Reynaldo Peñalver Moral, Havana
|Reynaldo Peñalver Moral (68) is a retired journalist who played an
important role in the movement of black social organizations to combat racial
discrimination in pre-revolutionary Cuba:
There was an intellectual-type black journal called Nuevos Rumbos [New Directions], but I wanted a more popular publication that would reach the disadvantaged. Thats how I came to bring out Sociales [Society], and from that point on I knew journalism was for me.
Convinced that the situation of blacks in Cuba would change one day, and needing qualifications, he enrolled in the Manuel Márquez Sterling School of Journalism. You had to be white , or the son or relative of some influential person. The examinations were written and oral. You could be brilliant in the written exam but you had to face four or five white professors and answer the questions they fired at you. When I graduated, I worked for a long time for a journalist called JorgeYanis Pujols who paid me five pesos a week to write the chronicles he published under his name. The paper would never take me on the books.
The revolution changed that, and Reynaldo Peñalver started work in the state news agency Prensa Latina. His idea was always to help his black people, and, when a group of AfricanAmerican publishers visited to find out the truth about Cuba, he met the director of the paper Muhammad Speaks, who spoke to him about Malcolm X and the black muslims. Ever since a first trip to the United States in 1957, he had kept abreast of the black civil rights struggle in papers and magazines: I received EBONY, The Chicago Defender and The Peoples Courier... I dont know whether the last two still come out.
In 1960, he returned to New York to cover Fidel Castros historic visit to the United Nations, when both met Malcolm X: He thought I was a West Indian... that Cuba was an island of whites only. I explained to Malcolm X that half the Cuban population were black and mulatto, tremendously mixed. He was really excited. Then he met Major Juan Almeida who later joined the Cuban delegation. During our meeting, Malcolm X suggested setting up a black muslim branch in Cuba, and I answered that Cuba had its own religious identity, like Santería, one of the three main African-derived belief systems. He talked about black ownership of big nationalized enterprises such as Sears and Woolworth [neither of which employed blacks]. Instead of me interviewing him, he wound up interviewing me. Ill never forget him saying Fidel should watch out for the white-devils. I told him about an incident in the city of Santa Clara, when private clubs were taken over, and racist rumors started circulating about black aspirations, and how right Fidel was to say that anyone could dance with whoever they wanted to, what mattered was they danced with the revolution. Those who took the message to heart started the exodus.
That was when Reynaldo Peñalver spoke with one of Fidel Castros aides for the famous interview with Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem where the Cuban delegation stayed. Photos taken by a photographer friend of Malcolm X remained unpublished for a long time - It seems many people in the United States didnt want those photos known. Sitting on my hotel balcony looking out to sea, he tells the story with nostalgia in his words and a shine in his eves. His parting comment was, Right now, we need our African American brothers and sisters.
[A much longer version of this interview appears in "Afro-Cuban Voices On Race and Identity in Contemporary Cuba" by Pedro Pérez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs, out this spring from the University Press of Florida. This interview is entitled "Under the Streetlamp"]
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