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The Making of "Sisters of the Heart"
by Gloria Rolando, Video Group Images of the Caribbean, 10/2017
(en español )

A Necessary Introduction

My name is Gloria Victoria Rolando Casamayor. I am an Afrocuban filmmaker and a resident of Havana, Cuba. Since the year 1991, I have been creating and publishing a series of documentaries that I have called "Histories and Images of Our People" (with information on AfroCubaWeb). All of my work is related to the Afro-Cuban experience.

In Cuba, as in other countries of the African diaspora, many blacks do not know their own history because in mainstream education this legacy is intentionally submerged in the past. We have been given versions that omit our true voices. This lack of knowledge, these deficiencies lead to a lack of pride. As a result of this process, we ourselves are complicit in accepting the stereotypes that we are presented by the tourism industry. This too is happening in Cuba.

However, when we view the chapters that reveal the most authentic passages, when the leadership of blacks is central, it illuminates the past and creates a commitment with the present, because our people can more clearly see their roots.

I have worked very hard all of these years to bring to light episodes that are inconvenient for the official history as in the case of "1912, Breaking the silence" - the history of the Independents of Color in the beginning of the 20th century and the massacre they were subjected to in that year (PIC: The Party of the Independents of Color).

Each chapter of "Histories and Images of Our People" plants a seed in the consciousness, mobilizing the minds of viewers within and outside of Cuba. Since 1991, I have taken more than 20 trips to the United States and have had the opportunity to present my work in universities and cultural centers across this country.

The most recent documentary "Dialogue with My Grandmother" (ICAIC, 2016, GRAND PRIZE CARACOL of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba) has been widely accepted because it is a tribute to all the women of the African Diaspora who with great courage, dignity and spiritual strength have been and are the fundamental pillar of our families.

Through my documentaries I am contributing to the debate around the topic of race in Cuba. I am talking about the myth of racial harmony that the Republic has never achieved and I am presenting a solid path, which is compelling because it relates to every day life, the history of the black family and its origins, its struggles. This analysis in the Cuban context is effective because it awakens people's spirit through stories and accounts with which they can identify because what I put in my films are the stories of the people. This is the goal of the project that I would like to present.

Below I have described more in detail the aspects of the project and ways to get involved with the documentary. Also, above you will find my interview about the film. Thank you very much for your consideration and your time.

Gloria Rolando

Cuba and the United States: a passing fad?top

Currently, many people are talking about the new relations between Cuba and the United States. Two countries of the American continent, separated by a difference in politics. For more than 50 years they were separated by their way of conceiving their own model of state and society.  

Talking about Cuba, going to Cuba is becoming fashionable and the tourist industry of on the island celebrates this opportunity for interchanges that will undoubtedly be for the benefit of the country's economy. But as an artist, as a producer in the audiovisual world, as a person committed to certain passages in the history of Cuba related to Afro-Cubans, I know perfectly well that those relationships, those bridges forged by anonymous heroes and heroines who are the ones who constitute the people tend to be forgotten.

The histories of the two countries have many points in common. Especially those events related to the descendants of Africans. More than transcendental dates and political decisions, our people, throughout time, have done their part, building their own bridges.

I am not attempting to create an inventory of these contacts and events, but I do want to bring them to those who are going to collaborate in my project, whose only aim is to follow a chain of human relations that have made history.

Cuban leaders such as Antonio Maceo, Jose Marti, and others lived in the United States. Among the Cuban tobacco farmers who lived in Tampa and Cayo Hueso, many were black. They were part of the legend that forged with their hands the independence of Cuba. The “Buffalo Soldiers” fought for the freedom of Cuba. In music, both countries found support for Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie. It would be a very long list and it is not necessary to name them all. I only want to find a space, to help to construct a bridge that permits me to raise the forgotten voices. We are in the decade of the African descendants proclaimed by UNESCO and each project of this nature that is approved and is funded is an act of affirmative action. This does not deal with a passing fad, this deals with justice and revindication

TItle of the Documentary

“Sisters of the Heart”

(Memories of the Oblate Sister of Providence
in the US and Cuba)

The Chapters

(No. 1 and No. 2)

Script and Direction
Gloria Rolando (CUBA)

email: [ _AT_ = @]
(537) 867 69 36
(537) 862 79 04

Chapter 1top

The documentary project “Sisters of the Heart” is conceived of in two chapters. The first chapter recounts the origins of the Oblate Sisters of Providence and the other is dedicated to the work of the Oblates in Cuba. It is important to maintain this structure because the historical information is rich and fascinating.

