The young Vanessa Garcia was born in Miami, a city which would inspire her to grow as an artist and as a member of the new Cuban-American generation. Vanessa was raised with the memories of a pre-revolutionary Cuba on behalf of her family, with lots of affection, and in a city which constantly changes. All these factors have led her to become a writer, painter, playwright, and journalist, using her talent to focus on themes of Diaspora, exile, and urban development. She has contributed articles to various local and international newspapers, such as The Miami Herald and Art Basel Magazine.
Together with other talented youths, Vanessa has launched her own company, called “The Krane”, which produces plays and artistic events, and which has received much international acclaim. She has taken her art throughout the globe, including the continents of Asia and Africa. However, her most recent project has brought her to a place much closer to her own roots- to an island which resides only 90 miles from Florida and which seems to have been recreated in her native city of Miami: Cuba. In this play, which was titled “Island Blogosphere” Vanessa explores the issues of censorship and oppression in Cuba while focusing on the “blogger” movement, which has been spearheaded by various dissidents on the island.
Vanessa, just like many other youths of her generation, finds herself in a position where she is well aware of the stories of her predecessors, and perhaps without knowing it, has joined that struggle which so many Cuban exiles carry inside, through her art. Here is her story:
1) Tell us about yourself. Where and how did you grow up?
I’m a writer, a playwright and journalist; I also work on creative non-fiction and fiction as well as a bit of poetry. I also paint and run a theatre/arts company called The Krane (www.thekrane.com). What else can I tell you about myself? Hmm. Well, let’s see: I’m an ABC (an American Born Cuban); a vegetarian; a workaholic some might say; and, these days, bi-coastal, living in that space somewhere between Miami and LA .
My mother likes to tell me I was born in Miami Beach, as if it was of dire importance that I was born right there, right by the water. I do consider that a blessing. I grew up in Miami (until I was 18, when I moved to NYC for seven years). The Miami I grew up in was a very different Miami than the one I experience now and I don’t know if it’s me that’s changed, the city that’s changed, or a little bit of both. For example — when I was little I used to go to the corner grocer with my dad in his bronco and Perrucho, the guy who owned the little bodega/grocery, would give us slices of ham. Which, when I turned twelve, I stopped eating. My father was not happy, being the big ebullient Cuban that he was. This was a Miami where we went to Fondas Cubanas, where Versailles was only famous among Cubans, and not a stop a tourist attraction map; it was a place where and had enormous BBQ’s whenever the spirit moved us and my mom drove an old pink beetle for miles and miles to take us to school.
Now, I spend most of my time in Miami involved in the arts, my father has passed away, and my family lives in condos raised up by the boom that crashed with the housing crisis recently. And yet, the undercurrent is the same; there’s a real mishmash of culture in Miami that I still love, very real warmth.
2) When did you decide that you wanted to become a playwright, actress, and an artist?
When I was little I, like many other kids, liked to perform in front of my parents and their friends. My parents have videos of me with an ice-cream scooper, using it as a microphone and singing (though god knows I’ve never been able to sing). My poor parents. But then, I became very, very shy. Painfully shy and suddenly I was writing more than I was painting. My grandfather taught me about writing and painting, he’s Spanish and his family was from San Cugat, right outside Barcelona, and were tapestry makers. They restored a great deal of the tapestries in Spanish cathedrals and churches that were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Art has always been swimming around inside me; I’ve always had a really deep-rooted response to it. So, I guess the answer to your question is that I’m not sure I ever decided, it was always part of me.
3) Please tell us about your company. Why did you choose “The Krane” as its name?
When I came back to Miami to live in 2004, the city felt like it was under construction, a sea of cranes that loomed over foundations and dug-up holes in the ground, it was a city that felt hopeful and vibrant and I wanted to represent that growth somehow in the name of my company. I also have a tattoo of a Crane bird on my left forearm that I got in New Orleans (long story) that symbolizes concentration; it’s a sweeping bird, a simple line-drawn bird that I still love to look at. It’s now the company logo. These two things merged together to form the name of the company, The Krane. I’m proud of the company’s growth and thrilled that Miami and other parts of the world have responded to it. As for the company itself, we like to blur the lines of artistic media — merging painting with music and theatre with poetry and so on and so on, I could go on forever here.
