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Pedro Perez Sarduy

Topics for Perez Sarduy US Tour, Fall, 2001

Yotuel at the Hotel Comodor, 
New Year 2001 
(c) Pedro Perez Sarduy 2001

1- Marginalization and Representation in Afro-Cuban Hip-Hop

Loaded again with his multimedia Power Point presentation, Perez-Sarduy will open a window though which contemporary and innovative artistic expression will allow us to see what politics hides about the dynamism that characterise Cuba as the twenty-first century opens. 

Certainly, this dynamism incubates the anguish which accompanies alienation brought about by changes in living conditions, generation differences and inevitable global connectedness, which continuously buffets the Island in the Tropical sun.

Cuba, a danceable population, where people still dance in and by couple, in outdoors ballroom, street parties, and private gathering "where blind dates take place" is open again to new trend in rhythm with a kind of Afro-Cuban ritual Hip-Hop expression geared to be danceable with politically African correctness. Their message is about awareness and worshipping the African ancestors and denouncing racial stigmas in their socialist country.

What follow is an excerpt of song 53 7 CUBA (Phone code of Cuba + Havana) by Paris resident Hip-Hop group, ORISHA (deity, in the Yoruba language of Santeria, one of the main Afro-Cuban religions practised in Cuba):

"Dónde estás tú, mi Rampa*
El sol que canta
la Catedral
el Capitolio
se levantan en el oido
de estas voces
23 y 12,
Paseo del Prado
tus leones lado a lado
forman parte de mis tradiciones
mis emociones
eres tu mi Cuba
como tu ninguna
Kábio sile [Ká woó sí lé o: Let us beget life in the house]
soy yoruba que no quede duda
que si lloro es porque la extraño
no ver mi malecón, a mis amigos de mi zona
los que nacieron conmigo
los que jugaron conmigo"

*Very popular Avenue downtown Havanatop

 2- Hybrid Cultures: The Maids Of Havana. Myth And History In Literary Reconstruction.

Pedro Perez Sarduy will discuss (in Spanish also, if ask for Latin American and/or Caribbean Literature classes) the making of his novel, Las Criadas de La Habana (The Maids of Havana), released in Spanish in Fall 2001, and also available in the US. As one of the most widely used and most disputed terms in contemporary theory, hybridity has by now acquired a large repertoire of associated - although sometimes also divergent-meanings. 

Plants, languages, individuals, societies, "races", sexualities, cultural forms, political and economic practices and even 'times' have been seen to be affected by processes of hybridization. Whereas many cultural analysts are happy to use the term in its looser, more value-free sense of 'cross-cultural exchange', postcolonial critics insist that such a de-historization of the term neglects the element of power imbalance inherent in the use of the term hybridity within colonial discourse.

Emphasis is also placed on the distinction between unconscious processes of hybrid mixture and the more "political" uses of hybridity as a conscious effort to disrupt homogeneity and essentialism.

"Las Criadas de La Habana" could be interpreted in this way. Originally it was an informal chat with his informant, but later it became a novel whose point of departure begins with a narration of the life of Marta, Pedro's mother, a black servant whose lack of formal education does not prevent her from developing a sophisticated understanding of life. This unschooled woman starts writing about the two worlds of wealthy whites and poor black women in their service, with the latter's dignity. 

They were years of great upheaval: the rich were leaving (mostly to the US), the poor were being given new opportunities. For Marta, the main character and many friends, it had become a thing of the past that they had been maids in homes in Havana's elegant residential districts, that they had paid extortionate rates for their wretched slums, and that neither they nor their children could harbour hopes for the future, much less a college education.

The fresco of various periods -since a teenager in the 1930'; a wife and then a divorcee through the early years of the revolution, to a widow and grand-mother in the mid nineties- are narrated from the optic of these women, in a series of separate yet inter-related stories linking new generations of maids. See Maids of Havana

Sonhya Vemelis, Attorney 
La Habana, 2001
(c) Pedro Perez Sarduy 2001

3- Afro-Cuba, Afro-Cubans And Afro-Cubania: 'How Black Is Contemporary Cuba Becoming ?

Inmersed in the upheaval of the early years of the Cuban Revolution, Perez-Sarduy has been following the main racial development in his birth country since 1959, where at the age of 16 he participated in the the dismantling of the racial barriers in the segregated Parque Vidal (Leoncio Vidal city Square) and other venues in his home town of Santa Clara, capital of the former Las Villas province. This prolific poet, journalist, art critic and novelist Perez-Sarduy will be back in the US for a short visit this Fall 2001 with a hot topic: Afro-Cuba, Afro-Cubans And Afro-Cubania 'How Black Is Contemporary Cuba Becoming ? 

