The Afroperuvian thinker Victoria Santa Cruz

Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz Gamarra (27 October 1922 - August 30, 2014) has become known in recent years by an international audience for her 1978 visual poem "Me gritaron Negra" (They called me Black), a work showcased in the exhibition "Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985". Victoria was a teacher, composer, writer, choreographer and activist of the AfroPeruvian art and part of the legendary Santa Cruz family. An original thinker, Santa Cruz reflected and lived rhythm, in its connection to its existence in all things, and the cosmos.

In the following interview by Marco Aurelio Denegri, she speaks about her book "El importante rol que cumple el obstáculo" (The important role of obstacles) in the Peruvian television program "El Uso de la Palabra" (The Use of the Word). 



Marco Aurelio Denegri (MAD): Quisiera formularle una pregunta de carácter personal, porque creo que en este caso es importante. El hecho de ser mujer, el hecho de ser negra y el hecho de ser latinoamericana, y también completamente de la parte del Planeta que llamamos Perú, ¿estos han sido 3 obstáculos para usted o no?

Victoria Santa Cruz (VSC): Han sido obstáculos porque me di cuenta de que eso me impedían ciertas cosas. Me he dado cuenta que es obstáculo, porque realmente he ido constatándolo. El nombre de esta conferencia que di en el congreso: “El importante rol que cumple el obstáculo”, es importante porque me di cuenta que el obstáculo cumple un rol: ¿quién en mi se molesta? ¿quién en mi reacciona y desde dónde? Y entonces empecé a descubrir, que el enemigo vive en casa.

Y empecé a descubrir (y por eso es que me importa tanto compartir), que el obstáculo es una suerte de, (si una empieza a comprender y una empieza a ponerse de pie, es decir, a asumir su responsabilidad sin buscar a quien culpar), que empieza una a encontrar esa clave que dice: “Conócete a ti misma”. Esa es una clave maravillosa que existirá siempre. Porque mientras el ser humano no sepa quién es, tendrá siempre que buscar a quien culpar. Es muy cómodo, pero es una trampa, porque todo lo que es cómodo es una trampa.

MAD: Estas dificultades que usted ha hallado, ¿a qué se deben, a una situación general de discriminación, a factores sociales, de qué orden?

VSC: Bueno, es discriminación. Me encanta que me ponga esa pregunta. Me importa mucho, porque nos empecinamos en decir que me discriminan por eso, me discriminan por el otro, y aquello no es más que consecuencia de otra cosa: que el ser humano, comprendámoslo bien, está dividido. Dice una cosa, piensa otra y hace otra. Y esta división, mientras no tome consciencia de algo, nos va a destruir.

Entonces, el racismo, la discriminación según las razas, la discriminación por religión, la discriminación por apellido, la discriminación por dinero, son consecuencias de una real división. Y entonces aquí hay algo que me encantaría compartir: desde el momento que el enemigo vive en casa, es que, por alguna razón, no estamos en casa.
Y entonces es empezar a ponerse de pie, a asumir nuestra responsabilidad, sin buscar a quien culpar, porque no hay revolución sin evolución, y esto se gesta al interior de cada uno de nosotros. Y empezar a descubrir lo importante que es algo que se llama presente. Sólo en el presente hay acción, y sólo en la acción hay mutación, transformación.

Esto lo vengo descubriendo desde casi que tengo uso de razón, porque desde una memoria ancestral digo: “heredé aspectos básicos del ritmo, Africa.” Y cuando en la vida, que es la escuela que hemos olvidado, la vida cotidiana, empiezo a tocar fondo, en un momento de mi vida dije: “No obstante africano, esto es cósmico, porque ¿qué cosa tiene el ser humano, si es un aspecto del cosmos?” Entonces es muy fácil decir soy un microcosmos. Ok! Si eres un microcosmos, descubre las leyes dentro de tí y del macrocosmos, ¡y entra al sitio que te corresponde!

MAD: Aquí me parece que en su planteamiento hay una inversión, porque normalmente se dice que la transformación tendrá primero que ser social y entonces luego, personal. Y usted invierte los términos y dice que la revolución comienza…

VSC: en casa. Ya lo creo, no hay revolución sin evolución. Además, lo social, ¿qué es eso? Es decir, es preciso que no continuemos nadando en un océano de palabras. ¿Lo social es qué? Y si no estamos conectados con nosotros mismos, no podemos conectarnos con el otro, de hecho.

Además hay una cosa que hay que tener en cuenta (hablando de esta división y hablando de estas consecuencias de la división. Cuando existe esta división, que es terrible, en la célula familia (y esta célula va desapareciendo ¿no es cierto? porque hoy en día trabaja el padre, la madre, los hijos están en la guardería… y la célula familia es fundamental! hay ciertas cosas que no se aprenden si no es en esa célula familia) cuando estamos conectados con nosotros, es entonces cuando uno empieza a comprender lo que es respeto, y la base de todo, incluyendo el amor, es respeto.

