By: Dr. Jesus Guanche. Hebei University of Foreign Studies – People’s Republic of China
In one of many visits to the city of Matanzas to assess the work on the African legacy in the Cuban culture, as part of the UNESCO project The Slave Route, first as coordinator of the Cuban Committee since 1994 and between 2011-2015 as Member of the International Scientific Committee, I learned about the hard work done in the matancero neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo in what has later become The Alley of Traditions. An initially dilapidated space that its residents, with the guidance and enthusiasm of today’s Master Yoelkis Torres Tápanes, have been building and have been able to move towards sustainability, a task much sought after by other socio-cultural projects.
Later, during my participation as a professor in the Master’s program in historical studies and socio-cultural anthropology of Cuba at the University of Cienfuegos, which was successfully completed by Yoelkis, I learned in detail all that they have worked to sow and harvest, step by step, the fruits to continue forward.
It is very true that all this takes intense management and knowing how to knock on many doors so that ideas and proposals are opened and passed on. Misunderstandings, mistrust and doubts are also true, but in the end it is necessary to have the tenacity and demonstrative capacity that, with the commitment of enthusiastic people, can always be counted on. This Alley has been the scene of countless manifestations, both the charming rumba matancera of the neighborhood and the one brought from the deep rurality that sounds different, but it is as rumba as the city one. Who would have thought then that rumba has been first declared cultural heritage of the Cuban nation and then it has reached the recognition of world heritage?
El Callejón has served as headquarters and general production in Cuba for Timbalaye’s annual rumba tour and has contributed to socializing this manifestation in very diverse places in the country. With the rumba and as part of it, artistic expressions of the Cuban religions of African roots have paraded through the Alley, from their most rational carriers to the new generations that make these practices their own. All this has facilitated international cooperation and national recognition.
From the heart of the Alley, new proposals have come out so that the rational manifestations of the Cuban culture in Matanzas have been recognized with the Prize Memoria Viva, conferred annually by the Cuban Institute of Cultural Research Juan Marinello of the Ministry of Culture. No matter that it is a symbolic and moral prize, the importance lies in the fact that the living patrimonial goods, those that combine knowledge and doings of many generations, must be protected and safeguarded from oblivion and laziness, so that the sense of cultural continuity goes on in new carriers. This is a very laudable way of defending the nation from amnesia, an issue that is extremely topical at this time. It is also a source of pride for those who have dedicated so many years of work and for the authorities who have supported them.
At times like these, with the change of era that the 21st century has implied, with the implementation of world policies characteristic of globalizing neo-liberalism and at the same time flattening identities, in the face of banality as a passive existential attitude and in the face of the sombre conception of living “the here and now”, a socio-cultural project like this represents the opposite.
El Callejón de las Tradiciones achieves the harmonious combination of history and memory, which means preserving a dynamic and changing cultural identity, which recognizes the rich cultural diversity of the country, one of its great strengths, and makes it known to an audience of its own and to other countries.
With regard to memory, let us remember that tradition, although it is nourished by past experience; that is, its historical reference, is not sustained in the past, but is projected in the present/future dimension. This implies a constant renewal and evaluation without blurring its raison d’être.
For this reason, the Alley of Traditions has creatively incorporated new information and communication technologies, has been placed in sites of international interest (in various languages), especially those associated with cultural tourism such as Tripadvisor to evaluate its quality and performance, along with a high presence on the Web.
They have demonstrated that, without losing their memory, with a strong dose of creativity, it is possible to do sustainable community work and to involve the population that benefits, while at the same time participating intensely in giving it a sense of continuity to confirm that the Alley of Traditions of the Afro-Atena Integration, Intervention, and Socio-Cultural Transformation Project is a national reference and is very well positioned in other latitudes.