An accurate glimpse to Iván Acosta's cultural life in New York

An accurate glimpse to Iván Acosta's cultural life in New York

8 months 3 weeks ago - 8 months 3 weeks ago
Iván Acosta is a dear and admired colleague in our efforts in favor of democracy and in defense of human rights as a member of the Management Team of our Participatory Democracy Cultural Initiative, Inc. that sponsors our digital magazine. He has been an occasional contributor to our pages and was one of the founders of the Abdala Group, very active in the 1960s and 1970s in the fight against Castro's tyranny. With the author's authorization, we are pleased to reproduce here her accurate glimpse of Ivan's outstanding cultural life."
In the migratory phenomenon,
there are immigrants who absorb
the culture of the host country to let go of their roots.
But there are others who contribute to the host culture
while preserving theirs.

by Gloria Chávez Vásquez

For the last 50 years, Hispanic American culture in the big cities of the U.S. has developed, thanks to the generous contribution of writers, actors, playwrights, producers, technicians, and commentators in the written and spoken press and the public, which, with interest, love, and energy keeps alive the different artistic manifestations.

Iván Acosta has been one of the key guardians and promoters of that culture, not only with his talents as a writer, producer, and film and theater director, but for his ability to galvanize a community around theater and music.

I met him during a great moment when Iván directed the Cuban Cultural Center in New York. I was fortunate to watch him work when I participated in the Poetry Festivals and during his theatrical productions. I was then infected with the love and enthusiasm, so traditional among Cubans, for the arts. Iván was an ideal teacher: noble, charming, generous, who not only could create but he knew how to listen.

Iván Acosta was born in Santiago de Cuba, to hard-working parents who loved music. He carries the genes of a French grandmother and a Catalonian grandfather. He had just begun adolescence when the revolution took place. Life on the island and its people changed in an instant: from joy and music to tragedy and pain. Ivan’s fate and that of his family, turned uncertain. During the invasion of the Bay of Pigs (1961) more than 150,000 people were imprisoned by orders of Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and other comandantes, to prevent them from joining the fight for freedom. Iván was 15 when they stormed the restaurant where he worked as a cashier. and arrested all the employees, including the boy. Along with 6,000 men, Ivan was taken to the dungeons of El Morro.

A Little after he was released, the vigilante of the Comité de Defensa de la Revolución in her neighborhood, falsely accused his mother, (who had just inherited some money from her grandfather), of “stealing funds from the revolution”, for which she spent several months in prison.

Iván had joined a clandestine cell (Agrupación Juvenil Anticomunista) when his family decided to escape Cuba. After an ordeal that included sequestering a ship of the INRA (Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria) in which other people had sought to travel, and several anxious months in Kingston, Jamaica, at last, they came to the U.S. Once in New York, and during the October Crisis (1962) when the Russian government installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, Iván joined the army where he became part of the Cuban Units and trained as a parachutist. Six years after his military service, he started studies at New York University.

Teresa Serrano Berdeal met Iván Acosta in 1976. She had arrived from Venezuela where her Cuban family had sought refuge, and she had studied. They married in 1982 on Memorial Day. Their two children inherited the artistic bug. Yaritza is a director and creative designer and Amaury is a percussionist, composer, and arranger, as well as a jazz expert in electronic and Cuban music. Their grandchildren, Penélope and Phoenix were born American. Iván describes theirs as “a bicultural and bilingual family”.

A Center for Culture

In 1972, universities and other educational centers in the United States were the object of an aggressive campaign of pro-Castro cultural propaganda. The Cuban community in exile needed to have an institution to represent them and preserve their culture at the same time. Iván met with a group of friends, among them, Omar Torres, (writer), Luis Cruz Azaceta (painter), Rafael Llerena, (photographer), Paul Echaniz, Carlos Fernández Freire y Aida de Cárdenas. With the support of some hundred friends, professionals, and artists who responded to the call, the Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York was born.

Iván was a social counselor in Harlem, during the day, while at night, he labored to organize the Center, located at a building in West Manhattan. The first play Los Gusanos (The Worms) was directed by Eduardo Corbé. Between 1975 and 1980, there were 18 plays, 15 recitals, 14 Poetry Festivals, 12 Visual Arts exhibitions, besides Cuban Arts Festivals and other events. At the CCCNY there were fortunate events such as the birth of Charanga 76, created by Felipe Martínez, an orchestra modeled after Orquesta Aragón and with a spinoff, the Hansel & Raúl duo. At the Center, actors of relevance surged, such as Elizabeth Peña who had a career of merit in Hollywood, and Zully Montero, famous in Latin America and Spain as an international protagonist of telenovelas.

50 years have passed and the CCC is still active, as a leader of the Hispanic American culture in New York. Along with Repertorio español, The Teatro Rodante Puertorriqueño and other theaters, such as Intar and Thalia, the Centro Cultural Cubano has delivered a repertoire of plays by authors from Latin America and Spain to thousands of spectators in its auditorium and those of educational centers and universities in the United States.

Dreams become reality

Iván Acosta has written a total of 16 plays, three of them adapted to the movie screen: El Súper, Amigos, y Rosa y el ajusticiador del Canalla. His most successful one, El Súper (1976) was inspired by the street talk of men in charge of the buildings in Washington Heights, mostly Cuban and Puerto Rican. In 2016 he published Con una canción cubana en el corazón (With a Cuban Song at Heart) a coffee table book with photographs of 282 LP covers in his collection, of the Golden Age of Cuban Music and 80 of his short stories. The book contains two vinyl LPs, with 26 well-known Cuban songs.

Acosta is the author of an essay Las cuatro estaciones del Centro Cultural Cubano de New York, a brief history of the CCCNY in the blog of the Academia de la Historia de Cuba en el Exilio. In 2021, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Iván launched Detrás de mis ojos a documentary about the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers filmed from his balcony at the 42nd floor of the Manhattan Plaza. After a simultaneous presentation in Nueva York and Miami,

Acosta participated in Film Festivals in the United States, Sweden, Norway, Australia and Canada where it had a most warm reception.

The concerts Iván Acosta produced and directed Cándido; Manos de Fuego (Hands of Fire) which debuted at the Film Festival at Lincoln Center. In the documentary, 99 years old percussionist, Cándido Camero, tells the story of his life and gives a farewell concert dedicated to Miami (2019). The documentary established a musical link between Cuban rumba and American jazz.
Singer Tony Bennett, who appears in the documentary said that “when Cándido arrived in New York, in 1946, jazz music changed forever”. The fact is that in the migratory phenomenon, there are immigrants who readily absorb the culture of the host country to let go of their roots. But there are others who contribute to the host
culture while preserving theirs. This is Iván Acosta, whose life is his best opus. With admirable resilience, he has waited for the right moment, at the right place, and with the right company to turn his ideas into a reality. At present he is writing his first novel and who knows, his so-awaited autobiography.

In fact, the life of Iván Acosta is his best script, be it a theatrical or a cinematographic one. As a cultural leader in New York, he has carried the baton all these years to set a precedent, not just in the Big Apple, but in the rest of the country that gave him and his family, a place to call home.

Gloria Chávez Vásquez writer, journalist, and educator lives in the U.S. She is the author of, among others, Opus Americanus and Akum, The Magic of Dreams.
Last edit: 8 months 3 weeks ago by Democracia Participativa.
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