4) What are some of the projects that have been created through “The Krane”?
We started out taking commissions in early 2004 and doing performances at openings, and things like that. Then we started to produce our own shows like Death of Kings: An Encyclopedia, which was a play narrated by a Harlequin trying to get his grounding after 9/11. We did a show called Cloudcuckooland, which was very much about Miami and its growth spurt. And then we started doing a great deal of collaborative projects with other writers and directors in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, doing nights of shorts, like Shake it Up, a night of shows inspired by Shakespeare but made completely contemporary. We started working a great deal with The New Light Foundation, which is based out Ft. Lauderdale and run, in part, by Wendy White who became a great collaborator. The newest obsession has been Island Blogosphere, a play about Cuban bloggers. More on that later. All of the details about these shows and others I’m not touching upon are up on our website: http://www.thekrane.com
5) How would you describe your artwork?
Sometimes I look at my paintings they look like they’re on Speed. My paintings are probably the most dense and intense things of the things I make. They’re usually incredibly layered and take many months to complete, at least the big ones. They’re a merger between figuration and abstraction and they’re a mirror, I think, of the world we live in, which is varied and diverse and moving at the speed of the newest 3G network. We are creating devices and chips that can store more and more information on a smaller and smaller scale, and I think the art reflects that. It wasn’t intentional at first, I think that’s the interesting thing about it, later you realize it and you develop it, but at first I think that art just has a way of attempting to translate the world. At the same time, all of this said, I have a real affection for the simple line, which negates and polarizes everything I’ve just said, but I also play with that a great deal.
6) What inspired you to write “Two Islands”? Why did you focus on the movement of the Cuban blogosphere in the segment titled “Island Blogosphere”?
Two Islands: Island Blogosphere & The Jewish Nun was a play that Wendy White of the New Light Foundation and I created. They are two One-Acts. I wrote Island Blogosphere and Wendy wrote The Jewish Nun. We wanted to create a play that would take Miami to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. That was the start of it, and then I became obsessed with the subject of my play, which is Cuban Bloggers, in particular Yoani Sanchez. In a sense Yoani is a writer in Cuba, and I’m a writer outside of Cuba, a daughter of the Diaspora. And so we have that connection, but we are worlds apart. She lives in a closed off island that does not allow her exit, an island my parents were born on but I have never seen; she lives on an island where everything she writes is dangerous and subversive because the government controls the radio and TV stations and press. And for this reason, I decided to focus on her, because I saw that, despite all of these odds, she was still working, still trying to get the word out there and people outside the island were helping, translators and webmasters all over the world were helping her get her voice out there. She had/has a lot to say.
7) In the process of writing “Island Blogosphere” what have you learned about yourself as a young Cuban-American?
I think the saddest thing I learned is that I don’t know Cuba at all, despite the fact that our parents and grandparents re-created a version of the island in Miami, despite the fact that Cuban traditions were engrained in my sister and I, despite the fact that Spanish was my first language, and that sometimes my English carries the influence of that Spanish, despite all of that, I don’t know the island. I don’t know today’s Cuba, face-to face, in real time. And that makes me sad. I know what I read, I know what I’m told by those that have recently defected, I know what I can see on the Spanish networks. That’s it, that’s all I really know. The distance between generations is much greater than with some other cultures because of the socio-political barriers that still exist so many years after our parents fled the island.
8.) Where have you taken “Island Blogosphere”? What was your experience in each city? What were the reactions of the audiences?
