When 15 years ago we organized the Night of the Books for the first time, in which the restaurants, cafeterias, sports areas, cinemas and parks of the populous 23rd Street in Havana became literary spaces, there was something that powerfully called my attention. Although all the book presentations, meetings with authors and panels on various topics had a large, attentive and diverse audience, what overwhelmingly won the prizes were some postcards containing poems by Cuban and foreign writers, and illustrated with the work of Ernesto Rancaño.
In each corner only one of those postcards was offered, and people had to travel the entire artery to put together that kind of anthology. This unleashed a massive game in which thousands of young and not so young asked about the possession of an author or a poem and exchanged them passionately, as if those pieces of cardboard contained a real treasure. Something similar happened shortly after, when in what we call Readings in the Prado, cardboard fans that mixed verses by poets and works by Cuban plastic artists were all the rage.
“The playful is also part of the culture.”
The same surprise took place in the first edition of the University Book and Reading Festival (FULL); One of the most successful spaces was Pepito’s Bar, where, with the participation of students and professors from the Higher Institute of Industrial Design and the enthusiastic support of the brilliant Juan Padrón, the atmosphere of the movie Vampires in Havana was recreated. Asking a group of young people to dress up as vampires to work there —perhaps expecting rejection and resistance from them—, we were surprised by the joy and fun character with which they assumed it.
Playfulness is also part of the culture, and above all, it is a need for younger people. Betting only on the serious and solemn as a means of cultural dissemination is, in addition to being impoverishing, a stimulus to seek and find satisfaction, fun and games —not necessarily superficial or colonizing— in references that are not always edifying. If most of our carnival parties have been losing shine and active participation of the public; if activities such as the Night of the Books and the FULL have been impoverishing their content and scope; if we never call for dressing up with literary characters such as Don Quixote, Cecilia Valdés or national cartoons, let us not be surprised. If much of what is transmitted in our media has too much solemnity and lacks both the epic and the playful, and there are neither heroes nor Creole universes in them that connect with adolescents, it is logical that a natural need of that age be satisfied with referents such as Halloween, the characters from the movies in which the CIA and the FBI solve all the problems, or contemporary versions of Robin Hood, such as La casa de papel.
The parrandas of Remedios, the charangas of Bejucal, the parties of the Bando Azul and the Bando Rojo, or a festival of repentismo should be, with contemporary codes, television shows promoted for a long time and with spaces for contests of all kinds. When did we not learn that the award ceremonies for the Havana Carnival cartel and conga contests filled the Ciudad Deportiva coliseum and were broadcast live on television with hosts like Germán Pinelli and Consuelo Vidal?
I did not know about the monstrosities of the Ku Klux Klan at school or in history classes, but rather in a series like the North American Raíces, broadcast and promoted in prime time on our television, and in some of the films commented on by Mario Rodríguez on the disappeared Tanda del Domingo. The first black hero I saw was the unbeatable Jiquí, from Nacho Verdecia’s troop, who made us mambises play in the streets, thanks to a space called Aventuras that disappeared from our screens a long time ago. These are different times, and perhaps none of that can be repeated, but one does not have to look outside to know that there is a decolonizing world to exploit within our institutions and culture.
It is unacceptable that racist practices full of hate and violence try to become natural among us, and it is our duty to look beyond those immediately responsible and the state or private entities that, in order to enter more, become accomplices of them.. But, overcoming the situation, it is urgent and essential to investigate the causes of why an educational, cultural and media apparatus as comprehensive as ours has not made possible a critical reception of this fact and allows the conditions for Its reproduction.
(Taken from The Jiribilla)