Nicomedes Santa Cruz’s Influence on Society
Throughout the years, Latin America has been known to deny that they come from African roots, but accept their European roots. There are whole populations out there that are completely mixed and they deny their blackness and prefer to identify with their European/Caucasian side instead. Since the beginning of time, the mixing of races has been seen through the lenses of a predominantly white perspective. Until recent years, this matter had not been brought to the attention of society itself and therefore requires the recognition of an identity crisis that must be dealt with. Many people such as poets and actors have brought awareness of this matter to the Latin American community, but one in particular is known for doing so especially within his Afro Peruvian community and that person is Nicomedes Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz grew up knowing that he came from Black ancestors. His grandmother would tell him stories about how his family came from slavery and how they escaped it. He looks up to his family especially his mother who would sing decimas around the house. Decimas are songs that came from slaves and it tells a story. (Poeta de America) He wasn’t very much involved in Black awareness in his society during his early years because he dropped out of school at eleven years old and became a blacksmith since that was considered a good career path. He worked many years in that industry and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t till one day that he met Don Porfirio Vásquez a community man whose home was a place where black poets met. (Feldman 86) At that moment, Santa Cruz’s eyes opened up and he realized that that was what he needed to be doing.
Santa Cruz was seen as one of the first well known intellectuals to bring awareness to the Afro-Latino movement. He started what is called an Afro-Peruvian Revolution. Starting with his own people first and then moving on to the rest of Latin America. His works caught the attention of many people because he not only wrote poems, but also plays and decimas. (Vogeley 77) The source of his inspiration came from the work of Nicolas Guillén, an Afro-Cuban poet who is noted as the first Cuban intellectual that started the Afro-Latino movement as a whole and worked to bring awareness to Black-Latin culture. Since that happened, Santa Cruz was able to put a mixture of all the things that he knew about Peruvian and Latin culture into one unity and mixed it with the Afro portion. The poem that best demonstrates this is Black Rhythms of Peru. Nicolas Guillén gave credit to Santa Cruz, implying that Santa Cruz’s work is valid and reflects the identity problems that Latino people face within their own society. (Valdiviezo)
Black rhythms of Peru is a poem that reflects the suffering of what it was to be a slave and then attempt to be a part of a society that doesn’t see black as beautiful. Mixing, in Latin society was accepted and praised, because it whitened the race, but it was only acceptable if it was a white male with a black female, not a white female with a black male. From this type of mixing occurred the race of mulattos or mixed babies. A poem that relates to this type of mixing is La Pelona which is a continuation of Black Rhythms of Peru. La Pelona discusses how a black woman came to the country of Peru, and now she doesn’t want to be with a black man, but with a white man. The black man makes fun of her for thinking that way. A Spanish writer named Nancy Vogeley analyzed Santa Cruz and his work and said that he writes poems with a tone of mockery to make fun at the fear of considering oneself as black and would rather consider themselves white even if their skin color tells a different story. His work, in her opinion, is satirical and comical when one sees more than the literal aspect to it. His poems attack identity situations just like people attack the black identity as if it were a virus that needs to be killed. (Vogeley 83)
In the past, on his search on finding more about being Afro-Latino, Santa Cruz went to Brazil. There he saw 4 statues next to each other; a Bandierante , Portuguese, Indian (Native), and Black. He saw that Brazil accepted the fact that they come from different places and were mixed. He started to think about himself and his people and how they have a similar story as well. After coming to the agreement that this is a fact and another country sees it as well, he was able to come to the conclusion that we are one race known as the human race and when he looked at a somebody he didn’t see color, but a normal human being. While visiting Brazil he was able to see the traditions and culture of Afro-Brazilians and he realized that there is more negritud in the world than he thought there was. (Valdiviezo) Professor M’bare N’gom who majors in African Studies said “Most studies on the cultural creation of Nicomedes Santa Cruz have focused on … recovery, valorization, and validation of the culture of Peruvians of African descent.” He noticed that in every work that Santa Cruz presented to society it had a purpose on showing both the present and the past of society and aimed for a change in society’s mentality as a whole. (Storino 22)
