by Mercy Carpenter, New York-based community organizer, artist and farmer.
When I landed in Cuba, I felt right at home. I was elated to visit a nation that has been an historic ally to Black and oppressed peoples internationally, including for some of my heroes, like Assata Shakur.
I imagined travelling to Wakanda. Caribbean heat blazed but,was followed by the sea’s soothing coolness, a contradiction that would set the tone for the trip. Driving to our home for the week, the Martin Luther King Center in La Habana, we passed by 16th century Spanish style architecture reminding me of the terracotta buildings and clusters of homes similar to one of my homelands, Nigeria. Looking through the bus windows we saw the beautiful rainbow of black people and the vibrant colors painted everywhere. Our windows reflected our excitement and traveller’s exhaustion.
Our delegation “Maroon Roots and Revolutionary Cuba Today”, with 27 Black and Brown majority youth organizers, artists and farmers met with economists, historians, collectives, doctors, US students learning medicine, poets, visual artists, queer Black feminists, farmers, popular educators, Babalawos and religious practitioners of Ifa and other Yoruba traditions. We visited the The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Museum of the Revolution , Revolution Square, Downtown Havana, HIV and AIDS prevention centers, Latin American School of Medicine, Museum of the Orishas,Mirarte Día a Día, The Black Doll Project and historical monuments among other incredible spaces.
Diving into this well of information called for flexibility and awareness from our group and challenging conversations about our understandings of Cuba, Blackness and the African Diaspora more broadly.
At a farm an hour outside La Habana, one of the project’s directors referred to how slavery and monocrop sugar production destroyed the country’s soil. The people still see those affects today in 2018. Similarly, slavery and colonialism continues to manifest in the country. Every space we visited echoed that their work is committed to inspiring daily transformations against Transphobia, Homophobia, Racism, Ageism, Sexism, Ableism and Colorism.
Like the soil, humans underwent a parallel process of irreverence and oppression resulting in evidence of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. As a delegate,I witnessed the contradictions of vision and embodiment as a constant physical, emotional and spiritual conversation. I also learned of the Cuban people’s dedication and commitment to a healing transformation through their use of theatre of the oppressed and popular education.
I feel honored to have visited a nation that has achieved such a high literacy rate along with free education in spite of multipronged US efforts including biological warfare, economic sanctions and tactics similar to COINTELPRO tactics to destroy it. I feel honored to have visited a country that has free healthcare and aims to move with abundance when the blockade creates scarcity.
I feel honored to have visited a nation where housing and food are provided for all. I feel honored to have visited such an accomplished nation that still values restaurative work dedicated to healing the soil and national cultural in light of slavery’s lasting impacts. I feel honored to have met Black women of many generations using theatre of the oppressed and the arts to address patriarchy and white supremacy. I feel honored to have visited a nation whose patron is Oshun and where they pay homage to African spiritualities. I feel honored to have fallen in love with more Black people who are committed to their liberation.
I am excited to staying in touch with the incredible Black femmes we met with who are creating a social revolution that decolonizes the spirit, mind and body.