VIVA series showcases Cuban food and music

After struggling with low membership in the past two years, VIVA, a student organization that focuses on Spanish language and Latin American culture, made its campus presence known by hosting the VIVA Cultural Series: Cuba event last Monday, Jan. 28.

The event, which hosted around sixty people, showcased cultural, musical and political aspects of Cuba, in an effort to celebrate its unique qualities and illuminate some misconceptions about the country.

Vice president of VIVA, senior Emilia Poor, spoke about the goal of the Cultural Series. She explained their plan to continue exploring Spanish-speaking countries’ cultures, by showcasing the differences between them.

Poor said, “Basically, we wanted to explore other countries and bring the differences [to light] and [show their] uniqueness…to show people it’s not just Hispanic culture, there are specific differences [between] these cultures.”

The event featured informal trivia games, recipes, dance instruction and a presentation about the politics and history of Cuba.

The event also showcased Afro-Cuban music, performed by the Tambotoké ensemble and led by instructor of jazz studies, Jose Encarnación.

In his introduction to the performance, he informed attendees how Cuban music had influenced jazz music at large, by infusing Afro-Cuban styles with established American styles during the 1930s and 40s, especially in New York City.

The rhythmic performances featured both the Yambú and Batá styles of Rumba music. For the Yambú piece, the performers used crate-like boxes, an allusion to the fruit crates and boxes that former Cuban slaves used to create their own music when drums were outlawed in post-slavery Cuba, where officials feared music as a form of resistance.

“[This style] gives an opportunity to the older people to dance. It’s slower but they can still strut their stuff,” joked ensemble member junior Eli Edelman, who introduced the piece.

The Batá piece featured a combination of voice, drums and movement. Its lively nature was a crowd favorite, including that of VIVA advisor and Associate Professor of Spanish and Italian Patricia Vilches.

Said Vilches, “I liked everything…but the music was just [great]…I loved Jose when he talked about the Cuban musicians coming together with American musicians.” She added jokingly, ”It would be a good thing if it worked in politics!”

The event also provided information about Cuba’s history and government. In a slideshow, attendees were educated about the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro’s impact on the country and the current situation under current President Raúl Castro.

Poor attributed the differences between how Cuba might conceptualize democracy and how the United States does as a point of possible misunderstanding.

“What is democracy? It is voting or is it something else? That’s something to think about,” stated Poor, after citing the fact that Cuba has consistently had an above 90 percent voting rate.

This helped to illustrate the overall goal of the Cultural Series in adding to cultural awareness and understanding.

Said senior and VIVA president Osbani Garcia, “Given the fact that recently we’ve been having some issues with controversies in terms of ethnicity and race, I feel like if we get to know more about other cultures, we can bridge those differences and try to get two groups of people to get along by learning about each other.”

The event closed by moving to the Diversity Center for some classic Cuban food including empanadas, pollo asado, rice and beans and a drink called morir sonañdo. VIVA will continue their Cultural Series in the coming terms, with plans to feature Peru, Columbia, Argentina and Venezuela.