Cuba’s movement against racial discrimination has just lost one of its emblematic founders.
HAVANA TIMES – Family, friends, the religious community and comrades in the anti-racism struggle bid farewell, with music, heartfelt words and the promise to carry on the fight, to self-taught researcher and historian Serafin (Tato) Quinones, who passed away on the 13th January, at 77 years old.
Writer, scriptwriter, cultural promoter and babalawo (Yoruba priest), Quinones dedicated himself to the study and promotion of the African legacy in Cuban culture and the participation of the masculine abakua brotherhood in Cuba’s independence struggles, as well as to activism against racial discrimination.
Less than a year ago, in a conversation about the documentary Raza (2008) by filmmaker Eric Corvalan, Tato said that “there has been significant advances in the academic world, with greater research and reports on the issue”, when talking about the anti-racism movement.
He also said that while “there aren’t any statistics, it’s clear that social inequalities have grown in the past 10 years. The new wealthy class is more and more apparent, as well as the poorer class (especially of black people), who continue to sink in poverty.”
After the prayer for the dead at the chapel and in a place set aside within Colon Cemetery, many people came to remember the life of Tato the friend, mentor, guide, adviser and light to carry on the struggle against discrimination.
Mention to Tato Quinones
Perhaps one of the most accurate descriptions about Quinones came from essayist Roberto Zurbano in an article published on the blog Negra cubana tenia que ser:
He “is one of the living archives of our culture” whose “oral and written work dignifies a unique course in the defense of the best values from our Afro-descendant culture.
Tato knew “how to bring simple and more complex people together in his profession, combining efforts for the sake of a single ideal: the fight against racial discrimination and for the brotherhood of all Cubans.”
He has taught us the meaning of the word “resistance” in all its forms, during a long career that doesn’t end with a generation, but must carry on with all of the ethics and dedication rooted in the legacy our ancestors have passed on to us.
Anti-racism researcher, writer and activist Gisela Arandia, said that his death “leaves a space that will be hard to fill, unless we are able to bring this utopia to fruition, to get real close to it.”
Arandia remembered how Quinones, who came from the labor movement, “had the ability to teach himself, to carry on learning, reading, becoming and more and more knowledgeable, looking for the essence of problems and conflicts.”
Percussionist Melena Francis Valdes, who met him when she came to Cuba from the US to research the contribution abakuas had made to rumba music, remembered: “he helped me a great deal with my master’s, he was my mentor, my maestro and he taught me how to follow a correct path, of dignity, respect and without fear.”
According to Nicolas Hernandez Guillen, “Tato is a key figure of the effort to understand prejudice better, which essentially translate as discrimination based on skin color.”
He said that his great intellectual honesty, rigor and tremendous dedication to everything he took on defined him, and that his ability to show people who had seen things but didn’t identify them as racist manifestations.
“He is among us, young people. It’s time for us to commit ourselves to carry on forward and to honor his memory, working in the struggle against racial discrimination,” Raul Soublett said, project coordinator of Alianza Afro-Cubana.
And he remembered the study that Quinones was carrying out before he passed away, about the presence of homosexuality in Afro-Cuban religions, which was probably never finished.
Closing the wake, researcher Mario Castillo called for Quinones’ spirit “to remain alive, to nourish our efforts, endeavors and all of the sense that Tato put into the idea of decolonizing Cuba’s popular historic memory.”
Castillo said: “the best thing we can tell this spirit is not to rest in peace, because there is still so much left to be done, there are so many challenges in this country and Tato will walk by our side, providing us with information, ideas, meaning and energy.”
Doctor, abakua, babalawo and congressman, Orlando Gutierrez, who praised Tato for his tireless quest for historic truth, insisted on the need to fight “against all forms of discrimination, regardless of the philosophy we might have.”
Poet Sinesio Verdecia said that Quinones had contributed to the creation of a brotherhood for Cuban culture and he called for everyone present to embrace each other, under the clear blue sky.
According to activist, researcher and writer Tomas Fernandez Robaina, Tato is “a paradigm, a living machete [in the anti-racism struggle], because we are all Tato too”.