I remember a lunch at the Florida House Inn on Amelia Island one sunny spring morning that changed the trajectory of my nascent work on a prequel to my first novel, Mango Rain, and which opened a world of new information and experiences for me as a writer.
Fernandina Beach is on the north end of Amelia Island, a thirteen by three mile stretch of lush vegetation and pristine beaches at the Atlantic shore, approximately 30 miles from Jacksonville. The Florida House Inn off of Center and 3rd Streets is the oldest running hotel in Florida. Lunch in the dining room next to the Mermaid Bar was delicious, but little did I know that something even better waited for me outside.
As I left the building, I noticed a bronze plaque commemorating that José Martí, the Spanish American War Cuban hero, had stayed at the Florida House Inn as he planned expeditions into Cuba during that conflict in the late 1890s.
My curiosity peaked instantly. None of my doctoral studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, ever focused on any Martí-Fernandina connection in any meaningful way. As a Cuban who prided herself on knowing Cuban history and as an academic, I was stunned and intrigued with this bit of information.
This led to a few years of research into the Cuba-Fernandina connection, a journey that took me back to the pre-Columbian Cuban history of the Arawak and Taíno in the southeastern area of Cuba in Baracoa.
It was fascinating research, one that forever changed my understanding of my Cuban culture and led me to Mark Harrington’s seminal work, Cuba Before Columbus (New York: Museum of the American Indian, 1921). A picture of the worn cover of this amazing archeological study that travelled with me to Baracoa is here attached.
New York: Museum of the American Indian, 1921