"This is a celebration of our common music, heritage and history, because there have been links throughout time," says Pamela Pennywell about the new, week-long AfricAmericas
festival of culture and the arts at the intersection of Africa and Latin America, May 6-11. "We want to make it clear to everyone that we are connected in so many ways and we find it easiest to identify those links when we do it through the arts."
Pennywell is development and events manager for the Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association (YMWAHA), which is collaborating with Coro Latinoamericano-Pittsburgh (COROLA), the Latino choir, to offer film screenings, art exhibitions and workshops in Oakland and the Northside.
The event is supported in part by the Social Innovation Exchange (SiX), an initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation led by Pop City and The Sprout Fund, after a SiX gathering last October resulted in Sprout's Fostering Multicultural Collaboration Initiatives to fund projects that create new joint community programs between diverse cultural groups.
Kenya Dworkin, executive director of COROLA, is Africamericas' principle organizer. She points out that Latinos are the fastest growing minority in America, but African Americans are still the largest minority. "These are communities who don't understand each other and are suspicious of each other," Dworkin says. For one, African Americans are applying U.S. racial categories to Latinos that Latinos don't relate to. But behind the confusion are cultural associations that connect the two groups in many ways. "The bridges we're building are through the culture and the arts," she says.
In fact, the more Pennywell learned about the links between the cultures, and the wide diversity among Latinos, she says, the more she "thought it was exciting and something I wanted to bring back to our youth.
"Our young people need to clearly understand the kinds of advantages they have here," she adds, "because it's not something everyone has." Indeed, AfricAmericas will have a special emphasis on the state of Africans in Cuba, opening with “Crossing Havana,” a photography exhibit exploring black life in Havana. So-called "Afro-Cubans," Pennywell says, "are going through what we went through 100 years ago with 'mulattos': if you have one drop of African blood in you …" you are subject to prejudice in housing, employment and education.
Several of the films document what happened to members of the Independent Party of Color in Cuba 100 years ago, or follow Cuban residents to illustrate their challenges. Others draw a portrait of English-speaking West African immigrants in Cuba and the African influences on two Latin American musical genres. There will be four workshops on the steel pan drum, African-Latin dance, African-Latin percussion and African-Cuban arts, music and dance (in Spanish). A fifth workshop features a panel from the international literary arts organization City of Asylum on civil rights in Cuba.
AfricAmericas is also supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Humanities and many departments at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Robert Morris University. The events, held at YMWAHA, the University Center at CMU, the Frick Fine Arts Building auditorium at Pitt and at City of Asylum, are all free, but reservations are required for the latter event on May 8 and the workshops on May 11.
Writer: Marty Levine
Sources: Pamela Pennywell, YMWAHA; Kenya Dworkin, COROLA; Sandra Hartkopf, Sprout