Three colleges from The City University of New York — Hostos Community College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The City College of New York — in collaboration with the School of Visual Arts (SVA) will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the city of Havana.
Scheduled for Nov. 12 through Nov. 15, 2019, the program will consist of a series of seminars, walking tours, a film screening and a concert. “La Habana 500: A New York Salute to a Timeless City” explores the arc and trajectory of the city’s fascinating story, identifying and exploring points where Cuban and United States history intersect.
The program will focus on four major themes: the founding and early history of La Habana; the rise of Cuban nationalism and the relationship between La Habana and New York City; the efforts to restore La Habana and establish a trajectory for future development; and the role of New York City, especially the Bronx, as an incubator of Cuban music.
“The role New York City has played in the history of the Caribbean cannot be understated, and our city remains a fundamental cornerstone of that ongoing shared story,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “It gives me great pride to know that CUNY is marking this milestone for the magnificent and resilient Havana. The programming of La Habana 500 is another example of CUNY’s vital role in our city’s rich cultural life.”
“Like New York City, Havana is a cultural epicenter, and it has finally received the renaissance it so deserves,” said School of Visual Arts Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes. “SVA is proud to partner with CUNY on this exciting slate of programming for La Habana 500 that will no doubt introduce the city’s fascinating history and promising future to the next generation.”
La Habana 500 hosts prominent figures of academia like Alejandro de la Fuente, professor of Latin American history and economics at Harvard University, and author of Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century; Jerry Carlson, chairperson and professor at the Department of Media Communication Arts, The City College of New York, and a specialist in narrative theory, global independent film and the cinemas of the Americas. At the CUNY Graduate Center he is a member of the doctoral faculties of French, Film Studies and Comparative Literature and a Senior Fellow at the Bildner Center for Western Hemispheric Studies; Lisandro Pérez, professor of Latin American and Latinx Studies at John Jay College, and author of the acclaimed Sugar, Cigars and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York; Nancy Raquel Mirabal, director of the U.S. Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Maryland and author of Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957; Marta Gutman, professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture of City College of New York, architect and architectural and urban historian; Dick Cluster, co-author with Rafael Hernández of History of Havana; and folklorist Elena Martínez (City Lore, Bronx Music Heritage Center). The closing night HAVANA JAM, features bassist/violinist/ composer Yunior Terry, a member of one of Cuba’s most gifted musical families, directing an all-star salute to honor the 500th anniversary of the founding of La Habana and its musical heritage. Yunior Terry leads his band, Son de Altura, featuring vocalist David Oquendo, with special guests, flutist extraordinaire Eddy Zervigon, the acclaimed song stylist Gema and piano virtuoso Adonis González.
Tuesday, November 12th, a film screening and panel discussion, Suite Habana (2003), at 6pm in the Sciame Auditorium, 141 Convent Avenue, CCNY
Wednesday, November 13th, Panel discussion, The 500-Year Arc of La Habana’s History (open event) from 4-6pm at Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos, 450 Grand Concourse, Hostos Community College
Thursday, November 14th, The Bronx, Incubator of Cuban Music from 2-4pm beginning at the Hunts Point Station, No. 6 train at the plaza above elevator; Panel discussion, The Restoration of La Habana: Accomplishments, Projections from 6-8pm, Sciame Auditorium, 141 Convent Avenue, CCNY
Friday, November 15th, a walking tour ~ Marti’s New York, from 11am-1pm, West 4th Street Subway Station, meet in front of IFC theater; Panel Discussion, La Habana and New York City, an Enduring Relationship from 3-5pm, 524 West 59th Street, Ninth floor conference room, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Reception, 5-6pm, New Building, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Concert: Havana Jam, 7:30pm Repertory Theater Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture, 450 Grand Concourse, The Bronx (purchase tickets).
Let’s take a historical look back at Cuba. Founded on Nov. 16, 1519 — St. Christopher’s Day — La Habana became, in the course of a scant 70 years, the nexus of the first transoceanic empire in history. The architect of the new order, Phillip II of Spain, referred to La Habana as the “key” to his empire. Virtually all the riches that Spain extracted from the far reaches of its power —from Asia and almost the full length of the Western hemisphere — were funneled through the port of La Habana, imposing upon the city a host of responsibilities as a safe harbor, provisioner, shipbuilding facility and foundry.
This made of La Habana a unique city with a population of transients like no other at that time. “It was,” write historians Dick Cluster and Rafael Hernández, “a city where viceroys in transit rubbed shoulders with itinerant vendors, priests with prostitutes, Andalusian soldiers and sailors with Chinese traders and African slaves.” It was also a city that attracted some of the great intellects of the last half millennium, from Bartolomé de las Casas to Alexander von Humboldt to Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre, Julia de Burgos, Graham Greene and Gabriel García Márquez. It was a truly cosmopolitan city at once rough around the edges, baroque, romantic and beautiful.
For roughly the first half of its existence, the city of La Habana served as a maritime center serving the Spanish Empire. Then, in 1762, the city fell to a British expeditionary force in one of the culminating campaigns of the Seven Years War. While the British occupation lasted but 11 months, La Habana would emerge from that war profoundly changed with the lifting of restrictions on the African slave trade and its harbor flung open to foreign ships. In short order, most of the new trade was with a newly independent power to the north, the United States, ushering in a new era in Cuban history. No longer would La Habana be tethered economically and culturally to Sevilla or Cádiz; instead, it would look north to ports such as New Orleans, Mobile and especially New York City. The relationship with the latter would be complex and multifaceted with profound commercial, political and cultural ramifications.
In another not-to-miss celebration of Cuba, Community Works, NYC + Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group have a beautiful exhibition currently on view by London-based photographer Jessica Angel ~ Liquid Heat: La Rumba Llama. Angel has been taking photographs of Cuban dance for more than fifteen years, and captures them in large-format images with all the freedom and spirit of the movement. The exhibition is on view in the Harlem Hospital Mural Pavilion, and has been extended through November 30, 2019.