For example, in the first part the audience will see information about the events that originated in the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century: these produced a large wave of French emigrants, mulatos, free blacks, and slaves. In the Island of Cuba, especially in the eastern zone (Santiago de Cuba), the famous French coffee plantations were developed in the mountainous regions. However, the blacks and free mulatos also represent a very important social and cultural nucleus. In this context appears the family of Elizabeth Clarisse Lange, who would later become Mother Mary Lange, founder of The Oblate Sisters of Providence in 1829. To speak of these facts, we are going to rely on the voices of the historians from Santiago de Cuba who have specialized in the area of French-Haitian emigration in this area.

The year 1809 is very important in this first chapter. The French, and all of those who had arrived from Haiti, were expelled from Cuba by the Spanish government. It produced an unexpected avalanche towards the United States: New Orleans, Baltimore, Charleston, Philadelphia, etc. This tragic and complex historical process will be explained through interviews with historians from Cuba and the United States. In this way we can contribute to the understanding of something monumental that marks the life of the American continent. This is what explains the arrival of Elizabeth Clarisse Lange in Baltimore. And not only her arrival, but the arrival of many men and woman who created the foundations of Catholicism in the African American community of the 1820s, a time marked by slavery. And when we talk of New Orleans, we cannot forget the figure of Henriette DeLille, founder of the order of black nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Family, in the year 1851.

Testimony from surviving Oblate students and their descendants in the US will be important in portraying the kind of education that was also brought to Cuba.

Chapter 2top

The second chapter will be dedicated to the presence of the Oblate sisters of Providence in the Island of Cuba. The arrival of The Order and its schools took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Then Mother Mary Lange had already passed, but the work continued with the same essential goal: the education of girls and adolescents,

In Cuba, poverty had grown in the countryside and the cities as a consequence of the thirty-year war for Independence. As they had in the United States, the Oblates of Providence dedicated themselves to the protection and education of young black women, a forgotten and vulnerable section of the post-slavery society. The schools, established in various provinces of Cuba (Habana, Matanzas, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, las Villas), promoted a foundation of general education in line with the Catholic Church. They helped their students prepare themselves for home and professional life. These black nuns were very well-known, loved and respected.

Central to this chapter will be a group of former students in Cuba. They fill in the gaps of memory. Time has passed, many have grayed, but they have not forgotten. Their personal anecdotes and photos form part of a memory and an image completely forgotten in Cuba today. But there must be justice. For this reason, I want to do this project that talks of the dignity and the struggle of these black Cuban families to educate their daughters at the beginning of the 20th century.

The closing of their schools in Cuba with the arrival of the revolution of 1959 was painful. We have anecdotes of this process which we will include; however, the most important thing is to remember, to highlight that they have a very special place in the history of education in Cuba. Young Afro-Cubans and others, who due to their age did not live through this experience, have the right to know who the Sisters of the Heart were. 

Gloria Rolando
Director and script writer for the project

Carmen Rosa Durán
Director of Production

See Making Sisters of the Heart for updates on the shoot.

Gloria Rolando can be reached at (replace _AT_ with @)

How to contribute  -  Matching Funds
The Sisters of the Heart Fundraising Committeetop, Oakland, CA

Dear Friend,

Gloria Rolando’s latest work in progress, Sisters of the Heart, presents the unique and little known story of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a Black Catholic order which, since 1829, has ministered to and educated Black people in the United States, Cuba and other parts of the Americas. The story of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, who established schools and orphanages for poor children of color, takes us from Haiti to Cuba, to New Orleans, Baltimore, New York and Costa Rica. The Oblate Sisters of Providence often braved opposition from the Catholic Church and public institutions to educate Black children and fulfill their mission.

