Remembering Celia Cruz: 16 years after her death the Queen of Salsa’s music still banned in Cuba
“Forgiving is not forgetting. Forgiving is remembering without pain.” – Celia Cruz
16 years ago today on July 16, 2003 Cuban music and freedom icon Celia Cruz passed away after a battle with cancer. She was 77 years old. This woman made the decision to live and sing in freedom, and in order to do that Celia had to leave Cuba during the Castro dictatorship. When her mom was ill she tried to return to see her in 1962, but was barred from entering the country by the regime. When her mother died Celia was blocked by the dictatorship from attending her funeral.
This act of vindictive cruelty fueled her distaste for the Cuban dictatorship. When she went to the Guantanamo Naval Base three decades later she picked up some Cuban soil, a piece of home, to take back with her into exile. This 1990 trip to the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base would not be forgotten in official circles of the communist dictatorship.
The world mourned her death in 2003, except in Cuba where the official media printed a small note on her passing recognizing Cruz as an “important Cuban performer who popularized our country’s music in the United States,” it went on to say that “during the last four decades, she was systematically active in campaigns against the Cuban revolution generated in the United States.”
According to the 2004 book Shoot the singer!: music censorship today edited by Marie Korpe there is concern that post-revolution generations in Cuba are growing up without knowing or hearing censored musicians such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot and that this could lead to a loss of Cuban identity in future generations. This process has been described as a Cuban cultural genocide that is depriving generations of Cubans of their heritage.
16 years later Celia Cruz’s music is still banned in Cuba, and in death she remains an unperson in official circles of the Castro regime that continue to have monopoly control over radio airwaves.
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