Blackness is in, and it is timeless.
Dear Celia Cruz,
You, beautiful, were born to the name Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925 in Havana, Cuba. At the time, Havana was immersed in sonorous waves emitted from a rising culture of music. In your incomparable existence, you would be the oldest of fourteen children, the Queen of Salsa, the Ambassador of Cuban music, and the symbol of Cuban exile spirit; defeating stigmas, owning black female gaze, breaking cultural barriers, and redefining beauty. When you sang your younger siblings to sleep, your thick and raspy voice drew neighbors nearer. For the rest of your abounding life, you would be compelled to sing to Cuba, and its beautifully deep seeded roots in Africa. You reminded me time and time again, with your compelling and palpable presence, your resounding voice, and your colorful exuberance, blackness is in, and it is timeless.
You told the world, as you were dying, that nothing can make life less than absolutely beautiful and entirely worth living.
Celia, Afro-Cuban Queen, I think often that those in which I reside cannot be touched by tragedy or death, but it is the very way those notions are circumvented that allow me to inhabit lives like yours. Brain cancer took your life, but it cannot erase the mark you have left. I can taste the azucar, the residual sweetness in the legacy you have bestowed upon me. When women weren’t recording records at all, you were recording gold. With an unwavering gap toothed smile stretched from ear to ear and a voice that bellowed from the bones of ancestors, you embodied a shameless happiness, adorned with tight sequins, feathers, and orange synthetic wig hair. You did not make music for people you made it for life and a culture. You shifted male gaze, forced it to peer through your lens. You told the world, as you were dying, that nothing can make life less than absolutely beautiful and entirely worth living. You endorsed the forward woman and put the images of the black woman with confidence enough to walk straight through adversity on a pedestal that reaches lofty heights.
Though the sun sheds warmth and light, there still exists sweet warmth in a dark shade.
The black woman walks gracefully. She walks head-on exulting in the beauty and complexity of her blackness. Though the sun sheds warmth and light, there still exists sweet warmth in a dark shade. Morena bella, you found me in the African roots that others refused. You became the manifestation of the crossroads of the beat of African slaves and the rhythm of the Spanish colonizers. The idea of me has been rescultped, redefined, and rewritten to move to the rhythm of your song.
I know now, that I am in black coffee and brown sugar, in the pain of colonialism and the rhythmic drumming of tamboras, and in the tremendo swing of a dark skinned hip. Your English was, “not very good looking,” but with a relentless and boundless happiness, you broke down the barriers that existed in the Latin community through music making. Little black girls around the world found me through you.