Casa de las Américas - an insight into Cuban life

Clichés about Cuba abound: cigars, vintage American cars and, of course, the music. However, much less is known about daily life in the country, says Subject Librarian Anne Melles. Now we can know a lot more.

The Orden Ana Betancourt medal was awarded to Haydée
 Santamaría among others in 1975
A new database, Cuban culture and cultural relations, 1959-, offers some fascinating insights into cultural activities in Cuba through the archives of the Casa de las Américas.

The Casa de las Américas is a cultural institution which came to play a significant role in the cultural life of Cuba. It was founded just months after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 by Haydée Santamaría, one of a number of women who were active in the Cuban Revolution. In contrast to many of the men they fought alongside and who are now household names, the lives of the “heroines of the revolution” (Byron, 2007, p. 142) remain largely unknown outside Cuba. This database is a reflection of some of the work that they continued after the Revolution.

The Casa de las Américas supported and encouraged cultural activities, and hosted a diverse range of activities from exhibitions of national and Latin American art, visits of foreign delegations, concerts by Latin American musicians such as Mercedes Sosa, workshops of local crafts, café conversatorios (book readings and discussions), and talks by well-known authors for example, Alejo Carpentier. In addition the Casa contained a library, published a journal, and offered the prestigious Casa de las Américas Literary Prize.

The database contains almost 45,000 documents from the archives including newspaper articles on a range of topics, information on libraries and literary activities in Latin American countries, and records of the daily running of the institution. Through the documents runs a strong sense of the importance of the work at the Casa de las Americas, not just as a centre of culture but through active engagement with cultural groups in Latin America and the world. These things were not merely additions to social life but essential; “un pueblo sin teatro es un pueblo sin cultura” (a country without theatre is a country without culture). 

The photo at right, (from the Recortes de prensa, 1975, 1981 collection) shows the recipients of the Orden Ana Betancourt in 1975, including Haydée Santamaría, and the US activist, Angela Davis.

The purchase of the database was made possible through the Ada Booth Benefaction.

Access Cuban culture and cultural relations, 1959-  here.
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