We are witnessing history. The events in Cuba and across South Florida will not be forgotten. This is not a political incident, this is a humanitarian one. Therefore we felt it was important to write about this history- in- the- making for anyone interested in learning more and for those who can not travel to Miami or Cuba.
In February this year, I entered my favorite place in Little Havana, Cuba Ocho, a museum art gallery and bar all in one. Immediately I noticed that the staff were wearing new t-shirts, black with white letters that screamed “Patria y Vida” (as pictured above). Knowing the owner well, a proud Cuban American and art collector, I knew this signaled something symbolic. Little did I know these were the tremors of a seismic movement to come.
The owner filled me on the new song created by Cuban artists. I recall feeling chills up my spine, Roberto ever the powerful storyteller who paints fantastic visuals with his words.
Patria y Vida is the slogan for the demonstrations rippling across Cuba, the Florida Straits to Miami. A rap song turned chant in cries for freedom.
It was not dissidents and exiles in Miami, or political activists in Cuba but artists (painters, poets, photographers, singers) that gave rise to the first major movement in Cuba since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
The creation of the song was the culmination of frustrations erupting from the Communist government’s tighter stranglehold on freedom of speech.
In 2018, the Cuban government passed Decree 349 where artists were required to seek authorization from the cultural ministry to paint, create songs, publish poetry, etc. This happened in the area of San Isidro. Why? Well as we know ART IS A FORM OF SPEECH and freedom of speech is not a right for Cubans. Artists, outraged by this new restriction, their only window to connect with the world closing, formed the San Isidro Movement or the MIS (Movimiento de San Isidro) as a form of protest. One of the notable members is a rapper named Denis Solis.
In August 2019, the MIS called for Cubans to post pictures of themselves wearing a Cuban flag on their shoulders and this was in response to the arrest of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, an MIS founding member and performing artist. (The painting on the right of the title image was created by Little Havana Cuban cartoonist Aristide, depicting Luis Manuel and the MIS movement).
In November 2020, ten members of the group staged a protest by locking themselves inside a house in San Isidro, protesting the arrest and incarceration of MIS member Denis Solis who had live streamed his arrest by Cuban police who illegally entered his home.
Cubans still in the grips of the pandemic, with no food, no medicine and no vaccine, had reached their breaking point. In February this year, Maykel Osorbo and “El Funky” Marquez secretly recorded verses for the song in Cuba (after dodging police from tailing them) and sent them to Youtel Romero and Duo de Gente here in Miami to get the track mixed in US. It was a seamless collaboration. Artists admired their Cuban counterparts for taking a risk. In fact when the song went live in Feb 2021, Osorbo was arrested in Cuba and detained more than 40 days before being released.
[YouTube Video of song Patria & Vida]
The title is a defiant twist on another slogan Patria y Muerte, heavily used by Fidel Castro in facing aggression against the U.S. The origins of the saying actually dates back to the war of independence when hero Jose Marti claimed “La patria es agonia y deber”, translated is “the Homeland is agony and duty” meaning we must die for our country. Castro’s abbreviated version became synonymous with communism for the past 60 years.
The lyrics are incredibly powerful making reference to cultural and historical events including the popular domino game. To learn more click here for an NPR article.
Who would have imagined that an artistic movement is driving the protests.
Who would have imagined that an artistic movement is challenging the government.
Will it be this artistic movement that causes real change for the people in Cuba?
We wait and see and pray for Cuba.
by Christine Michaels