Pero eso, cuando se comprende desde cierta edad, es una convicción porque hay una conexión interna. Entonces esto no es racional, esto no es analítico, esto no es una cosa convencional, esto ES, sin adjetivo. Y ahí viene lo que es compromiso, entonces eso se respeta porque está dentro de las fibras nuestras, y esto, entonces, empieza a dar paso a esa calidad de atención que desde adentro a afuera, empieza (porque todo es alimento, todo es vida y la vida necesita sustento) a alimentar algo que vive en nosotros, algo que vive en nosotros y que se llama dignidad.


English Translation:

Marco Aurelio Denegri (MAD): I would like to ask you a question of a personal nature, because I think that in this case it is important. The fact of being a woman, the fact of being black and the fact of being from Latina and also completely from the part of the Planet that we call Peru, have these been 3 obstacles for you or not?

Victoria Santa Cruz (VSC): They have been obstacles because I realized that this prevented me from certain things. I have realized that it is an obstacle, because I have really verified it. The name of this conference that I gave in the congress: “The important role that the obstacle plays” is important because I realized that the obstacle plays a role: who in me is upset? Who in me reacts and from what place? And then I began to discover, that the enemy lives at home.

And I began to discover –and that’s why I care so much to share it– that the obstacle is luck, if one begins to understand and begins to stand up, that is, to assume their responsibility without seeking whom to blame. And one starts to find that key that says: “Know yourself”. That is a wonderful key that will always exist. Because as long as human beings don’t know who they are, they will always have to look for someone to blame. It is very comfortable, but it is a trap, because everything that is comfortable is a trap.

MAD: These difficulties that you have found, how do they come to be? Is it due to a general situation of discrimination or due to social issues? In which way?

VSC: Well, it’s discrimination. I love that you are asking me this. I care a lot about this issue, because we get the idea into our heads to say that they discriminate against me because of this or that, but that is nothing more than a consequence of something else: that the human being, let’s understand it well, is divided. He/she says one thing, thinks another and does another. And this division, as long as is till subconscious, will destroy us.

Then, racism, discrimination according to races, discrimination based on religion, discrimination by last name, discrimination for money, they all are the consequences of a real division. And then here is something that I would love to share: from the moment the enemy lives at home, it is because, for some reason, we are not at home.

And then it is to begin to stand up, to assume our responsibility, without looking for someone to blame, because there is no revolution without evolution, and this is born within each one of us. And start discovering how important is something called present. Only in the present there is action, and only in action there is mutation, transformation.

I’ve been discovering this almost since I can use reason, because from an ancestral memory I say: “I inherited basic aspects of rhythm, Africa.” And when in life, which is the school we have forgotten, everyday life, I begin to touch bottom, at a moment in my life I said: “However African, this is Cosmic, because what does human beings have, no other than an aspect of the Cosmos?” Then it is very easy to say I am a microcosm. Okay! If you are a microcosm, discover the laws within you and the macrocosm, and enter the place that belongs to you!

MAD: Here, it seems to me, that there is an inversion in your approach, because normally it is said that the transformation will first have to be social and then later, personal. And you reverse the terms and say that the revolution begins …

VSC: … at home! I believe it, there is no revolution without evolution. Also, the social, what is that? That is, we must not continue swimming in an ocean of words. The so called “social” is what? In fact, if we are not connected with ourselves, we cannot connect with the other.

In addition, there is one thing that must be taken into account –talking about this division and talking about these consequences of division. This division is present in the family cell –which is terrible, because this cell is disappearing, is not that so? because nowadays the father works, the mother works, the kids are in childcare… but the family cell is fundamental! There are certain things that are not learned if it is not in that cell family. When we are connected with ourselves, then one begins to understand what is respect, and that the basis of everything, including love, is respect.

That’s why, when this is understood from a certain age, it is a conviction because there is an internal connection. So this is not rational, this is not analytical, this is not a conventional thing, this IS, without an adjective. And there lies what is commitment, and then it is respected because it is within our essence. And this, then, begins to give way to that quality of attention, from the inside-out, it begins to feed –because everything is food, everything is life and life needs sustenance– something that lives in us, something that lives in ourselves and that is called dignity.

Rhythm
In organic cultures there is no such thing as "specialization" or "art"; dance and music are part of life, learned from life and enacted for the purpose of living.

Other materials recollecting the thoughts of Victoria Santa Cruz

SANTA CRUZ, Victoria. Ritmo: El eterno organizador (Lima: COPÉ and Departamento de Relaciones Públicas de PetroPerú, 2004), 32, 64.

BICZEL, Dorota. Radical Women: Victoria Santa Cruz. Accessed on 30 April 2019.

FELDMAN, Heidi. Black rhythms of Peru: reviving African musical heritage in the Black Pacific. Wesleyan University Press, 2006.

JONES, M. D., CARRILLO, M., & MARTINEZ, A. (2011). An Interview with Victoria Santa Cruz. Callaloo, 34(2), 304–522. doi:10.1353/cal.2011.0051

Dance, music, are means. They’re not ends. p306.
Rhythm is something that exists and that is in our interior and that exists as soon as you hear it. But there are people who are forcing their bodies to move, and that means nothing. Rhythm exists in everything. p308.

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Imayna Caceres. The Afroperuvian thinker Victoria Santa Cruz. 30 April 2019.