I had so much on my mind from the past day that I couldn’t really sleep well. I woke up very early the following day with my presentation and performance on my mind. I was also still concerned about my friend Hugo. I was still waiting for his arrival to Cuba and I still had not heard from him. I was also anxious that I had to leave the room in order to wake up the family. It was about 4 hours before my performance at the African Cultural Center of Fernando Ortiz. I wrote a song specifically for Cuba and my spirit was ready to express itself. I watched the sunrise over Santiago de Cuba.
The sun came out, my family woke up and we all prepared for the next day of the conference. We were on perfect schedule and waited for the taxi driver, Luis. We waited as many other taxis passed by us. My wife and I recognized each other’s frustration without saying a word. Almost 40 minutes passed and there was still no sign of Hugo nor Luis. We were beyond frustrated and finally gave up any hope that Luis would follow through. We flagged down the next taxi we saw. Suddenly, we had another issue, we didn’t have any change. Fortunately, this taxi driver felt our frustration and found someone with change within a few seconds. We rushed down the Cuban streets as the conference was soon to began. This taxi driver took a short cut to the African Cultural Center of Fernando Ortiz and we arrived there 10 minutes before my presentation and performance.
As we entered the cultural center, I felt a spiritual feeling. It was a sacred cultural space that energized my soul. This spaced was founded on July 25, 1988 with the fundamental objective of promoting and spreading the values of African, Caribbean, and Latin American culture. Fernando Ortiz was the first person to write using the term “afrocubano” (Afro-Cuban). He was a prolific writer on many aspects of African Cuban culture. The center was decorated with images of black bodies and art. From black warriors to African tribal masks, the space was centered on black culture. The space itself told a story of deep profound black history. This motivated me even more. It was truly an honor to present here and I felt so ready.
We migrated across the street to the music hall. My family and I were the first ones there. It was a huge library with small rooms throughout the building. I felt like I was in the 80’s. I was suddenly told that the conference was starting late. However, my energy was on 100% and I was more ready than ever. I started my presentation with an original song I wrote depicting the black Cuban struggle in the 17th century. Although I don’t speak Spanish with a Cuban nor Caribbean dialect, my words came out with a strong Caribbean influence after being in Cuba for the last few days. It was written entirely in Spanish and I used the rhythmic lyrics to grab the audience’s attention. It had them focused purely on me afterwards. I presented my piece about 17th century Afro-Cuban poet, Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, also known as Placido. The irony between my life and that of this poet was strikingly similar. He used his poetry to protest and agitate slavery in Cuba in the 17th century. His words were moving and prolific and he often promoted the beauty of blackness. What was very ironic was that he was assassinated the day after my birthday.
After the presentation, the audience was moved. One Cuban professor gave me a standing ovation. She thanked me for participating and explained how she was astonished that someone so young from another country was able to discuss the complexity of Placido and his work. This was a very proud moment. I was very content but a little disheartened that my family back in the United States were not able to be there. I was also disappointed that my good friend, Hugo, was not there to share this moment with me. Afterwards, I privately spoke to the director, Dr. Marta Cordiés Jackson, about the missing taxi and that when she explained that he was a courtesy driver and therefore should have never took anything as he was paid for by her. I saw her get just as upset as I did. She promised me that we would get our money back. She made a few calls and smoked a few cigarettes as she moved about aggressively. Minutes later I started hearing other organizers of the event telling everyone to be on the lookout for Luis. Everyone organizing the event was upset at this point and took it personally. Every single one of them had our backs.
I got out of my feelings as soon my family and I were invited to lunch. Although Cuban food is not the most exquisite food, we were thankful because we understood that Cubans get by with the little that they had. As soon as we arrived to the outdoor mansion, where the lunch took place, we sat down in the shade under a mango tree. Within seconds, Luis popped out of nowhere with a look of defeat on his face. He quickly explained that his car broke down and that his grandma passed away this morning. I looked him straight in the eyes as I noticed that he was not sweating, his hair was perfectly in place, and his eyes did not appear swollen nor as if he cried at all. I nodded to him without showing any emotion as he discreetly placed our money on the table. Although I was frustrated, I realized that Luis was not representative of the typical Cuban. Instead of dwelling on this misfortune incident, I felt a huge sense of appreciation. I felt gratitude for the typical Cuban like Dr. Cordiés Jackson whom always stood by her word, remained loving and welcoming, while still being authentic and friendly.
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