For some critics the Cuban revolution, far from being a model of racial tolerance and inclusion, is run by is racist at its core. Others says the Island needs an affirmative action program.

Out of his regular visit to Cuba, Perez-Sarduy argues provocatively that Afro-Cubans (by far the largest racial group out of 11 millions inhabitants) in the Island are articulating the need for a race-specific agenda as key in countering exclusionary (Hispanic/Latin rather than African / Caribbean) with inclusionary (island and overseas) definitions of nation and nationalism ­ this refers to his published works. At the same time, the vitality of Cuban "popular culture", with its strong ingredient of blackness, pushed cultural authorities on the island to re-appraise its preservation and commercialisation. 

Even so: How far are Afro-Cubans defining themselves as black before Cuban? Culturally, the nation and its nationals are torn about definitions of Cuban and Afro-Cuban, some seeing this as irrelevant, others seeing it as the issue of an identity threatened -- and not for the first time.

Fifty minutes Multimedia presentation about his finding in the Island amongst "una nueva generacion de cubanos negros" proud to be Cuban and revolutionaries, but also worshipping openly their African

Schedule 2001

Oct 16, 2001 Mount Holyoke College, MA
Oct 22, 2001 University of Monterey, CA.

Spring 2001 Topics

Pedro Perez-Sarduy presented his works in the US the spring of 2001.

Afro-Cuba, Afro-Cubans And Afro-Cubania
'How Black Is Contemporary Cuba Becoming ?'

Afro-Cubans are articulating the need for a race-specific agenda as key in countering exclusionary (Hispanic/Latin rather than African / Caribbean) with inclusionary (island and overseas) definitions of nation and nationalism. At the same time, the vitality of Cuban "popular culture", with its strong ingredient of blackness, pushed cultural authorities on the island to re-appraise its preservation and commercialisation.

How far are Afro-Cubans defining themselves as black before Cuban? Culturally, the nation and its nationals are torn about definitions of Cuban and Afro-Cuban, some seeing this as irrelevant, others seeing it as the issue of an identity threatened -- and not for the first time.

Fifty minutes Multimedia presentation in April about his finding in the Island among "una nueva generacion de cubanos negros" proud to be Cubanos but also worshipping their African background. Some topics: 

The Havana Biennial 2000 Celebration, The Havana Jazz Festival, And The Havana Film Festival

These were the great cultural events with which all of Havana (as well as the rest of the island) closed the second millennium and inaugurated the new century. The celebration had all the rhythm of diverse musical groups. From Compay Segundo to the Orishas -a group of Cuban rappers that currently reside in Paris- to a concert dedicated to John Lennon, which was put on for the unveiling in a popular Havana square of a full body statue of the well known member of the Beatle - Havana contradictions, neither Benny Moré, Rita Montaner nor even Bola de Nieve (Black and mulattos) have a single monument on the island -and the polemic continues.

Shackles Of Silence

"To the free black men: José Antonio Aponte, Clemente Chacón, Salvador Ternero, Juan Bautista Lisundia, Juan Barbier; to the slaves Esteban, Tomas and Joaquin Santa Cruz, all hung for conspiracy in 1812, 56 years before the Demajagua (an uprising of Cuban slaves and creoles against Spanish colonialism). For their rebellion for freedom." A brilliant article by Cuban writer and musician Felipe Olivia begins with these words. The article is on the "presence and absence of the black hero in stories for Cuban children", published in issue 288 of the Caiman Barbudo (the cultural journal of Cuban youth). Other articles on the past, present and future of the black man in Cuba appear in this publication.

Reviving Anthropology: Race Relations And Ethnicity In Cuba

Havana, November 22, 23 and 24, 2000. The Cuban Center of Anthropology celebrated the V International Anthropology Conference, with the purpose of reflecting on the current problems in the field of anthropological and archaeological research.

Among the topics discussed were:

  • Race, class and sex from an anthropological perspective
  • Racial and ethnic relations in Cuba, the Caribbean and Latin America
  • Anthropology of religion
  • The slave route in the Americas
  • Cultural identity
  • Community education: rescue of cultural tradition

Callejon de Hameltop

In the meantime, in Hamel Alley (see Callejon de Hamel photos: Gallery I & II), there is another obligatory stop. For ten years now, the flamboyant Salvador Gonzalez and his wife, Maritza have put on a weekly celebration every Sunday at noon in the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso. The leather heads of drums ring out from the hardened hands of men and women. They evoke through ancestral songs the pride and privilege of being Cuban and Black. Salvador, omo of Changó (babalawo), gave a drum (güiro or toque) in honor of the Day of this orisha, which is honored across the entire island on the 4th of December. On 17th of the same month, Salvador honored with antoher 'toque' to Babalu Aye, the orisha of illness, of miracles with whom everyone wants to be in peace and harmony.

