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.” That’s when he met Nicolas Guillen and together they forged a friendship to last their entire lifetime. Cuba to Langston, although far from perfect, opened his eyes to see what is possible. He was a dreamer and like all dreamers he lived in a world where kindness and love reign supreme.
Much like Langston Hughes – Guillen too helped us imagine a day where we stop seeing color and see each other as humans first. He says of his beloved country that someday we will all be Cuban color. Not black not white or Mulato but Cuban.
It is an honor to be here today in Havana during these auspicious times. Today, we come here not only as visitors but also as citizen ambassadors in solidarity with the people of this beautiful Island. We appreciate the struggle of the Cuban people. The hardships of the blockade. The difficulties that the Cuban people have had to endure for decades. And we – like most Americans – want to see an end to this unnecessary and cruel suffering. We hope that today will mark yet another reminder that we – who are gathered here – as Americans from the United States and as Cubans have so much to share with one another. So much to learn from one another. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Alberto Lescay for his artistry and his work. He is a legend and someone that I have come to admire greatly as a fellow artist. I want to thank all those who were involved in making this project come to life. Without the commitment of the people of Cuba and their representatives, this could not have been possible. I want to also thank our friends from the United States – those who are here today and those back home – who have been working tirelessly to improve relations between Cuba and the United States and who believe despite all the obstacles placed before them that a better world is possible.
In the past few days, we have visited dance schools and witnessed spectacular performances. Attended a dazzling world premiere ballet jazz concert at the National Theater that brought us to our feet. We were moved by a rich discussion on race at the Martin Luther King Center. And we snapped and clapped and danced with local artists. One of the highlights of the visit was was the Haydee Santamaria Medal award ceremony at the Casa de las Americas 65th anniversary honoring Alice Walker. It was a very moving tribute to a friend of the Cuban people and an American Pulitzer Prize winning novelists, poet and human rights activist. Each one of these events we attended is in and of itself an act of defiance. A testament to the human spirit. That despite all the pressure that Cuba has to endure due to the embargo, it continues to pulsate, it continues to survive and in some ways to even thrive.
Today we are surrounded by the spirit of resilience of both Hughes and Guillen. Their words provide us with a blueprint for the way forward. They were two men from different countries. Spoke different languages. Yet saw the world, not as a Cuban or an American, but as human beings longing for the same dreams, hopes and desires. They both fought for racial justice. They both fought against inequality. And they both fought against economic imperialism. My brothers and sisters. Hermanos y Hermanas today we – as cultural warriors are called upon to pick up their call for social justice where they left off. To manifest a new reality. One that transcends the political and one that is grounded in humanity and love.
We came here less than a week ago with an open heart and an open mind, but we will leave with our hearts full, our minds focused and ready to carry with us this magnificent message of peace. We will not let our differences outweigh our common goals knowing we are on the righteous path and that our defiance of the current political reality, our very presence, is in itself already a victory.
– Andy Shallal