Follow along for the Busboys and Poets Travel Tribe’s Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba (July 6-13, 2022)

By Andy Shallal (@andyshallal CEO/Founder, Busboys and Poets)

The Union of Writers and Artists is one of the oldest institutions formed after the Cuban revolution. The year was 1961. Its first president was Nicolas Guillen. Cuba’s national poet. Named so after returning back to Cuba following years of forced exile by Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

We are warned that there will be press today. Lots of it. This is an historic occasion where we commemorate Langston Hughes’ visit to the island. And his close connection to Guillen.

The bus pulls up to the sidewalk. Behind large ficus trees. Banana trees. Mango trees. Behind all this lushness. The 3 story mansion looks grand. Tall. With columns and arches. A tiled porch surrounds the half circular entrance. At the top of the marble staircase stands a choir. Several microphone are set up. There are a dozen or so cameras on tripods. Photographers. Government officials. Writers. Poets. The president of the Writer’s Union is among them. So is the Vice President. The Deputy Minister of Culture and the Minister himself are also present. The Minister reminds me of my uncle. Mafia-ish. Chubby. 50ish.

The building is much like most of the homes on Calle 17. They belonged to rich Cubans who left the island in 1959. Sugar plantation owners. Rum barons. Mafia. Most never returned. The government took over those buildings. Today they house schools. Trade unions. NGO’s. Some belong to corporations doing business in Cuba.

I take my spot at the top of the stairs next to the Vice President of the Union. Pedro de la Hoz. I had met Pedro on my last trip to Cuba along with Nancy Morejon, the great Cuban poet. Behind us stood a 20 person choir. They opened the program. A poem, set to music, by Nicolas Guillen. Then Pedro took the microphone. He shared the story of Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’ relationship. He spoke of Hughes’ impact on Cuban culture. Of the works that Guillen produced once the two met. Of their contribution to their respective countries. I followed. Expressing my love for poetry. My admiration of Guillen and Hughes. Their importance to Cuban American relations. Culture is the connective tissue that binds us as humans. I added. Not black or white. Not Cuban or American. Not rich or poor. But human.

292085314 10160137962987594 260845583161314599 n

The Minister of Culture shook his head approvingly. Behind him the president of the Union. Luis Morlote Rivas. There were several poets and artists in the group. Mostly young. They all seemed satisfied with the message.

Pedro then turned to me. His eyes glowing with excitement. I have a surprise for you. Follow me. He said. We went up a curved marble staircase made golden by the sunlight shining through the stain glass window. At the end of the curve. A group was gathering at a doorway. Something special awaited inside.

PHOTO 2024 02 01 07 10 14

For Langston Hughes on His 123 Birthday

Speech given on February 1, 2024 in Havana, Cuba In 1927 Langston Hughes walked into a Cuba amid an emerging community of artists, intellectuals, and radicals.  He saw a “sunrise in a new land [– a day – in his words]sic – full of brownskin surprises, and hitherto unknown contacts in a world of color.”  … Continued

PALESTINE WEEK 1920 x 1080 px 2

Palestine Week 2024

January 18, 2024 – January 25, 2024 In keeping with our ongoing mission of uplifting racial and cultural connections, Busboys and Poets is hosting Palestine Week (January 18 through January 25, 2024). This week-long series of events will offer a diverse range of programming featuring Palestinian food, music, dance, poetry, discussions, and other enriching events. … Continued

9. The Art Factory (Fabrica De Arte Cubano)

Reflections from the Busboys and Poets Travel Tribe’s Cultural Exchange trip to Cuba (July 6-13, 2022)  Of all the places I visited in Cuba. Of all the events. The panels. The museums. The sights and sounds. The Fabrica De Arte Cubano (aka Fabrica) stands out. An old repurposed oil factory. Transformed into a multi level. … Continued


Happy Fourth of July.

A message from Busboys and Poets Founder, Andy Shallal Happy Fourth of July. My family moved to this country in 1966 when I was 10. I know the decision to pull up roots from our homeland in Iraq and replant them in a place that was unfamiliar was not an easy one. Like so many … Continued

img 7437

Everest Base Camp #7

Viva la lucha! Not today. Not yet. Waking up at 2 am is never a good idea no matter where you’re going. But alas here I am sitting on the edge of my king size bed, having used every inch of it throughout the night, contemplating what’s ahead. Last night, room service hit the spot. … Continued