By: Raúl Soublet

During the last weeks I was visiting the province of Matanzas, where for the first time I was staying for several days, falling in love with this city that has been rejuvenated by its 325 years of foundation. The reason for my presence there was the invitation I received from the AfroAtenas community project, under the direction of activist Yoelkis Torres, whom I already had the pleasure of meeting through social networks, but thanks to our ancestors, I was able to meet him in person.

I participated in the ¨Taller Capacity Building for Citizenship: Families, Rights and LGBTIQ Activism+¨ where I took advantage of the opportunity to learn in detail about everything that happens within the AfroAtenas project and its surroundings. Below, I will show you a brief interview I took with this young matancero.

Who is Yoelkis Torres?
He is nothing more than a young man with dreams, illusions, strong ideals and conceptions. A social and cultural activist, defender of the identity coming from Africa and its diaspora. Someone who trusts in the change of the human being (…) Yoelkis is a musician, poet and declared crazy many times (laughs)

When and why did AfroAthens arise?
It arises in September 2009, in the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo, with a principle directed to the Afro-Cuban religions and their safeguard from the traditions lost in the city. It changed its perspective because it could not be a religious project and became a socio-cultural project to rescue traditions with the peculiarity of being directed and from a group of the LGBTIQ+ matancera community.

What is the objective of the AfroAthens?
To contribute through community work in its participatory approach to the cultural, social and economic development of the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood by strengthening the identity values of the city of Matanzas, integrating voices and actions in social activism for diversity and happiness through dialogue, intervention and urban socio-cultural transformation with a gender equity perspective, which will enable it to reach levels of progress in energizing the Popular Council, traditional popular culture, endogenous development, environment and new economic and productive forms, rights and democracy, sources of employment, heritage – art and identity. Non gender violence and non-discrimination, human empowerment and capacity building, strengthening of LGBTIQ+ groups, media – promotion, audiovisuals and ICTs.

What has been the impact of AfroAthens’ work?
AfroAthens have had an impact on urban transformation, on capacity building, on local development options with an equity perspective, and on the methodology applied in many of the country’s projects. In the rescue of traditions and research aimed at them. Awarded since 2013 year after year by the Juan Marinello Research Institute for Culture.

What are the main activities of the project?
The annual activities, which are like event plans based on the general culture of the neighborhood. I highlight in them the burning of the San Juan on June 23rd since 2012, being carried out every year. While maintaining a program the 2nd and 4th week of each month, in sessions of film night, Mexican nights, afternoons rumberas, night of boleros and downloads, radio bases among other activities.

Knowing that our society is under the umbrella of a macho culture, where the bases come from a patriarchal system, being aware of this how has been the relationship between the community and project members that puts on the table to discuss issues such as respect and recognition of sexual diversity, racial issues, how has that process been?
The process was a matter of listening, trusting and doing. When they saw what was happening around them, that they started doing things that were pushing for change, the relationships were becoming more flexible, you could already see considerable acceptance, but more than acceptance it was confidence and security. We touch on these issues because we live in the community, because we know that these issues must be taken into account to bring about change in society. There was resistance, but that is normal, but when there is commitment and you are always moving forward, nothing stops you.

I would like you to tell the readers of AfroCuba lgbtiq+, some anecdote, something that has happened to you and that is always present with you, that defines you as the person you are now.
One of the many things that have happened to me, what marked me most was having won the first Living Memory Award in 2013 and before that my most energetic connection was meeting Sandra Hernández Moncada at Casa de África, who I consider to be my black mother, who trusted me from the very first moment by introducing me to every person who had to deal with the subject of blackness in her entire diaspora. She gave me tools and ideas to get where I am today and who, despite not being physically there, is like my guardian angel, since one does not always have the possibility of meeting one.

To finish this first part, because I know you have many things to tell, for all your career as an activist, would you like to give us a piece of advice?
Of course I would (laughs) Persevere, insist, fight to the bitter end for dreams and ideals in spite of any adversity.

Thank you very much Yoelkis for giving us these words and the fight for respect and recognition of our rights continues, we will continue to fight for political, economic and social inclusion.
Callejón De Las Tradiciones Matanzas | Facebook

Twitter ‘ TorresYoelkis
Yoelkis torres (@TorresYoelkis) | Twitter


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