Deported to the U.S. from Cuba in 1850 for conspiring against Spanish rule, Emilia joined her husband in New York City where she enthusiastically participated in the liberation movement for her homeland. In exile she sewed the flag which would become an important symbol for the emerging Cuban nation.
Emilia Teurbe Tolón was a pioneer in the struggle for the birth of an independent Cuba and a role model for women's contributions in the fight for independence.
In 1869 rebels carried Emilia’s flag in battle and in 1902, after the Spanish-American War, her flag was embraced by the Cuban Republic, a new nation.
In 1849, Emilia’s husband Miguel Teurbe Tolón, a poet and passionate advocate of Cuba’s independence, was declared an enemy of Spain and forced into exile in New York City. One year later, correspondence deemed seditious by Spanish authorities in Cuba was found at Emilia’s home in Matanzas, and she too was deported to the United States.
In New York City, Miguel, a Freemason, became a political activist with fellow Cuban exiles. His poetry and editorials pleaded for a free and democratic Cuba. While there he joined the Consejo Cubano (Cuban Junta) with fellow Freemason, Narciso López, a wealthy Venezuelan-born Spanish general who had been stationed in Cuba and forced into exile for opposing Spanish rule. López supported Cuba’s annexation to the United States as a way to free Cuba from the Spanish Crown. He asked Miguel to design the coat of arms for a new Cuban nation and asked Emilia to create a flag. López led the first armed expedition to Cuba in May 1850 and Emilia’s flag was hoisted in Cárdenas, Matanzas. The expedition failed, and after two more attempts López was executed by the Spanish and the annexation movement lost impetus.
Without López, and the movement in New York in disarray, Emilia and Miguel were granted amnesty and allowed to return to Cuba in 1855. Frustrated and tired of exile politics, she divorced Miguel and returned home. Back in Matanzas she faced rejection, even by her own family (because she divorced) and was forced to move to Havana. Lonely and dejected, she married again and moved to Spain in 1888, with no intention of returning to Cuba. However, in her will she left a legacy for the education of children in Cuba because she was a fervent believer in social justice.
After a relentless search by Emilia’s biographer, her tomb was found in Madrid more than a century after her death. With the acknowledgment of her contributions to her country, her remains were returned to rest in Havana’s Colón cemetery. In an emotional ceremony, surrounded by her descendants, her biographer and members of the women’s federation, a monument was dedicated to Emilia for her patriotism.
- Luis Pérez Tolón:
The discovery of Emilia’s tomb in Madrid triggered childhood memories. From my grandfather Papapa, I learned that my family was entrenched in Cuban history. Cherishing my precious stamp collection that contained stamps of the flag, Emilia and Miguel from 1950s Cuba, and knowing I shared their name I brought my stamps with me when we left Cuba in 1960. Having learned, through the press, that Emilia’s tomb was found in Madrid and was going to be returned to Cuba for an elaborate burial, I became intrigued and decided to set out on a quest to unravel the mystery of Emilia’s life and the story of my ancestors.
I traveled to Cuba with my cousin Silvia to meet long lost cousins and interview Emilia’s biographer. My journey took me to Spain and to New York City. Back in Miami I struggled to make sense of my family’s history and share it with my Cuban-American relatives. My mother's family, the Teurbe Tolóns, had lived on the island since the 1700s and had strong feelings for their homeland. As I examined period poetry, letters and photographs, I realized it is not only the story of Emilia, her husband, the poet, activist and a father of Spanish-language journalism in the U.S., Miguel Teurbe Tolón, the controversial Narciso López, and the first exiled community in New York during the mid-1800s but also the story of my family in the U.S. and Cuba today. After all, for over two centuries our family has been marked by immigration, exile, return and a passion for Cuba.
Luis Pérez Tolón was Director of Production and Development with Discovery Networks Latin America. His credits include: Paranal: Eye on the Universe, gold medal NY Film Festival; Jorge Luis Borges (France/Argentina/USA), and Manuela Saenz, la pasión de Bolivar (Colombia/USA).
Prior to Discovery, he resided in Europe where he was director of the European Union’s MEDIA Program, produced documentaries in Spain and London, including the series 1898:The Spanish-American War for Canal + Spain, History Channel UK and Discovery Channel Latin America. His award-winning independent documentary Exilio/Exile was broadcast on WNET-Independent Focus and distributed to PBS stations nationwide.
Luis was born in Cuba, holds an MA from the University of Southern California in Film-Broadcasting-Anthropology. Recently he worked as Coordinating Producer in American Comandante for PBS’ American Experience.
Government building in Cärdenas where Emilia's flag was raised for the first time in Cuban soil by general Narciso Lopez on May 19, 1850.