Ms. Rolando will bring the story of the Oblate Sisters of Providence to life in a powerful documentary that centers on the life of Mother Mary Lange, one of the founders of the order who is now being considered for canonization by Pope Francis. Given the advanced age of key members of the order living at the national headquarters in Baltimore, there is special urgency in capturing their memories on film. Former students and descendants of former students in the United States and Cuba will also be included in the film.

An important element of Ms. Rolando’s pioneering body of work is to uncover stories that portray the heroism, resilience and spirit of African descendants in Cuba and the Americas (e.g. in 1912: Breaking the Silence she examined the story of Cuba's Independent Party of Color in which Afro-Cubans fought to ensure their equal place in the newly independent nation).

The Sisters of the Heart Fundraising Committee is dedicated to raising funds and support for the making of this important documentary. Our current goal is to raise $15,000 to assist with primary research and documentation in the US and Cuba. Gloria is focussed now on filming interviews with as many of the elder members of the order as possible as well as conducting in-depth reviews of archival information stored at the various sites established by the Oblate Sisters of Providence. This essential research is crucial to provide the historical framework and context for the documentary.

We are pleased to say that we have secured a generous donation from an anonymous donor of $5,000 as a 1:2 match, if we can raise an additional $10,000. Yes, theoretically we are already 1/3 of the way to our $15,000 goal! With your help we can make our goal and this important documentary a reality.

With Gratitude,

The Sisters of the Heart Fundraising Committee, Oakland, CA
Natalia Fanta Lawrence, Willie Thompson, Derethia DuVal, Cornelius Moore, Margot Dashiell and Shukuru Sanders


Donations are tax deductible. Please send checks or money orders* to our fiscal agent, Caribbean American Children’s Foundation (CACF), a 501c3 tax exempt organization. Please write SOH (Sisters of the Heart) in the memo section of your check or money order. The address for the Caribbean American Children’s Foundation is as follows:

Caribbean American Children’s Foundation
Attn: Alberto Jones
PO Box 353593
Palm Coast, Fl., 32135

Thank you!


The Sisters of the Heart Fundraising Committee top, Oakland, CA
Oakland group hopes film will aid sainthood effort of Mother Mary Lange  2/19/2018 The Catholic Voice of Oakland

Cornelius Moore, Natalia Fanta Lawrence, Margot Dashiell and Willie Thompson
are promoting efforts to help filmmaker Gloria Rolando produce a documentary
on the life and work of Mother Mary Lange.
The Oblate Sisters of Providence have one photo of their founder, Mother Mary Lange. It's a tintype that's been refurbished. They have two letters; one was likely dictated by her.

But the work of the founder of the first order for women of color in the United States continues to this day. The school she founded in Baltimore in 1828 to serve girls of color — primarily children with African Caribbean roots — today is known as St. Frances Academy, with a student body of young women and young men.

The Sisters who succeeded her have extended her legacy, educating children who might not have had that opportunity in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The community she founded is advancing her cause for canonization. She is venerable; the next step would be beatification.

A Cuban filmmaker, whose mother was educated by the Oblate Sisters of Providence, is researching a film focusing on the Sisters' time in Cuba. The Sisters arrived in 1900, and left in 1961, after Fidel Castro came to power.

A group of Bay Area people who don't want to see Mother Lange's legacy lost to history is working to help provide funding for "Sisters of Hope," Gloria Rolando's film project. Rolando spent a month at the convent in Baltimore researching alongside Kathy Knecht, the Sisters' archivist.

It was Rolando's second visit to Baltimore. She is interviewing the Sisters — some in their 90s — who left Cuba in 1961.

Knecht came to the Sisters as an intern in 2001, as she was earning her master's degree. In 2007, she became their archivist.

In her time with the Sisters, she has come to see a clear picture of Mother Lange.

"I think she was a very brave woman who came to this country with four strikes against her," Knecht said. "She was an immigrant in a nativist country; she was a black woman in a slave state; she was a woman in male-dominated society; and she was Catholic in a Protestant country."

