Thursday, November 6, 2008

Joe Hayes & La Brigada Artistica: Holguin, Cuba



[Last week storyteller Joe Hayes journeyed to Cuba via Cancún to participate in una Brigada Artistica in the City of Holguín and the surrounding communities. As always, he took with him various supplies that are so hard to get in Cuba, but he also stuffed his suitcase with a bunch of copies of Dance, Nana, Dance / Baila, Nana, Baila, his new collection of bilingual Cuban folktales to give to his friends and colleagues. We all hope that the new Obama administration--besides liberalizing travel and commerce regulations with the Cuban goverment--will work to relieve the strains of cultural exchange and collaboration with the Cuban people. Below is a letter that Joe wrote to Bernard Rubenstein, the head of the sister cities group in Santa Fe. As we blogged before, Holguín and Santa Fe NM are sister cities.]

Dear Bernie,

My trip to Holguín was wonderful. I was able to be part of three brigadas artísticas internacionales. As you know, immediately after the clouds cleared from Hurricane Ike (el ciclón) the Cuban government started sending groups of performing artists out to the most affected communities to lift the people's spirits. This was done in Holguín too. Although the city of Holguín had been hit hard by the storm, it wasn't so badly damaged as coastal communities such as Gibara, Banes and Antilla. One of the main things the Casa de Iberoamérica did in lieu of the Fiesta Iberoamericana was to send out brigadas artistícas composed of holguineros and foreign artists who showed up in spite of the fact that the Fiesta had been canceled. We were the first brigada artistíca internacional! In addition to a very tall and out-of-place norteamericano storyteller, there was a group of dancers and musicians from Spain, two Mexican poets, a Canadian poet, two wonderful young musicians from Brazil, and others I can't remember at the moment.

The brigada occupied two buses. We'd pull away from the Casa de Iberoamérica (two hours later than scheduled, of course) with flags of the various nations flapping on staffs from the windows (no U.S. flag) and a motorcycle policeman in front, light flashing and siren wailing. Of course, after an hour on the highway, the excitement of our departure would be somewhat diminished, but we'd enter the destination community with the siren once again blaring and the buses tooting their horns.

We went to a poor area within the city of Holguín and to Banes and Gibara. Another brigada went out to Antilla, but I had other activities that day.

I've attached a photo of the brigada at a rest stop on the way to Banes.

One evening we had an encuentro with government officials and I was able to deliver Mayor Coss's letter. The presidente didn't attend, so I handed it to the vicepresidente. I spoke of the hermandad that exists between Santa Fe and Holguín and the regret the people of Santa Fe feel at not being able to visit their amigos holguineros more freely. Oscar Lugo, provincial director of relaciones internacionales, attended.

On the final day (Oct. 28), we had an excursion to Bariay, the (disputed) landing site of Columbus. The beach was still strewn with debris and some local men were working at cleaning it up. Alexis Triana (the provincial arts director, whom you surely know) grabbed a hoe from one of the workers and rallied los amigos de la Casa de Iberoamérica to turn their hands to the task and show their solidaridad by helping out. [NOTE: If you go to these photos, in 06Joe is the tall guy in the red shirt and blue shorts and hat.] We all spent an hour or so raking up sticks and tossing logs into a waiting trailer. I must say, the beach looked better when we'd finished.

It was primarily a dia de campo, but it ended with all the participants gathered together for a bit of musical entertainment and the bestowal of certificates of appreciation. I have a certificado signed by Tatiana Zúñiga, the director of the Casa de Iberoamérica to hang on my office wall. Alexis Triana presented me with a token of appreciation to be delivered to Mayor Coss, a plaque bearing a gilded map of Provincia Holguín.

I'm happy to report that the Suñol theatre didn't suffer any damage from the hurricane and that the restoration is progressing. It may be slowed down somewhat by the urgent demand elsewhere for construction materials.

I'm looking forward to future trips to Holguin, and hopefully after next January Santa Fe will be able to have a fuller sister city relationship with our Cuban friends.

Best,
Joe

[You can watch a Cuban news video of La Brigada Artistica here. But, sadly, Joe didn't make it into the final cut. He was in another community on this day.]