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Jane Gregory Rubin  --  Director, InterAmericas   Table of Contents     PREFACIO  --  
Miguel Barnet  --  Presidente, Fundación Fernando Ortiz

Miscelanea II of studies dedicated to Fernando Ortiz

- FOREWORD -- LA CASA-TEMPLO -- Miguel Barnet -- President, Fundación Fernando Ortiz

Miguel Barnet
President, Fundación Fernando Ortiz

On this date, January 5, 1996, the house that Fernando Ortiz built for his marriage to Ester, daughter of the prominent writer Raimundo Cabrera, is hereby reopened. This house, which was baptized early in its existence with the name Villa Isis in honor of Ortiz's first-born daughter, today becomes the headquarters of the Fundación Fernando Ortiz.

It would seem that this house, which is near the grand staircase leading up to the University of Havana and located at the top of Aróstegui hill, was predestined to become a temple of Cuban culture. Its Doric and Ionic columns are located whimsically under friezes alluding to themes of ancient Greece. And while this house is a product of the architectural eclecticism fashionable at the turn of the century, these Greek details, its novel frets and classic cornices, make this beautiful mansion a truly unique place in the city of Havana. One hundred and fifteen years ago, the Cuban scholar, Fernando Ortiz, was born in this city and made it his home until his death in 1969.

With its numerous doors and windows always open to the light from the street and facing the historic grand staircase of Ortiz's alma mater, the University of Havana, this house was a gathering place for the most advanced minds of our nation in the field of the arts and sciences. If in the nineteenth century the Palacio de Aldama brought together the most conspicuous talents of that era, convened by the man whom José Martí called "the most useful of all Cubans, Don Domingo del Monte," in this century the Villa Isis was a gathering place for the most select minds of our Republic. Whether embraced or convened by Don Fernando or simply drawn to him by the attraction of his advanced ideas and his protean, interdisciplinary career, the men and women who recognized the owner of this house as a maestro, a pivotal figure in Cuban scientific culture, were received here within its generous spaces.

From this house Don Fernando glimpsed the ills that plagued the Cuban people, and with his work he not only denounced these ills as harmful but also attempted to alleviate them. From the very beginning of his career a profound civil and patriotic vocation informed

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his work. This body of work was transcendent, modern, democratic rather than reductionist, and extended beyond mere positivism to situate itself firmly in the realm of the transcultural.

Ortiz was convinced that mestizaje was not merely a mix of colors but a synthesis of ideas. He demonstrated this belief convincingly in every one of his books. He was fully aware of his own utility and placed himself squarely in the center of the Cuban political and cultural controversy, giving of himself completely, unhesitatingly, with great personal sacrifice. Surrounded by files, work tables, Spanish renaissance writing desks, and immense desk drawers, he reproduced in his domestic space the atmosphere of a school of contemporary thought.

Here in this casa-templo the young ethnologist created the Primera Ley de Servicio Militar Obligatorio (First Law of Compulsory Military Service), a código criminal (code of criminal law) that was the model for its time; he initiated the reform of the Cuban education system; and he conceived many other proposals which he brought before the Cuban parliament. It was here that several institutions of great value to Cuban cultural life were born, as well as journals such as Archivos del Folklore Cubano, Estudios Afrocubanos, and Ultra, which he published virtually single-handedly. From here Ortiz waged his most difficult and important battle: the battle of a lone man facing a wall of prejudice and real obstacles--the campaign for just recognition of African contributions to our country and the resulting consequences for all of the cultures of Cuba. In this effort he was a pioneer together with Nina Rodríguez and Arthur Ramos in Brazil.

This house was and will continue to be a temple--but a temple alive with men and women who will know how to honor it. In this house Ortiz set into motion a cultural dynamic for action that was in keeping with Cuban life; one of these actions was his participation in the Grupo Minorista.

Villa Isis was never the ivory-tower refuge of a scholar. Quite the contrary, it became a laboratory for the meeting and creation of ideas. Here a formula for cubanidad was developed, not by magic but rather in the wake of a profound scrutiny of cultural roots and a clearing of the dense tangle of the Cuban ideological forest.

Everything that the white middle class, supported by a reactionary form of positivism, evaded and made disappear from Cuban cultural life, Don Fernando re-evaluated from an objective and unprejudiced point of view. This house, like an admiral's ship, possessed a true and exact compass, one that guided us to the road to Damascus. Without Ortiz, we would be something else and not what we are: hybrids of Galician meigas and African orichas.

