Breaking the Silence

August 14, 2010 | Print Print |

Irina Echarry

1912, Breaking the Silence

HAVANA TIMES, August 14 — While the sun blazed in the street on the afternoon of August 11, the Cine 23 y 12 movie theater gave off an intense heat despite the air conditioning.  A heat mixed with anger, pride, passion, and rebellion.  A heat projected on the screen by the hand of Cuba’s celebrated filmmaker Gloria Rolando.

For many it was no surprise that Gloria directed this film because they are familiar with the rest of her work, which always delves into our roots.

The documentary 1912, Breaking the Silence employs images, quotes, and music to trace the history of Afro-Cubans— their beginnings, leaders, adaptation to the environment and inclusion in the Creole society, their thinkers, their courage, and the discrimination and marginalization that led to the massacre of 1912, the famous “Race War.”

The horrendous episode that left more than 3000 Blacks dead but was recorded in the official press as “a triumph for the country” has been a controversial topic unspoken of for a long time, barely being mentioned in history classes until a few years ago.

In the words of poet and writer Georgina Herrera: “Today people talk about how things were and speak loudly. Shout a bit, why not? That way comparisons can be made and the rude buffoonery of US Marines at Marti’s statue in Havana’s central park, while it hurts and is damaging, is not as bad as the luxurious banquet held to celebrate the bloodbath that silenced the many voices and highest thoughts of the Cubans of that period … ”

With a thorough exploration of the archives, Gloria Rolando provides future generations with valuable material for studying the masacre through the eyes of various historians and specialists in the field. The documentary is just the first in a series of three.  In the next installment, the director intends to “tell the history of the Independent Party of Color up until it was banned in 1910.  The third will tell what happened next …leading up to the 1912 massacre and its consequences. ”

The film answers questions such as: how did Societies “of color” come about?  Was it necessary to create a party bringing Blacks together?  Who were the leaders of the Black movement in Cuba?

Perhaps there could have been a little more emphasis on the common people, those who didn’t stand out, whose virtues and names were not recorded in history like those of Quintin Banderas or Maceo or Juan Gualberto Gómez.

Gloria Rolando

Historian Torres Cuevas gives an overview of the Black population’s situation, but one is left wanting to know how a youngster working in the countryside felt about their unequal position in relation to the White’s, or how an urban elderly black woman felt about the party they had formed, for example.

The rich musical history engendered by Blacks, among others, in Cuba is also insufficiently recounted.  Only a few details are mentioned.  The documentary focuses on the political and touches on social aspects of the Spanish colonial period and the US intervention, with a commendable review of the press of the era, including Previsión, the daily newspaper of the Independent Party of Color.

After the screening some people in the audience praised the film.  Filmmaker Belkis Vega rationalized why the issue of race should be seen as a national issue, as something that involves all Cubans. Noticing the audience in the filled room was mostly made up of blacks and mulattos, she emphasized that the documentary tells a part of the nation’s history, “There is little awareness among the public about what has happened and is happening.  When we talk about blacks or we talk about women … people do not feel the discussion refers to them … but it is not one group’s problem; it’s society’s problem.”

A young man raised his hand to suggest a means of distributing the documentary.  After the 12th, it will be shown in two cinemas (Yara and Acapulco), but that’s not enough.  “To reach young people I suggest that you tell me if I can copy it to a memory stick and I am sure that in two days it will be circulating from hand to hand throughout the provinces of the country.  That’s the best way to reach young people today.”

An artist suggested that a cartoon version be made and Dr. Lidia Turner suggested it become course material for elementary schools.

The premier of the documentary was a complete success and we await the public’s reaction in the cinemas.  Surely it will make everyone consider the discrimination that still exists in our country, even though it doesn’t lead to such violence.  The remaining chapters of 1912, Breaking the Silence are already eagerly awaited.


What's your opinion?

  • Irina Echarry complains frequently about what she thinks isn’t enough in Cuba, at least in her writings posted to HAVANA TIMES. But she sometimes omits significant details which would provide for a more nuanced understanding of complex issues.

    Cuban historian Eduardo Torres Cuevas is not only someone whose words were quoted in Gloria Rolando’s documentary. For three years he has been the Director of the Jose Marti National Library in Havana, Cuba’s principal repository of historical documentation. He has spoken about these issues internationally, for example, just last year in New York City:
    http://web.gc.cuny.edu/dept/bildn/events/Cubanidad.EduardoTorresCuevas.shtml

    There are a number of Cuban books published on he island on the massacre of 1912, as well as the extensive writings of Esteban Morales, such as his book DESAFIOS DE LA PROBLEMATICA RACIAL EN CUBA, published by the Fernando Ortiz institute. That book is awaiting a full translation into English, but one is in progress for the English-speaking public. There have been more books on the history of the black experience in Cuba published in recent years by Cuban publishing houses. These have been made available in national currency, that is, in prices which ordinary Cubans cn

    Much more can and should be done to educate today’s Cuban public about these issues and the ongoing racial problems which Cuba continues to have. At the same time, it would be misleading to suggest that these problems have not been are aren’t being address by responsible Cuban leaders today.

    A selection of Esteban Morales’s writings, several of which have been translated to English, can be found at the following address. More are being translated as this is written, including a just-published three-part series on racial problems on contemporary Cuba, published just weeks ago:

    A selection of Esteban Morales’s writings:
    http://tinyurl.com/2ur3a8a

  • Alberto N Jones

    Through perseverance, love and commitment to her people, Gloria Rolando was able, literally singlehandedly, to turn an impossible dream into reality, by paying posthumous hommage to our martyrs, who many in the halls of power for nearly a century, had hoped that such nauseating history would have been forgotten.

    This first step in writing our real, painful history, can no longer be hidden in a cave or vault. The Gene is out and it should become the moral engine to correct and heal centuries of abuse, neglect, segregation and racism in Cuba, which many thought we had overcome.

    The Cuban Revolutionary Government did not commit or create this despicable event, but for half a century, much more should and could have been done on behalf of the victims. While a glamorous statue, more fitting to Europe than Cuba honors the memory of president Jose Miguel Gomez, the mastermind of this abominable crime, our country have failed miserably to erect a simple cross on behalf of the victims in Santiago de Cuba, Songo-La-Maya or Guantanamo, where they were butchered mercilessly.

    Our government must speak out forcefully on this heinious act, teach our children about this shameful secret and make it an integral part of our history curriculum, as the only way to begin cleansing our conscience, by setting the record straight.

    While the perpetrators, most of whom were defeated on the battle field by a predominantly Afro-Cuban Army of Independence, they, the victimizers, were the ones receiving the fruits of our tears, blood and ultimate sacrifice for our motherland, which have been complictly slow in recognizing our contributions.

    in 2012, one hundred years after this monstrous crime, our country MUST honor the memory of the victims and create specific projects for the total emmancipation, equality and empowerment of the sons and daughters of those who gave everything to our fatherland. To ignore or deny these facts, will compromise the moral soul, values and principles of our nation forever.

  • Milagros who else

    Gloria is my first cousin and she and she alone has had the cojones nuts or whatever we call them..to put this spellbinding and truthful piece together As with all things relative to the imperialist..what else can one expect from a people who have said..ENUFF! i have had this since the beginning and because i see my relative often ..i know a bit more than most..You have seen nothing yet.. Thanks Irina