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Pedro Pérez Sarduy

Testimonials for this seminar

Scheduling a Seminar

Publications:


Afro-Cuba: An Anthology

No Longer Invisible

Afro-Cuban Voices

What do Blacks have in Cuba?

Obtaining Perez-Sarduy's books

Jean Stubbs

Some Poems

Cumbite

Pedro Pérez Sarduy writings on AfroCubaWeb

AfroCubaWeb: AfroCuban History

AfroCubaWeb: Race & Identity in Cuba

Historian at 1912 seminar, Havana
© Pedro Pérez Sarduy

Pedro Pérez-Sarduy Multimedia Seminar:
Race & Identity in Cuba 2003

AfroCuban journalist, author, and broadcaster Pedro Pérez-Sarduy sees the time as ripe for a multimedia seminar on issues of race, identity, and representation in today's Cuba, where there's a great ferment in these areas.  For Pérez-Sarduy, conflicting trends include:

The rise of AfroCuban professionals in many fields, especially medicine, biotechnology, culture, music, and sports, but visible really in most arenas with some notable exceptions.

The continued proportional rise of Cubans with African ancestors, now estimated at between 60% and 70%, due in part to the greater exodus of white Cubans from the island.

The continued rise of AfroCubans in politics - in the 1993 National Assembly, the percentage of blacks and mestizo delegates was 28,36%; in the one resulting from the 1997 – 98 general elections, this proportion was 28,29; and now in 2003 they are 32,84% of the candidates.

A tremendous increase in African religions, now respected at all levels as many members of the party participate in ceremonies. A considerable change from the 60's when all religions were discouraged in an effort primarily to reduce the power of the Catholic Church. The importance of these survivals is hard to underestimate, as they are deep and genuine expressions of a very old African spirituality.

A greater social divide arising from economic trends:

  • White Cubans remittances from abroad, mainly the US and Spain.
  • Euro-oriented tourism industry in Cuba favoring white Cubans
  • Central government poverty as a result of the Soviet collapse

An increased commodification of AfroCuban culture as exotic for the Euro-tourism industry along with a simultaneous increase in the hegemony of Spanish culture due to a variety of factors including direct cultural subsidies from Spain. This trend is now being replaced by a trend to sell Cuba as a Latin destination for tourists from Spain, Italy, and South America, since the promotion of AfroCuban exoticism is seen as having led to increased prostitution.

A lack of AfroCubans in meaningful roles on Cuban television and other media and in positions of power such as directors, producers, and institute heads. This has been changing gradually and more roles have been opening up, but the contrast remains, especially in films. There is a similar lack in certain other professions such as tourism management.
MUJERC2.jpg (8058 bytes)
AfroCubans' increasing articulation of the need for a race-specific agenda as key in countering exclusionary (Hispanic/Latin rather than African/Caribbean) definitions of nation and nationalism.  See What do Blacks have in Cuba?

The active promotion of AfroCubans into leadership positions by the Cuban government. This is a genuine affirmative action effort instigated by senior officials. In 1998, the number of AfroCubans in the Politburo rose from 3 to 6 out of a total of 24. The first secretaries of the Communist Party in Santiago and Havana are both black.

A taboo around the use of the word racism, both on the island and off - "we Cubans are not racist!" - and yet whites don't want their daughters marrying an AfroCuban, etc.

A growing trend by white Cubans to "blame the victim," as more blacks are out of work, on the streets as vendors and prostitutes, and in jail. President Fidel Castro himself recognized the disproportionate number of blacks in jail during the January '99 TransAfrica visit.  And the police crackdown starting in 1999 tends to focus more on AfroCubans in the streets:  "Hundreds of police patrols ask blacks, mulatos, and women 'with characteristics' for papers" proclaims the headline for an article out of Havana at the end of February 1999 by the correspondent for the Spanish daily El Pais.

A renewed drive by Catholics to regain influence on an island that was never really theirs -- there were never enough priests to counter the demographics of Cuba. The Church, whose priests in Cuba are 70% from abroad, mostly hispanics from Latin America and Spaniards, is attempting to train its priests in the African religions of Cuba, the better to proselytize and counter them.  There is a corresponding tendency on the part of some Cuban officials to counter these efforts by showcasing the resurgence of African religions. This is in contrast to the US media which repeatedly confuses Santeria with Catholicism: Santeria is Yoruba religion and culture which has appropriated certain European cultural elements for its own use. See Where did the Blacks go? on the Pope's visit.

Cuba as Baragua, a theme well ensconced in current official propaganda. This theme comes from General Antonio Maceo, the famed AfroCuban general, entrepreneur, and politician who issued an 1878 protest in Baragua, vowing not to capitulate to Spain. Since the departure of the Soviets and the increase of US pressure on Cuba, people there have even taken to saying "now we are a palenque," referring to the free settlements of maroons, or runaway slaves, in Cuba and elsewhere in the Americas.

A greater radicalisation of consciousness around the racial question on the part of the great majority of AfroCuban intellectuals and artists living abroad.

Increasing visits by African Americans. The visits by TransAfrica and the Congressional Black Caucus in early '99 have made the AfroCuban issue more visible in Cuba and Fidel Castro has been talking more about racism in Cuba, recognizing in his meeting with TransAfrica that "even now you can see that the poorest sectors of this socialist society are still those inhabited by these descendants of slaves."

Increasing litterature on racial issues in Cuba. The Fundacion Ortiz in Havana, a government body, is bringing out a Spanish translation of Aline Helg’s book on the 1912 massacre of Cuba’s black political party, the Independents of Color: "Our Rightful Share : The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886-1912".

