Here are just a few excerpts (from excerpts shared through Ear to the Ground) from Kaushalya Bannerji’s excellent presentation on Gloria Rolando’s work at the Berkshires Women’s History Conference in 2014.
This is a piece whose purpose is to reflect on and and pay tribute to the work of Gloria Rolando, whose commitment to Afro-Cuban history and to the notion of culture as resistance to forces of oppression and hegemonic amnesia, make her films both contextually important and necessary; as histories whose details and meanings lie unexplored— are revealed— to have great importance in the project of nation-building and its connection to national memory.
For example, Gloria’s commitment to unearthing the truth about the PIC — the western hemisphere’s first black party in 1908-1912, the Partido Independiente de Color (PIC)— and by extension, painting a picture of black every day life, has much to teach us. This commitment has been an outgrowth of her work on Assata Shakur and the Black Panther Party immediately preceding her research on the PIC since the late 1990s. Her 2001 Roots of My Heart and the current trilogy of films, 1912: Breaking the Silence: on the PIC— are only part of her vast body of work as Director and Assistant Director at ICAIC and Imagenes del Caribe.
Her work is especially crucial in my view, as we see the resurgence of a racialized tourist industry in Cuba where the old trope of “good appearance” is a mask for the demands for white and light-skinned representatives of Cuba to interact with the foreign public, while cleaners, manual labourers, gardeners and grill cooks, augmented by some entertainment staff are comprised of black Cubans. This 2 tiered hierarchy is so apparent to the outsider, that many do not realize what an achievement it actually had been to extend free public education, health care and public infrastructure and goods and services to blacks and whites alike, through the heady days of the Revolution which came to an abrupt halt with the demise of the Soviet Union. Remittances also separate white and black populations in Cuba as the vast majority of migrants who have left the island and are in a position to send money back to the island are of white Cuban background.
George Lamming, in the introduction to Walter Rodney’s “History of the Guyanese Working Peoples”, spoke of the ways in which colonized peoples in the Caribbean and the Americas “re-humanized” the landscape of dispossession and colonial violence through “human sensuous activity” (Marx)— that is— activity of the senses and material life. The transformative power of action whether in the cane fields or the construction of plantations, railroads, cultural practices is dual-edged in this sense— labour transforms the individual who performs it while simultaneously transforming the material environment and social relations.
Thus, Gloria’s work is part of a centuries old practice of “re-humanization” as resistance. As a people’s historian who presents the past as the basis for learning and reflection, Gloria’s documentaries paint a rich picture of a truly diverse Caribbean, in which resistance to hegemony and homogeneity are portrayed by her subjects, whether Jamaican descendants in Ciego de Avila or Cuban fisher people in the Caiman islands, or the FBI’s most wanted female “terrorist”, Assata Shakur.
This resistance that Gloria participates in comes from a tradition of rich intellectual and socio-economic analyses as well as social activism provided by Afro-descended peoples between and across the Caribbean and Americas. [. . .]