When Father James Joubert, SS, asked the then-Elizabeth Lange to open a school, Knecht said, "she didn't hesitate."

Her response was, "We've been waiting 10 years to consecrate our lives to God. Now he's shown us the way."

"She knew this was God's will," Knecht said.

After Father Joubert's death in 1843, the Sisters faced even greater challenges to keep their school open. But they persisted in their vocation.

"We don't know a lot about her personally," Knecht said. They depend on a memoir written in the 1890s. Teresa Willigmann came to the Oblates as a "half orphan" after her mother's death, Knecht said. "She became a sister and lived with Mother Mary for 40 years," she said.

The filmmaker Rolando has been a welcome visitor. "Thankfully she's doing a film," Knecht said.

Knecht has been able to share "remarkably good photographs" the Sisters in Cuba sent back to the motherhouse over the years for inclusion in periodicals the order published.

Of the seven missions in Cuba, one carton of records survives. "When Castro made it so the Sisters couldn't teach there anymore, they left with what they had on their backs," Knecht said.

Like the filmmaker, Margot Dashiell of Berkeley has a personal connection to the Sisters.

"My grandmother, who was born in 1871, was sent from Brownsville, Texas, to Baltimore to be educated by the Oblates at 6 years of age," she said. In Brownsville, she said, "I don't think they had many opportunities for education for African Americans."

The understanding was she stayed there for six years," Dashiell said. "Probably her mother was concerned about her safety while she worked."

Her grandmother's education with Oblate Sisters, Dashiell said, "laid the foundation for her literacy, her capability, her vocational skills later in life. With her husband she was quite a partner and anchor of the family, which set my father up for success."

"It's very dear to me, of course."

Cornelius Moore, a film distributor and curator of films for California Newsreel, met Rolando 15 years ago. "She has a body of work looking at largely the history of people of African descent in Cuba and the Caribbean," he said.

"I wanted to do what I could as a film professional to support what she's doing," he said. "Independent filmmakers, anywhere, it's hard to raise money and get institutional support. In the context of Cuba, and the work Gloria's doing, for various reasons, there's not much money in the country. She has to do much of her work with the support of people who like her work and colleagues around the world."

Willie Thompson, a retired sociology instructor at City College of San Francisco, is engaged in "what I call community development work," he said.

"That's especially among people of African descent, in this country but especially among the Afro Latinos in the Caribbean. South America and Central America," he said.

He seeks "to assist those African people who come to this country to distribute their information and collect resources to support them."

He said he has been impressed with Rolando's work over the years. "She's attempting to tell the story I'm interested in, and I think other people should be interested in."

The Oblates, Thompson said, "seemed to have approached the education of blacks here without consideration of the fact that it was against the law during the enslavement period. That's what intrigues me."

Natalia Fanta Lawrence has visited Cuba, beginning in 1998. "In 2003, I went to Cuba with Barbara Lee on a humanitarian delegation. We spent a couple of afternoons with Gloria."

Part of the work of Richmond Regla, of which Lawrence is a founder, is to support Cuban artists. The Richmond organization has sponsored screenings of Rolando's work. Lawrence has had the opportunity to host the filmmaker, who has become her friend.

"Her emphasis is on creating work that expresses the history and culture, particularly of Afro Cubans, to make sure that that story is available to Cubans but the rest of the world also."

Rolando, Lawrence said, "is well known among film aficionados, Cuban aficionados and intellectuals all around the country. She has many cadres around the country that support her."

The local group has committed to raise a portion of the funds Rolando needs to complete her film, which is expected to cost $200,000.

"As she has gotten into this, and gone into communities," Dashiell said, Rolando has been "finding women are so passionate about seeing this story told. They thought they would die and nobody would know the heroism of these nuns. It's heartfelt."

Of the four, "none of us were raised Catholic," Moore said.

"This whole story has made us fascinated by what went on in the Catholic Church," he said. "We're excited about learning."

Links/Enlaces top

Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded by Henriette Delille

Gloria Rolando

Making Sisters of the Heart has updates on the shoot.


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