By: Madeleine Sautié Rodríguez
One of the most intense nursery rhymes of all time speaks of the willingness to put a little love into ugly things. The lyrics, written and sung by the simpatico Teresita Fernandez, approve of the way something grotesque can become beautiful when loved. It is enough for it to find the sensitive side of the incongruities and to decide to change the letters that labeled it as such; it is the same if it is the wings of a cockroach taken by the solidarity of the ants in communion to the anthill; the deterioration of a basin or the fright that causes to see the wastes overflowed in a garbage dump.
As reality itself inspires a song, the song can refer us to other similar scenes. Such is the case of the theme of these lines, which have as a “stage” a real garbage dump that scourged the harmony of a matancera neighborhood, in the Pueblo Nuevo Popular Council, located in San Ignacio between San Francisco and San Juan Bautista. Four years ago the sad scene became a bad memory. The Project of Integration, Intervention and Sociocultural Transformation AfroatenAs, Alley of the Traditions, coordinated by MSc Yoelkis Torres, neighbor of the place, and a group of young people who joined him from the beginning made possible the metamorphosis of the place where an Alley was seen, that today many of the people who come to the City of the Bridges do not stop visiting.
“For several years a garbage dump affected five blocks -alley included- of this part of the city. It was the socially more damaged neighborhood of Matanzas. Here what there were were piles of remainders that occupied the front of the small houses. I was already tired of this being the first show when we opened our eyes and one day we summoned the neighbors and we began to do volunteer work in the place,” explains Granma Yoelkis, who had very clear since she dreamed it, that the project would necessarily be one of integration because the intention was to involve the community in favor of change through culture as a magic touch capable of transforming it.
The first actions to get rid of the garbage in the site showed from the beginning that the neighbors of the place could be counted on to give a new destination to the area. Yoelkis knew that it was necessary to found a project of intervention and socio-cultural accompaniment to strengthen the values of the community, inhabited by not a few dysfunctional families, and to increase the sense of belonging to the environment by pulling the strings of the spirit.
The team that led the idea, not without the usual bureaucratic obstacles and even others, marked by the pessimism that appears whenever there is something big to do, trusted in the possibilities of creating a different appearance, which would bring joy and dignity to the locals, and bet on the blessed “havoc” that culture could do, as a restoration process.
“We had to create useful spaces capable of achieving collective wellbeing and integrating people, with each one having a function here,” says the young engineer Yasset Campos, from the board of directors of the Callejón, as the project is usually called.
As a cultural space that promotes knowledge and social skills through courses and workshops, the Alley of Traditions is extended, a beautiful narrow and long passage, between several houses, whose owners know well their history because they have built it. To find out, all you have to do is get there and talk to them:
“For me, living today in the Alley of Traditions is a pride, because together we made this ugly and secluded place become what it is now, with those colors and drawings that identify us” says Juana García Zulueta, 67 years old, who everyone knows as the Godmother, because of her religious condition, as well as the “protection” she offers to the visitors in her own house, which is a kind of Alley Museum.
In the living room of the neighboring house, where the young mother Mariceli Domínguez Esquijeroza lives, there is an art gallery where works made by professional and amateur artists of the community are permanently exhibited. “I offered it to the project with pleasure. Those kids don’t deserve to be turned away,” she says, “and I love that my house takes care of those paintings that our people have made. Isaura, a nurse at the Family Clinic, located in the area, also spoke with Granma: “The project has changed our lives,” she explains. “Now people say: ‘I live in the Alley of Traditions. People have assimilated the process of identification.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE ALLEY?
The Alley is a party space. In the boarding that the own neighbors constructed they have acted, according to explains Yoelkis, the 16 groups carriers of traditions of Matanzas, that are expression of the alive tradition. The cultural atmosphere and of healthy amusement that create the performances of those groups that integrate almost always members of the same family, leave in the villagers the conviction that it is necessary to take care of it, that those walls adorned with beautiful graffiti in hardly a month, like a mural, where dissimilar allegorical motives have been shaped to the religions that are practiced in the neighborhood, and to the History of the Athens of Cuba, must remain intact so that the visitors, find an pleasant image that contrasts forever with what there was in its place.
El Callejón is recognized as the first community tourist product of Matanzas. It is a social, cultural and urban gain that generates income to revert it in the city itself. The project has contracts with the tourism agencies, so that by means of directed activities they attract the tourists towards the society and in turn these know the city inside. While they access history through the images in the mural, they enjoy a folkloric show, in which they end up singing and rumbaing.
Today, the Alley brings not only artistic value but also economic value to the development of the space. It is already part of the strategic plan of the new Office of the City Historian, as the central axis of change in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo.
BEHIND THE ALLEY
Without it having been easy – and with the support of the Municipal Direction of Culture, the Museum of the Slave Route, the Castle of San Severino, the House of Africa, the CIERIC – UNEAC, the Office of the Historian of the City of Matanzas, the Chair of Multicultural Studies Fernando Ortiz UMCC, and the Provincial Center of Prevention of ITS/HIV/AIDS and of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation COSUDE – today it is another air also spiritual that is breathed.
Today, in a population that is mostly vulnerable, many valuable effects allow the recovery of historical memory, the elevation of self-esteem, the consolidation of cultural identity and the generation of social cohesion. In order to put into practice all that has been dreamed of, the project works to consolidate a new community consciousness, opens its doors to the children of all ages of Pueblo Nuevo and works to solve many of their dissatisfactions.
This may seem like one more label than what any humanitarian undertaking is supposed to do, but the facts speak for themselves and take the form of results. The creation of a Virtual Library Specialized in Anthropology; the multiple works aimed at the prevention of STIs-HIV-AIDS; the Research on Traditional Popular Culture, presented in different national and international events, from workshops given; the obtaining of the Living Memory Award 2013; the permanent rescue of traditions, the creation of a barbershop in the Alley’s headquarters, the celebration of peñas to honor figures of the national culture such as Beraldo Alzola; the implementation of the Agricultural-Environmental Reforestation project for the Pueblo Nuevo Popular Council are, among many others, concrete possibilities of personal realization for those who know how to take advantage of them.
Today, Pueblo Nuevo not only dresses in a long skirt and dusts its face to look better. The issue comes from within. El Callejón de las Tradiciones, while inviting your children to venerate it, offers them work, responsibility, acceptance and respect. The people who inhabit it know how to be grateful and respond to it from the humility, solidarity and humanism that always flourishes if it is cultivated with such a careful dose of love.