinking.

Throughout his life, Hostos was in every aspect an educator.  He gave lessons on dignity and human rights to the Government of Spain.  He gave the Government of Chile a lesson on feminism... He viewed education as planting a seed. 

"Educating in reason is doing what the good gardener does with the plants he tends to... Make sure they have the proper soil that will favor them. Provide light, warmth, air and water, make sure that stem grows [strong], avoid violent weather changes, and when its ready, abandon it to their free will".

Hostos spent most of his teaching years in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic capital.  There he stayed ten years.  Such was his reputation as an Educator of educators, that the Chilean government asked for his help to reform their public education system.

The Writer

Hostos wrote more than 50 books and published more essays and articles, including poems.  Among his titles are: Moral Social (Social Moral), Tratado de Moral (Moral Treaty), Obra Literaria Selecta (Selected Literary Works), Obras Completas (Complete Works), Literatura de Hostos (Hostos Literature), América La Lucha por La Libertad (America the Quest for Liberty), Estímulo de Vida para Cada Día (Everyday Life Motivators), and La Educación Científica de la Mujer (Scientific Education for Women).

The Feminist

It was in Chile where Hostos saw great disparity in women rights.  Here he fought successfully for the right of women to study in universities, including training in law and medicine.  An avid writer, he dedicated many articles to educate his readership on women's rights and equality, making him a precursor of the feminist movement in the 19th century.

The Abolitionist

Hostos could not conceive fighting for the rights of the people without fighting for slavery abolition.   March 22, 1873 marks the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, and Hostos played a critical role in this process. He highly criticized this abolition as a farce.  As Article 2 of the Abolition Law forced freed slaves to contract with their previous owners for no more than three years. Article gave the now employers six months upon the law date of publication to start paying the former slaves for their work.  Six months with no pay approved by the government sounds like slavery still today.

The Revolutionary

Born in an affluent family, he renounced of his riches to devote to the cause of the people.

As a politician he set on gaining Antillean Independence (Cuba and Puerto Rico).  He demanded dignity for these people in the form of independence.  His struggle for independence started in his early college years, as a law school student.  Here he harshly criticized Spain colonial regime in America.

(While Great Britain took over the North, Spain took over the South.  Colonial ships traveled onto West following certain latitudes, the reason for our actual heritage).

During 1871-1874, after abandoning his dreams of becoming a lawyer, Hostos embarked in the patriotic defense of the Caribbean region.  He campaigned throughout South America seeking support for the Puerto Rico and Cuba independence cause.

His dream was the Confederation of the Antilles, or the Spanish West Indies Confederation.

In Every Step He Helped

Contributed to Chile's Education, Wrote the Law for Public Schooling in Santo Domingo and Defended the Rights of the Poor and Slaves

Eugenio María de Hostos y Bonilla (1839-1903)

1898 United States Takes Over Puerto Rico: Last Plea

Some Misunderstanding

When the United States took over Puerto Rico, Hostos hoped that the U.S. troops were there to liberate Puerto Ricans from the fierce Spaniard rule.  Betting on U.S. democratic reputation, he formed the League of Puerto Rican Patriots.

Great Dissapointment

As he proposed to president William McKinley his ideas for a referendum to enable Puerto Rico to express whether it wanted to be annexed to the United States or remain independent, Hostos not only found resistance from the First Executive, but little support from his peers.  This was an unexpected dissapointment and an unprecedented turn of events.

Voluntary Exile

As he was turned down once again in 1899, after submitting his proposal The Case of Puerto Rico, Hostos left his motherland and went to Santo Domingo in 1900.  His heart died then, his soul left his body three years later.

His Personal Life

January 11, 1839 - August 11,1903

Eugenio María de Hostos y Bonilla was born in the Mayagüez municipality of Puerto Rico, located on the island's west coast. 

The sixth of eight siblings, Hostos had three brothers and four sisters. His father Eugenio María de Hostos y Rodríguez (1807-1897) was a land and later a drugstore owner in Mayagüez.  His mother's name was Hilaria de Bonilla y Cintrón.

His grandfathers on his father's side were Juan José de Hostos (1750-1816), from Cuba, and María Altagracia Rodríguez y Velasco, from Dominican Republic.

As a member of a wealthy family, young Eugenio attended his primary school in San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico at the Liceo de Puerto Rico. In 1852, a the age of 13, his father sent him to get better educated in Spain at the Instituto de Educación Secundaria, located in Bilbao, Spain.  He later enrolled in University of Bilbao in Spain and in 1860 started his years as a law school student in Madrid Central University.

Yet he abandoned his studies for his political struggles he was not distracted from the fact that he needed a mate.  In 1877 he married Belinda Otilia de Ayala.

He died in voluntary exile in Santo Domingo, capital of Dominican Republic, in 1903. 

Hostos is the only foreigner honored at the mausoleum Panteón Nacional in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic capital.

He wrote his own epitaph: "I wish that they will say: In that island (Puerto Rico) a man was born who loved truth, desired justice, and worked for the good of men."

Conclusion: Citizen of America

Hostos died convinced that he was a failure because he didn't achieve his dream of sovereignty for Puerto Rico and Cuba, yet his legacy outlives generations.

Hostos is remembered as a hero, not for his achievements but for his agenda. He set on a firm quest for liberty until the end.  When he claudicated it was because he was left to fight alone.

Much is left out this brief account, like when in 1888 temperamental dictator Ulises Heareaux expelled him from Dominican Republic for his involvement in the Cuban Revolution.  My apologies to his devoted followers and I hope this helps us expand our horizons in what it means to be an American.