Feit Spotlights Cuban Women Writers

Twenty years ago, five courageous women came together and created an anthology because of what set them apart.  They were women in a man’s publishing industry.  They were Cubans in the U.S.  They were living in New York – which helped.  In addition, they were poets – writing the least popular form of literature.  However, what made them different and valiant was that they were writing in Spanish – at a time when Hispanic American children were, raised speaking English and when their parents spoke in their native tongue their classmates asked, “What’s wrong with your mom?”

Despite these obstacles the five women, Magaly Alabau, Alina Galliano, Iraida Iturralde, and two of Baruch’s professors, Maya Islas and Lourdes Gil, published the bilingual anthology of poems, Cuban Women Poets in New York: A Brief Anthology.  It was a success – in both languages.  And on Friday, March 12th 2010, in celebration of Women’s History Month, Baruch hosted the 20th anniversary commemoration.

We college students love free food and this did not disappoint.  This one-day conference, Poetas Cubanas de Nueva York: 20 Años de una Breve Antología (Cuban Poets of New York: 20 Years of a Brief Anthology), was organized and presented by the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature of Baruch College in collaboration with the Cuban Cultural Center of New York and included breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee and an evening reception.

It was a full turnout in lecture room VC 7-150 with both faculty and students helping to honor these five pioneering women.  After coffee, doughnuts and some morning mingling between the authors and the Baruch community the event officially began.  Illuminated in the glow of the wall-size Cuban Women Poets in New York book cover, Weissman School of Arts & Sciences Dean Dr. Jeffrey Peck opened the event with welcoming words. 

The first section of the program was a panel presentation with lecturers Professor Perla Rozencvaig of Columbia University, author Odette Alonso of Universidad Autónoma de México and Professor Elena Martínez of Baruch College who shared their insights on the works of these five women writers.  The panel was moderated by Professor Ana María Hernández of CUNY LaGuardia Community College.

Following the panel presentation, the entire group of audience and presenters retired to the conference room of Modern Languages for a delicious buffet lunch of Latin and Caribbean fare.  It was a lively gathering where the students, faculty, authors, and sponsors had the opportunity to exchange ideas. 

After lunch, the five poets reminded us why they were so inspiring by reading their poems aloud.  This segment captured the full circle of their journey; on the projector screen normally reserved for PowerPoint slides and lecture notes a video of the five poets reading when the Anthology was first published in 1990 played silently.  Against this backdrop Alabau, Galliano, Gil, Islas, and Iturralde graced the crowd in VC 7-150 with a live reading.

One at a time, each had her moment to shine.  Seated at the front table facing the audience they read their poems, their presence coming into sharp focus against the images of their former selves.

To thank them, Baruch College Spanish Majors and Minors, Kelly Cardona, Navil Báez, Omar Mohamed, Natalia Pardo Becerra and Kathryn Martell, presented their perspectives on the poetry as well as bouquets of roses to these women writers who accepted the flowers with joyful tears.

After the touching performances, all in attendance unwound with coffee and commingling.  Soon everyone was refueled and ready for more.  Fortunately Baruch Professor and CUNY PhD student Mabel Cuesta was happy to indulge the audience with a presentation of her paper, Cuban Poets of New York: Indomitable Passengers in the Chariot of the Sun or Poetas cubanas de Nueva York: Pasajeras indómitas en el carro del sol.

The last performance of the day was a recital of Canto a la mujer by pianist Gilberto Pérez-Lavastida and tenor Mariano Vidal that was sponsored by the Music Program of the Cuban Cultural Center of New York, and was supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.  The program concluded with refreshments at a reception where the revelry lasted until 8:30 P.M. in celebration of the successful event.  The food was delicious, the talks were insightful, and the culture was enriching.

This was all made possible by the Paul André Feit Memorial Fund – a gift of the Feit family to the Weissman School – which sponsors Latin American and Caribbean lectures and events as well as supports cultural trips for Baruch students.  Every year the Fund sponsors a major event.  The inaugural event sponsored in 2008 was a lecture and seminar by Dr. Alberto Sandoval, distinguished scholar and Professor of Spanish at Mount Holyoke College.  Dr. Marjorie Agosín, Spanish professor at Wellesley College, on the topic of Jewish Latin American Literature, delivered the Second Annual Paul André Feit Memorial Lecture.  The event was co-sponsored by ASEDOM (The Dominican Student Association) and Hillel at Baruch.

Other events included a lecture by Dr. Juan Flores, Sociologist and professor at NYU on the topic of Afro-Latinos/Latinas in the United States.  Black and Hispanic Studies Professor Vilna Treitler organized it in collaboration with Professor Elena Martínez.  In early March Guadelupean filmmaker Ms. Mariette Montpierre spoke about her creative process and the representation of Caribbean Diasporas in her films.

There are already more fabulous events in the works for this fall.  Students interested in information or organizing events may contact the coordinator for the Paul André Feit Memorial Lecture Series at Baruch, Chairperson Dr. Elena Martínez.

Faculty and students at Baruch are extremely grateful to the Feit family for their continued support of Latin American and Caribbean events.  The Paul André Feit Memorial Fund provides a unique opportunity to the Baruch Community to deepen their knowledge of Latin American and Caribbean cultures.

By Kathryn Martell

The City University of New York