Marefun, Mendive

Days before, on the 14th of December, Manuel Mendive the best selling Cuban painter alive (his works are auctioned in Sotheby's and Chrisite's in London) was celebrating his 58th birthday in the Ambassador Room of the Havana Libre Tryp Hotel (formerly the Havana Hilton, when blacks weren’t allowed in even as dishwashers). Tall and handsome like a prince, wearing his African atire, Mendive made his triumphant entrance, amidst applause and praise, just past midnight. He responded to the flattery of his admirers, from the simplest citizen to the most acclaimed Cuban and foreign intellectuals and artists, residing in Cuba and not. In this way, Mendive honored his ancestors and began a week of libations that culminated in the 17th, Babalú Ayé, orisha of his initiation, with a meeting of believers in 'Regla de Ocha,' or Santeria.

The Rap Corner In Las Vegas Cabaret

There was almost a daily reminder on the radio that every Friday, from 2 in the afternoon until 8 in the evening, the RAP CORNER awaited you with DJ AFRO, the best in national and international hip-hop. The date was in the famous Las Vegas Cabaret, at Infanta and 25th Street, where the neighborhoods of Vedado and Centro Habana

"Show off your beads, Shango is Here"

In December, the acclaimed Cuban rap group Orishas, now residing in Paris, made their debut in Havana. Although an inclement winter caused the postponement of several outdoor performances, Orishas performed for a full house with their contagious rhythm. This young group of Cubans performs musical alchemy that includes Cuban musicians from the past and present, all black Cubans, so that there¹s no mistake, with the rights of religions of African decent. They prevail with more and more force among Cubans of all ages. The chorus of the Orisha rappers, "Show off your beads, Changó has arrived", has become the new saying among Afro-Cuban youth, another symbol of cultural identity.

Cuban Rap is at the vanguard of the thinking of Cuban Youths

This bold assertion was contextualized by Pablo Herrera, one of the initiators of the now internationally recognized Cuban hip-hop movement, which in 2000 celebrated its seventh festival. His thesis is that it is in rap that people debate about Cuban society in its most essential expressions, that is to say poor people, every day workers who really live it talk about blacks, about race, about sex. According to Pablo, there is a whole re-evaluation of social categories which aim towards the recognition and the creation of a space for blacks in today's Cuba - something that has not existed since the triumph of the revolution due to a cultural policy which says "we are all Cubans here."  The overwhelming majority of youths who are doing Cuban rap are

Wole Soyinka in Havana

"Each visit to Cuba reveals to me a country which is renewing itself," Wole Soyinka said in the middle of January 2001, the first and only African to be honored with a Nobel Prize for Literature. In his inaugural speech for the 42nd Casa de las Americas Prize, Soyinka recalled the bonds of friendship which unite Cubans and Africans and affirmed that there was a guarantee of success in development to be found in the numerous representatives of African youths studying on the island. He referred to "the help offered by the Caribbean country to Africa in its struggle against colonialism, to the army of teachers and doctors who followed, contributing to the development of the region." To begin the year honoring the ancestors, the Nigerian intellectual Wole Soyinka received the degree Doctor Honoris Causa in Philological Sciences from the University of Havana, and his merits as one who struggled for social justice and his rich literary trajectory were emphasized. The last time that Wole Soyinka traveled to the island, he was saluted in his mother tongue, Yoruba, by Lazaro Ros, the most respected akpwon (lead singer in the Yoruba rituals) in the tradition of Regla de Ocha in Cuba.

Alberto Lescay, sculptor of the Maroon Monument in El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba

The Maroon Monument forms a part of an international project of UNESCO, The Slave Route, which, once finished, will include a thematic museum on slavery and the exploitation of the copper mines, considered the oldest colonial era mines in the Americas. Discovered by the Spaniards in the XVIth century, these copper deposits gave their name to the nearby town: Santiago del Prado de El Cobre. The monument sits on top of a Congolese Ganga surmounting a mound of rocks ==>

US Press and Race Relations in Cuba

There has been an increasing amount of US media play for race relations in Cuba. What are the assumptions and biases this reveals?