What is going on here? How do Cubans themselves feel about these trends? These and others call for careful analysis and self explanation from the parties involved, especially AfroCubans, hitherto invisible players to most Americans. And yet AfroCubans are estimated to compose over 60% to 70% of the population on the island -- as both the Cuban and the American government will readily admit. They are increasingly visible and are destined to have a profound impact on US - Cuba relations.

Sarduy said whatever happens after Fidel Castro, black Cubans will not be pushed aside. "They will hold on to that island for the sake of their ancestors, who fought for this country. It was not given to them. It was not a handout. They fought for it."

Pedro Pérez Sarduy

Pedro Pérez-Sarduy has over 30 years' experience as poet, writer, journalist, and broadcaster first on Cuban national radio and television, then on BBC radio and television current affairs and cultural programs. He is based in London and travels periodically to his home in Cuba. With his writings, Pérez-Sarduy has given a major push to the concept of "Afro-Cuban." The book "AFROCUBA: An Anthology of Cuban Writing on Race, Politics and Culture", which he co-edited with Jean Stubbs in 1993, is virtually the only text of its kind in English.

They are also the editors of , "Afro-Cuban Voices on Race and Identity in Contemporary Cuba," the University Press of Florida, which picks up Afro-Cuba's thread in today's Cuba with interviews he made in the course of his trips to the island. The work is a vivid introduction to current thinking on issues of race and identity in Cuba. It also lays out some fascinating re-appraisals of Cuban history down to present times through the eyes of the interviewees.  A precursor article to this book is up on this site, What do Blacks have in Cuba?

Pérez-Sarduy and Jean Stubbs also co-edited "No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today," 1995, Minority Rights Group Publications.

Anyone wanting to make arrangements to have him make a multi-media presentation or lead a workshop or seminar at their institution can contact AfroCubaWeb or just email tony@afrocubaweb.com

Testimonials for the Race & Identity in Cuba 2000 Seminar

"Pedro Perez Sarduy is an invaluable treasure around young people. At every one of the International Colloquium of the biennial National Black Theatre Festival he has been a part of since 1993 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the way the audience and fellow participants enthused about his presentations has also contributed to making the Colloquium as much as the festival an object of pilgrimage for aficionados of the American theatre every other year."  -- Professor Sope Oyelaron, Winston-Salem State University, Coordinator, International Colloquium, National Black Theatre Festival

"Poet, essayist, scholar, broadcaster, lecturer... I first met Sarduy in Havana in 1985, and we have been colleagues and collaborators since. Sarduy wrote a chapter on Carnaval in Havana in my 1993 (soon to be rereleased in paperback by Ian Randle) Cuban Festivals. We were together at the University of Puerto Rico, discussing literature and performance. We also have been on panels together at the International Carnival Conferences at Trinity College, Hartford, and Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sarduy is a riveting lecturer, capable of entertaining while simultaneously teaching. He is a world traveler and brings a global, particularly Afro, perspective to his lectures. I recently heard Sarduy discuss a trip to Brazil. What an eye-opener!" -- Professor Judith Bettelheim, Department of Art History, Emory University

"Pedro Perez Sarduy's visit in Maryland was an unequivocal success, a profoundly enriching educational experience that brought Afrocuban issues close to his audience. In his public presentations, radio talk-show appearance, poetry reading, and classroom discussions, his insight, breadth of experience, political savvy, patient articulateness and expansive knowledge combined with his charm, wit, and verve to loan a warm and human expression to the rich wealth of information provided. As a scholar, Pedro Perez Sarduy is a spokesperson for the rennaissance of Afrocuban culture and as a poet, the voice of a generous humanness and a fecund humor. His intervention here with students and the public has left a lasting impression and has opened an ongoing discourse about the culture and politics of Afrocuba at a time when such an opening is urgently needed." - Christopher Powers, Johns Hopkins University

Pedro Pérez Sarduy's two-day visit to the Washington College campus in late March, 2000 was a truly memorable occasion. It was part of a series of a events that marked the tenth anniversary of our chapter of Sigma Delta Pi, the International Spanish Honorary Society. In addition to speaking to an Advanced Spanish class, he gave a public reading of his poetry at our Literary House and a lecture/slide presentation on Afro-Cuban culture and history. In this way a wide spectrum of our students and faculty were able to hear him, meet him personally, and learn from his marvelous store of knowledge and experience. His visit stimulated much interest in Cuba, its culture and literature, and the conversation continues! - George Shivers, Washington College

The message that you brought to our campus regarding the African presence in Cuba was one that was most welcomed and for many long overdue. The panel discussion that you participated in, a comparative look at race in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, was especially rewarding because it put developments in Cuba since 1959--achievements and challenges--in proper perspective. We look forward to your return one day. - August H. Nimtz-Jr. University of Minnesota

Other Writings

Pedro Pérez-Sarduy is the author of Surrealidad (Havana 1967) and Cumbite and Other Poems (Havana 1987 and New York 1990). He has finished two unpublished works, Journal in Babylon, a series of chronicles on Britain and a first novel, The Maids of Havana, based on his mother's life stories about pre and post-revolutionary Havana.

The recipient of several literary awards, he was Writer in Residence at Columbia University, New York (1989), Visiting Scholar at Hunter College, New York (1990), and Rockefeller Visiting Scholar at the University of Florida, Gainesville (1993). He has been a radio journalist since 1965, beginning with Cuban national radio as a current affairs journalist and with Cuban television on the first African and Caribbean music show. He was then with the BBC Latin American Service from 1981 to 1994.

Contacting AfroCubaWeb

Contact us to schedule a Pedro Pérez-Sarduy seminar!

Electronic mail
tony@afrocubaweb.com

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