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Varela Zequeira, José (1854-1939) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Varela Zequeira, José (1854-1939)


Historical Note:

José Varela Zequeira was born in Nuevitas in the Province of Puerto Principe, Cuba on 19 March 1854.  He was the first son of José Varela y Recamán, a Spanish sailor, and Faustina Zequeira y Agüero from Camagüey.  Varela Zequeira was soon joined by two younger brothers, Calixto (1858-?) and Eduardo (1860-?).  In the 1860s, the Varela family moved to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.  While Varela Zequeira was a university student, his father passed away, and the family returned to Cuba in the early 1870s.  In Puerto Principe, he met two men who were to become life-long friends: Esteban Berrero Echevarria and Enrique José Varona.  The three friends formed a literary circle, the “Galería de retratos.”

Varela Zequeira moved with his family to Havana, where he taught at Berrero’s school.  Berrero’s wife, Elena, introduced him to his future wife, María Rodríguez y Velasco, in 1876.  The two married on 17 June 1881, and together they had five children: Clara (1882-?), Consuelo (1885-1887), Sarah (1887-?), and José (1895-1915), and Roberto (1899-?).

During this time, Varela Zequeira continued his medical studies at the University of Havana, obtaining his degree in 1887 and completing his doctorate in 1900.  He was active in the Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, serving as its secretary from 1891 to 1894.  As a member, he advocated for educational reform, especially in the sciences.  Beginning in 1890, he also became a vocal supporter of Cuban independence.  Notified by a friend that he was about to be arrested, Varela Zequeira left Cuba for the United States in 1897.

From New York, Varela Zequeira traveled with Borrero to Costa Rica, where he was joined by his wife and children.  The family returned to Cuba in 1898, and in November of that year, he was named vice –director of the Hospital “La Benéfica.”  He became its director the following year and served as such for the next 27 years.  He also served as faculty at the University of Havana in various positions.

While he was an active and respected doctor and professor, Varela Zequeira was also known as a writer and today is recognized as one of Cuba’s preeminent poets.  He was honored at a ceremony in 1938 commemorating the 50th anniversary of his graduation from the University of Havana.  Varela Zequeira passed away on 25 December 1939.

Beatriz Varela is the granddaughter of José Varela Zequeira.  She was born in Havana and is a graduate of the University of Havana and Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.  She was professor of linguistics at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and the University of New Orleans.  Beatriz Varela has written several books and articles, including a study of her grandfather’s life and works, José Varela Zequeira (1854-1939): su obra científico-literaria in 1997.

Note Author: Pedro A. Figueredo, 2001






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