[Documents menu] Documents menu

Sender: owner-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Thu, 30 Oct 97 10:20:27 CST
From: Marpessa Kupendua <nattyreb@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: !*AfroCuban author on race, identity, and representation
Article: 20937

)Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 06:57:07 -0500
)From: Chester King <74222.1040@compuserve.com>
)Subject: AfroCuban author on race, identity, and representation

Pedro Perez-Sarduy: '98 US/Canada Tour

Announcement in AfroCuban News, 20 October 1997

AfroCuban journalist, author, and broadcaster Pedro Perez-Sarduy sees the Jan - Feb '98 time as ripe for a multimedia exposition on issues of race, identity, and representation in today's Cuba, where there's a great ferment in these areas. Conflicting trends include:

  • the rise of AfroCuban professionals in many fields, especially medicine, biotechnology, culture, music, and sports.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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:
    1. Hispanic Cubans remittances from abroad, mainly the US and Spain.
    2. Euro-oriented tourism industry in Cuba favoring Hispanic Cubans and
    3. 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 Hispanic culture.
  • a lack of AfroCubans in meaningful roles on Cuban television and other media. This has been changing gradually and more roles have been opening up, but the contrast remains to a certain extent. There is a similar lack in certain other professions such as tourism management.
  • the active promotion of AfroCubans into leadership positions by the Cuban government. This a genuine affirmative action effort instigated by senior officials. Recently, the number of AfroCubans in the Politburo rose from 3 to 6 out of a total of 24.
  • a reluctance on the part of certain African Americans, including public officials, to get involved in the Cuba situation, partly because of a perceived lack of AfroCuban representation within the government.
  • a taboo around the use of the word racism, both on the island and off - "we Cubans are not racist!" - and yet Hispanics 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.
  • a renewed drive by Catholics to regain influence on an island that was never really theirs. There is a corresponding tendency on the part of some 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.
  • Cuba as Baragua, a theme well ensconced in current official propaganda. This theme comes from Gen 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.

What is going on here? How do Cubans themselves feel about these trends? These and others call for careful analysis and for 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.

Pedro Perez Sarduy

Pedro Perez-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. Currently in residence at the University of Puerto Rico, he is based in London and travels periodically to his home in Cuba. With his writings, Perez-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.

A new work out this Spring, "Afro-Cuban Voices: On Race, Representation, and Identity in 1990s Cuba," also co-edited with Jean Stubbs, will pick 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, through the eyes of the interviewees, lays out some fascinating re-appraisals of Cuban history down to present times.

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

'97 - '98 Tour Schedule

Pedro Perez Sarduy will be in Puerto Rico in the Fall of '97 and in the US from Oct 24th through Nov 2nd, '97. He will attend the Columbia conference on Black Reflections on Race, Culture, and Politics in Cuba Today, Nov 1(www.afrocubaweb.com/maraconf.htm).

Perez-Sarduy will start a US tour in January '98 in Florida. He is available through the end of February '98. Those interested in making arrangements to have him make a multi-media presentation or lead a workshop or seminar at their institution can contact AfroCubaWeb (www.afrocubaweb.com) at perico@ix.netcom.com

Other Writings

Pedro Perez-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 Cuban television on the first African and Caribbean music show. He was then with the BBC Latin American Service from 1981 to 1994.

Perez-Sarduy is at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, for the fall '97 semester as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in the Caribbean 2000 program.

Obtaining Perez-Sarduy and Stubb's books

Afro-Cuba (1993), No Longer Invisible(1995), and Voices of Afro-Cubans (spring '98) are available in major bookstores but can also be obtained directly through AfroCubaWeb's Books and Videos section. (see the web site at www.afrocubaweb.com).