We premiered in Miami, which was great fun because so many people in the audience could relate. I’d like to come back to Miami for a bigger, perhaps longer run. We then took Island Blogosphere to New York City and performed at 59E59 Theatres, where we had sold out audiences and the work was very well received. We then took it to Edinburgh, Scotland to what is perhaps the biggest theatre festival in the world. And that was a very interesting experience. We were one of very few American companies playing there and the response was fascinating. People really had no idea about what was going on in Cuba. One night we had middle aged Scot come up to us and say: “I always thought Cuba was sort of like a paradise vacation, never thought to think there might be something else going on.” And this response came to us over and over. Some people thanked us for opening them up to the experience. Some people seemed upset by it somehow, one reviewer said we were preachy, another loved us. I don’t think the play is preachy, it literally uses a great deal of Yoani’s words and fact; I tried very hard not to make this a didactic piece, and tried to make it more about dialogue, something I am continuing to do in revision. People really don’t know, and a lot of them don’t care, what’s going on in Cuba. Yes, it’s a tiny island, but this tiny island has taken on incredible significance at times, like 1962 when the whole world had its eyes on it, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s important to spread the word. It’s important also to not give up on this island, which deserves much more than the reigns it has.
9) Was there a specific person who you interviewed for your play whose story stood out the most to you?
You would think I’d say Yoani, because she’s a great speaker and admirable, all of this is true and real when you talk to her. But really it was the translators that got to me the most. Here were people that had full, free lives, all over the world, that were putting in a great deal of time and energy to translate the works of Cuban bloggers, for free. It amazed me, each of them had a story, and each of them absorbed my attention for a good, long while. These are people in Washington State in California, in Beijing. Amazing people.
10) What was the biggest challenge you encountered on the road to writing “Island Blogosphere”?
Simple. The fact that my family had a heart attack when I told them I wanted to go to Cuba. The fact that I could not go to a place I wanted to see with my own eyes, for many reasons. The fear that still lives inside my parent’s generation, that still lives inside the island—this was the biggest challenge. I had to write a new kind of play than the one that I thought I’d write, which had a great deal to do with my going to Cuba and so on. The play then took on a whole new life that included the physical separation and invisible boundaries of the island for people like me and people like Yoani. I couldn’t go in, she couldn’t come out.
11) Through your research, how would you say that the Cuban blogosphere has impacted Cuban society, the opposition movement, and how the world views Cuba?
I think that more people know about what’s going in Cuba now because of them, especially internationally, but my experience in Scotland showed me that there are miles to go before we sleep. I think the regime is afraid of the bloggers to a certain degree, but I also think that it is all so new that we can’t really fathom what the effect will be. There is a real chance here that this movement of bloggers is symbolizing a real shift in the generations within Cuba that can cause real change from within, just as our generation has marked a shift from our parents outside the island, which can create change from without. I think, for the first time, both Cubans of a certain generation inside the island and outside the island want similar things. This is weighty and powerful. Whereas before, our parents were pro-embargo, so many of our generation are not, for instance. We want interaction. Also, the world is seeping into Cuba through portals and through the internet. It can’t remain closed much longer. This kind of invasion is impossible to contain.
12) As a young Cuban-American how would you describe the situation in Cuba? Do you think changes have been occurring or are coming soon? Would you say that other young Cuban Americans are interested in the situation of their parents’ and grandparents’ country?
You know, it’s complicated. I feel so many times that kids of my generation are very connected to the Cuban cause, and then sometimes I feel like they don’t care at all. It really depends and is hard to generalize. I think we are definitely a different breed than our parents in the sense that because we are Americans, born here in this country, to Cuban parents, we have a foot in both worlds. I think the most important element here is that we understand our parents and the island to a certain degree, but we also know how to “talk to” Americans. Our parents do not. It’s not that they don’t literally speak English, most of them do, and many of them without even an accent. But, our parents speak another cultural language that is often times made fun of, called “over-the-top,” and hence ignored. We, on the other hand, know the ins and outs of the cultural American language. And this means we can speak and teach in the language, we can work towards change using the tool of this new generational language.
13) How has your family influenced you in regards to Cuba?
Completely and utterly. Everything I think about Cuba is a result of the way I was raised, whether it’s in agreement to or a reaction against.
14) With your current experiences with “Island Blogosphere” do you plan on continuing exploring the story of Cuba through your artwork?