Santa Cruz knew people were mixed and knew that there was no such thing as one pure race and he wanted to get that across the minds of the people. His work had a strong effect on society and people recognized that it wasn’t just his words that had an effect, but his tone of voice as well. His half-sister, Victoria Santa Cruz said “When he spoke he made the whole room quiet and attentive.” She noticed how he effortlessly captivated a whole room to listen to him and saw the way he communicated and interacted with groups of people. She was able to note that he seemed like a leader and convinced the people of what he said to be true. All the hard work he accomplished behind the scenes for the success of his poems and plays he did without complaining and enjoyed it. He really wanted people to understand that the identity crisis along with the mix of races is a reality that demands recognition. (Poeta de America) The way he spoke and his work was what helped his idea of Afro-Latino being inserted into the mind of society. His passion was demonstrated in every reciting he did. His work enhanced the significance of what it is to be Black and to understand how beautiful it is. A journalist named Martha Ojeda seems to agree as well. She has seen how he makes black poetry appealing and very beautiful. She compared his literary work to those of Afro-mixed Caribbean poets and said that it is very similar. The only difference is that his poetry seems to enhance it in a way where it also shows the past of Black people with slavery, and the unfairness that was brought up with Indigenous people as well. (Ojeda 265)
Santa Cruz was able to be a part of two worlds, the artistic world and the political world. He was able to demonstrate the beauty of poetry by being able to combine real life situations with his own experience. In Black Rhythms of Peru, he talks about slavery through his grandmother’s eyes and tells it in a way that shows the suffering of being a slave, the tragic experiences that a slave has had to deal with, but also the beauty of escaping and being free with one’s identity. (Valdiviezo) He was also able to call out the flaws of society and politics when it came to race, similar to how the artistic aspects of calling out the unfairness and suffering in folklore appeared during slavery. Since he was inspired by Guillén, his political views were also similar to his. Santa Cruz was a communist that believed in justice and dignity. When it came to justice and dignity with his Afro-Latino awareness he meant it as a form of being able to get that term to be recognized as a real thing. Hence, it being first heard of in the late 20th century, when a massive amount of Latino artists started to realize that there is another side to the Latino community. (Ojeda 266)
Santa Cruz’s work emphasized self-image and self-assertion in the black community of Latinos. He wanted people to be comfortable with knowing their blackness, but the oppression that people received from it was what made it difficult for them to be okay with it. The term and identity was confirmed in the 20th century, but there is still a long battle for society to come to terms with it. (Santa Cruz 353) Little by little it is starting to be recognized in the Latin Community, but it still gets confusing for most people since most don’t understand why they don’t call Black Latinos, Latinos instead of Afro-Latinos. Afro-Latinos is a way to express and be proud of a person’s skin color, hair texture, etc., and that they realize it is derived from African ancestors. Without the Afro part in front of Latino it means that most people don’t recognize that fact and would rather whiten their race by not being a part of that acceptance. This all dates back to historic times and the views on slavery and European slave owners. (Valdiviezo)
Nicomedes Santa Cruz was a man of honor who respected his African culture and Latino culture. He was able to recognize that in reality its an actual thing to be Afro-Latino. He was able to influence society and convince them with his work, along with other early Afro-Latino intellectuals that being Black and Latino is a real thing, but that it’s also a wonderful thing. He noticed that throughout history being Black was looked down upon and whitening the race was a better alternative in order to hide ones blackness. The solution to that was to create a foundation where being mixed was a good thing in order to help society embrace it. He was willing to be apart of a community that wanted to help repair the psychological damage that society has faced from the past of slavery and slave owners. (Vogeley 80) His work such as Black Rhythms of Peru and La Pelona were really the top ones to bring attention and light to this situation. After Black Rhythms of Peru came out, it figuratively became a national anthem for Afro-Peruvians negritud. It helped people connect with their ancestors and their current family members and even their neighborhood. (Feldman 89) One major thing that Santa Cruz has always had in his mind is that unity is the answer for a better society especially when one is comfortable with ones identity since it doesn’t matter where you came from because we’re all the same, we’re all humans.