Saturday, June 25

Brazil: CubaneCuir, the archive that aspires to reunite the LGTBI memory of Cuba and exile | Culture


This photograph of Cuban drag queen Bobby de Castro, taken by Armand, a famous photographer, is one of the pieces in the CubaneCuir archive.
This photograph of Cuban drag queen Bobby de Castro, taken by Armand, a famous photographer, is one of the pieces in the CubaneCuir archive.CubaneCuir.

Librada González Fernández is a 27-year-old Cuban-American who a couple of years ago began to collect documents that portray the life of the LGTBI community in Cuba and in exile. The result is an archive, baptized as CubaneCuir, which already includes 400 pieces including books, photographs, postcards, videotapes, newspapers, testimonies, etc. that include six decades of Castroism and also include the times of Fulgencio Batista. González explains, in a video call from New York, that he wants to document daily life, achievements and joys in addition to repression. He participated on Wednesday the 9th in a debate on LGTBI files at the Moreira Salles Institute in São Paulo in connection with the exhibition of the photographer Madalena Schwartz, who in the seventies photographed the transvestite scene of the Brazilian metropolis.

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González, who arrived in Miami at the age of 11 with his mother, a brother and a man’s name, was inspired by the Trans Memory Archive in Argentina, which will also be represented at the IMS debate. “In Cuba I learned to be who I am and in the United States I opened my eyes to queer“, He says. And he says that the idea of ​​the archive began to germinate from his visits to the public library after moving to New York. “I did a search for Cuba queer And I found Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas, and little else, ”he says in reference to the book of the Cuban writer expelled from his homeland for being homosexual who committed suicide in exile. “I found it very transphobic and racist, although I loved the book,” he says. Then the need arose to look for documents that portrayed the trans from his own gaze, not that of third parties.

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By November 2019 the archive was born. He decided to call it CubaneCuir, a name that combines his non-binary compatriots (who do not identify as women or men) and the Spanishization of the word queer, which in English can mean weird, fag or gay.

Months before he had returned to the island for the first time and there he witnessed the violent police repression on May 11, 2019 of a demonstration in defense of LGTBI rights in response to the prohibition of the Cuban version of the gay pride parade, the Conga against homophobia. On that visit he personally met many of the people trans whom he had dealt with in Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp groups. The violent dissolution of that protest gave birth to new groups in networks with hundreds of members, he says.

For her, Cuba can only be understood from the sum of the island and exile. Although a good part of the documents have been donated by Cuban-Americans in New York, in January 2020, shortly before the pandemic paralyzed the world, he traveled to Cuba again with the idea of ​​collecting more material. It was his second trip since he left, the first had been a year before.

This photograph of Nomi Ramírez, with several friends in Santa Clara in 2005, is also part of the archive collected by Librada González.
This photograph of Nomi Ramírez, with several friends in Santa Clara in 2005, is also part of the archive collected by Librada González.CubaneCuir.

As he began to collect the pieces, a bittersweet feeling grew. Some people you have approached are surprised by your interest in saving everyday objects or small mementos of past glories. She explains that the photographs of Bobby de Castro, a transvestite who triumphed in the fifties, taken by Armand, a famous photographer, came into her hands because when the artist died of AIDS, in the eighties in Miami, her mother did not want to keep it. You gave it to someone you prefer not to identify who has now donated it to CubaneCuir.

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It also treasures “the traumatic document” in which in 1971 the regime made homosexuality official as a disease within the framework of the first Congress of Education and Culture, a clandestine bulletin distributed in Havana in the nineties that explains how to prevent AIDS, a queer publication called Huellas or the only film with a television performance by Bernie Brandall, who fled Cuba in the late 1940s to succeed as a transvestite artist in the United States and other countries.

The Chinese-Cuban drag queen Musmé in the magazine 'Show' in January 1958.
The Chinese-Cuban drag queen Musmé in the magazine ‘Show’ in January 1958.CubaneCuir.

González, who makes a living as a window dresser after having studied dance and theater, has also heard that “why are you going to save that egg, they tell me”. But she insists that “all these things are heritage, they are history, and many of those people queer they don’t feel worthy ”of their belongings being part of an archive. In the same way that some are generous because they do not value objects as heritage, others instead entrust them with the care of objects. “Some make donations to me because I am the only one who has shown interest. It’s not that I’m a visionary, but it’s so obvious! ”Says this trans which keeps the archive in acid free boxes, folders and air conditioning.

The archive is currently in the phase of being cataloged and digitized. González dreams of the day that he can upload it to the Internet and make it available to anyone. Meanwhile, he prepares his next trip to the island. It is difficult for her to see her father because he does not want to know anything about her since she became Librada, a name she adopted for her references to freedom, for the bearded saint and in homage to a school teacher.

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