Cuban Government and Racism

Another theme of this spring US visit will be an analysis of the efforts made by the Cuban government to deal with the rising tide of racism in Cuba, which is occuring partly as a result of economic factors. Some of this is captured in the following extract from Fidel Castro's speech at the Riverside Baptist Church in NY on 9/8/00:

"I am not claiming that our country is a perfect model of equality and justice. We believed at the beginning that when we established the fullest equality before the law and complete intolerance for any demonstration of sexual discrimination in the case of women, or racial discrimination in the case of ethnic minorities, these phenomena would vanish from our society. It was some time before we discovered that marginality and racial discrimination with it are not something that one gets rid of with a law or even with ten laws, and we have not managed to eliminate them completely, even in 40 years.

There has never been nor will there ever be a case where the law is applied according to ethnic criteria. However, we did discover that the descendents of those slaves who had lived in the slave quarters were the poorest and continued to live, after the supposed abolition of slavery, in the poorest housing.

There are marginal neighborhoods; there are hundreds of thousand of people who live in marginal neighborhoods, and not only blacks and mixed race people, but whites as well. There are marginal whites, too, and all this we inherited from the previous social system.

I told you that our country is on its way to a new era. I hope someday to be able to speak to you of the things we are doing today and how we are going to continue to do them.

We do not have the money to build housing for all the people who live in what we could call marginal conditions. But we have lots of other ideas which will not wait until the end of times and which our united and justice loving people will implement to get rid of even the tiniest vestiges of marginality and discrimination. I have faith that we will succeed because that is the endeavor today of the leaders of our youth, our students and our people.

I shall not say more, I am simply saying that we are aware that there is still marginality in our country. But, there is the will to eradicate it with the proper methods for this task to bring more unity and equality to our society."

---President Fidel Castro at Riverside Church, Harlem, New York City on Sept. 8 during the week of the United Nations Millennium Summit

Pedro Perez Sarduy visits Cuba, plans fall '00 tour: update, 8/16/00top

Pedro Pérez Sarduy has recently been in Cuba, where he took part in the World Poetry Congress, which was part of the 20th Caribbean Festival in Santiago de Cuba, held in the first week of July, and this year dedicated to Africa. While in Santiago, he talked with Alberto Lescay, whose Maroon Monument, the first in Cuba to commemorate the runaway slave, is an enormous bronze figure set in an equally enormous pot used for boiling the sugar cane cut by slaves. The pot is today the ‘nganga’, the receptacle for the attributes of the spirits of Regla de Palo. The sculpture can be seen rising against the skyline on a hilltop close to the famous hermitage and church to the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre (Oshun in the Yoruba pantheon of what is known in Cuba as Regla de Ocha, Lucumí or Santería), Patron Saint of Cuba. During the Festival, Lescay, who also sculpted the Monument to the Bronze Titan Antonio Maceo in Santiago de Cuba’s Revolution Square, led a night pilgrimage to the Maroon Monument to offer libations to the ancestors, to the accompaniment of drums.

While in Santiago, Pedro was with African-American and other overseas professors and students who had heard him speak, and had read or heard him give readings of his poetry at their universities, or had read AFROCUBA and Afro-Cuban Voices co-authored with Jean Stubbs. He spoke freely with the newly Cuban Rastas as well as with the Santeros, abakuas and paleros (practitioners of Palo Monte), all three derived from ancestral belief systems brought from Africa by the slaves that are today indelibly imprinted in black Cuban cultural identity on and off the island. He spent time with Cuban rappers of the incipient yet strong, largely black, Hip Hop movement. The latest musical hit in Havana is the hip-hop group of four vocalist, Orishas a lo Cubano, currently living in France.  He was able to assess the impact on the black Cuban population in particular, of continuous visits by African Americans; the execution of Sankofa; the death sentence of Mumia; and the open debate on the situation of blacks in the United States, Cuba and the wider African diaspora.

He also had the opportunity to go back and talk with almost all the contributors to Afro-Cuban Voices. He was able to confirm for himself how the book has been well-received in Cuba as a vital contribution to the debate.

On his forthcoming fall US promotional tour for the book, Pedro will be incorporating all this to the previous multimedia presentation he took to over 25 US universities, schools and cultural centers last spring. He will also be available to speak to the making of The Maids of Havana, his forthcoming testimonial novel, currently being edited to be printed in Madrid, for publication by Plaza Mayor, in Puerto Rico, and distribution in the United States and Hispanic America. The novel is in the process of being translated into English and French.




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