Hola chicas!
Yesterday we spent some time in old Havana with some new friends. I first learned of Gloria Rolando on Afro Cuba Web after some creative Google searching. I reached out on FB and received a response within 24 hours! She was interested in meeting me and sharing a bit about herself with the CN fam. She’s a renowned filmmaker and documentarian who works to piece together Afro-Cuban history and produce positive images of black Cubans.
She maintains that Africans have made substantial contributions to Cuban culture and that she feels a responsibility to show that Afro-Cubans are more than ‘rumba dancing and cigar smoking (which are well-worn stereotypes). Since Gloria and her family believe that there’s not been an appreciation for the fullness of the African contribution to Cuban history,–

she’s made it her life’s mission to document that history and change those images. Her latest documentary, ‘Dialog With My Grandmother’ continues in that vein.

Me with Gloria (white), Sasha (their doggie), Magaly (sister) Aida (cousin)

In it, she shares conversations she recorded with her grandmother, Sessia, back in 1993. Although she passed away in 1999, the legacy she left behind lives on in her grandchildren, great grandchildren and now in this documentary. In it, we learn about her life, her goals and what she experienced during the revolution. Yesterday we met Gloria after a press conference she held for the premier of her newest documentary. She was tired but said it was very well received! Today, she’s working to have it translated for English subtitles as well. Finally, I asked her what she wanted the CN community to know about Afro-Cubans. She said, ‘I want them to know that we are many’. 

Of course, over dinner we had to talk about hair! Before I arrived from the U.S., Gloria told me to bring some hair products if I could. After my few short days here, I understand why.  Their only options for hair products are a few Brazilian brands, which she doesn’t think are particularly effective. Furthermore, Gloria simply can’t afford to use oils on her hair due to the limited rations. Whatever oil they have, is better used for cooking rather than for haircare. So I did what I could and brought her a few products from my personal stash.

Trying to explain the LOC method

Gia playing while we talked

Gloria found this in a tourist shop and bought it cause she couldn’t believe the imagery

the view from Gloria’s home!

after chatting at the house, we took a walk to find some dinner!

This morning, I also met with Maritza Lopez. She welcomed us into her home, which also happens to be the unofficial Afro-Cuban headquarters for her neighborhood, Balcon Aramao. The neighborhood is on the outskirts of Havana City, making it difficult to access various services and resources. Because of this, she’s established a community network to educate, inspire and raise funds to support the small businesses of the neighborhood. They help 4000 people each year. One project that is close to her heart is their natural hair initiative. Each week in their community house, they teach women of all ages about ‘their roots and the importance of being Black.’ They cover topics like traditional Afro-Cuban hair care techniques and how they compare to hair care today.

 According to Maritza, “the beauty industry is not focused on our hair or our skin. Rather the beauty industry is focused on the white, straight hair aesthetic.”

She also said that in this new economy they [Afro Cubans] continue to have little leverage and little or no capital. So they are working together as a community to raise and re-invest their money in small businesses.
She and her sister, Moraemo, plan to open a hair care salon that not only provides services but also teaches women to care for their own hair.

Later Gators,

Maritza, her sister, Moraemo, me and their family friend and interpreter, Lillian. She’s in law school!

Want to donate to Gloria and Martiza’s efforts! Click HERE!

More from our visit!