Today, I took a trip to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. I always look forward to visiting the site because it is also home to many other important landmarks like USC, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center (home of the Space Shuttle Endevour), and the rose garden.
I had been planning to see the exhibit AFRODESCENDIENTES; PHOTOGRAPHER ROBERTO CHILE IN GUANABACAO, CUBA for weeks now. Though the exhibit counts on only a hand full of images, Chile’s black and white portraits of the island’s afrocubanos make the visit worthwhile. Chile captures personalities comfortably dressed in their brown and black-clothed-skin. Through Chile’s lens, we are witness to the ongoing legacy of African culture: dress, dance, religion, community, and family.
Though Cuba may have its share of internal racial issues (racism is a theme in the film “Barrio Cuba”, for example), it’s no secret that most citizens have a strong connection to its three racial foundations: indigenous, European, and African. According to the exhibit some 32 to 73 percent of cubanos trace lineage to Africa. I had a Cuban friend tell me once, “En Cuba, todo mundo dice que tiene sangre africana.” (In Cuba, everyone says they have African blood). This idea of a racial unity seemed to be part of the fraternal cultural identity that the post-revolutionary regime wanted to exalt. Roberto Chile’s photographs express this beautifully.
Chile “rescues” African culture. I say “rescue” because that’s what it looks like from an American point-of-view. Our North American society would want to hide black history and culture rather than revere it. Needless to say, the exhibit is grand. The photographs become a window into history, beauty, politics, and – simply – humanity. It is a visit to CAAM worth making.
For more information about the California African American Museum: Click here