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The son of slaves, Juan Gualberto Gómez was born in Santa Ana, Cuba. His parents bought his freedom, a practice allowed through manumission laws in Cuba. He was educated under the tutelage of mulatto (of African and European descent) poet Antonio Medina y Céspedes at a local religious school that was known to be a refuge for black children. Sensing that his racial background would limit his opportunities in Cuba, Gómez left the island in 1869 for Paris, France, where he studied the art of cabinetmaking and, later, engineering. Poverty soon forced him to leave his studies and pursue a career in journalism, a profession that would provide him with an outlet for expressing his political and social views.

Gómez's stay in Paris was a formative experience in his life. He became acquainted with various eminent members of Cuba's expatriate community, including separatists such as Vicente Aguilera ...