Men as different from each another as Jorge Mañach and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez encountered one another here. Intellectuals of the stature of Alejandro Lipchutz and Bronislaw Malinowski left their indelible mark here. José Luciano Franco, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, Julio Le Riverend Brusone, Juan Marinello, Nicolás Guillén, Salvador Bueno, Mariano Rodríguez Solveira, José Antonio Portuondo, Argeliers León, and Antonio Núñez Jiménez shared their points of view with Ortiz in these ample salons.

It was here that one of the most useful libraries in Cuba was established, and which today is part of the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí. The newspapers and

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journals in this house were dispersed throughout its rooms and found in the most unimaginable corners, since what predominated here was not extraneous decoration but rather books and journals.

This house was also a museum of Cuban ethnography. Its labyrinthine basement served as storage unit for ritual objects and musical instruments that were rejected at that time by elite collectors and official museums. Here you might have equal chance of finding a peasant's lute and an Arará drum, a set of chekerés and a pair of Solomonic columns. One day this house will again be a museum of Cuban popular culture and traditions, and only then will we have satisfied the dream cherished by the man who lived here.

I will not overlook the fact that here with Ortiz labored one of the most indefatigable secretaries in the history of this century: Conchita Fernández. Up and down these hallways one could hear the conversations with Rubén Martínez Villena and Pablo de la Torriente Brau, successive assistants to the initiator of anthropological study in Latin America.

Here Merceditas Valdés, the most complete of the Lucumí apkwonas, sang her hymns to Elegguá, Oyá, or Naná Burukú to the attentive ear of Don Fernando. On many occasions in this very room, which served as the auditorium of the house, beat the drums of Flor de Amor and his guaguancó group. In this room often met the executive committee of the Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País. Here you can still trace the footsteps of the many prominent Spaniards who, invited by the Institución Hispano-Cubana de Cultura and its president, Fernando Ortiz, brought to Cuba and shared with Cubans their knowledge of and solidarity with Cuban letters, among them, Juan Ramón Jiménez, María Zambrano, and Federico García Lorca.

In this house, Juan Marinello paid tribute to Ortiz as the author of Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar (Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar). And, when Marinello was appointed Rector of the University of Havana, the Tercer Descubridor (as Marinello referred to Ortiz) respectfully gave his stamp of approval, offering words of praise for his communist friend.

Raúl Roa and Ada Kourí laughed heartily at Ortiz's jokes in the overstuffed easy chairs of this house, which his widow, María Herrera, painstakingly cared for, and which el negro Maisí guarded jealously until his death.

One afternoon in 1959, I knocked on this door on L Street. There are doors that open, never to close again. For me that was the door to this house, where we are finally beginning a long-awaited restoration. I could tell many anecdotes about Don Fernando, but that is not really necessary today. They are known to these walls, and these walls know of my devotion to his work.

Nevertheless, I would like to remember here today Trinidad Torregrosa, chekeré; Jesus Pérez, uba ilú; Raúl Díaz, nasakó; Pablo Roche, akilapkwa; Marcelino Ordás, oriaté; Alfredo Zayas, and Merceditas Valdés; know that these doors open once again to all of you who gave Don Fernando your testimony as rumberos, tamboreros, or practitioners of the Regla de Ocha, of the Regla de Palo Monte and of the Sociedad Abakuá.

Here will live forever the memories of those who came by streetcar or on foot to share

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their knowledge with one who knew, as no other did, how to appreciate it. Ortiz placed all such memories into his work, without prejudice but also decanting the most valid and permanent elements. In his books, almost all of which were written in this house, the testimony of all who came here lives on.

Here we will all live together in noble harmony, because the work of Ortiz will unite us; this house symbolizes the ample breadth of his thought. Here the Department of History of the University of Havana continues to operate, offering post-graduate study and granting master's degrees. La Unión de Historiadores de Cuba will maintain its head office here, as will the Fundación Fernando Ortiz, which will honor the work of a man who, without the slightest doubt, can be considered the most important Cuban of this century in the area of culture and the social sciences. In the corridors of this house may we never cease to hear the systolic-diastolic rhythm of his breathing--breath that nourished, as few others have done, the treasures of la Patria, for as he himself affirmed, culture is Patria.

Let the doors of this house be open once again, and let the watchwords that defined the life and work of Fernando Ortiz guard its threshold: Ciencia, Conciencia, Paciencia.

() This speech was delivered by Miguel Barnet on January 5, 1996, on the occasion of the inauguration of the Villa Isis in Havana as the home of the Fundación Fernando Ortiz [1995-96.1]. The event took place in the main salon on the first floor of the house, located at Calle 27, No. 160, esq. L, in the Vedado district.

() Translated from the Spanish by Pamela Maria Smorkaloff.

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Jane Gregory Rubin  --  Director, InterAmericas   Table of Contents     PREFACIO  --  
Miguel Barnet  --  Presidente, Fundación Fernando Ortiz