Afro Little Havana: Commemorating the Black History of the "Latino Ellis Island"

Esteban Luis Cardenas (1945-2010)

Esteban Luis Cardenas (1945-2010)Esteban Luis Cardenas was a renowned Afro-Cuban exile poet, author and narrator. He spent time in Little Havana, and it likely inspired his poems about the marginalized.

Cardenas was born in Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, in 1945. In 1975, he was a finalist for the national award of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists. In 1978, the Cuban government sentenced him to 15 years in prison for trying to take refuge in the Argentine embassy in Havana. Although pardoned the following year, he left Cuba for Miami, where he resided until his death in 2010.

His first book of poetry, Canto de Centinela, was published by the Editorial La Torre de Papel  in 1993. According to his friend and fellow poet/writer Alejandro Lorenzo,  reading his poems would lead one to conclude that Cárdenas was a man caught in the tunnels of a hermetic darkness– a long threatening, inexplicable and mysterious night that harassed him.

His second work, Magic City  was published by Editorial Deleatur in 1997. His book Un Café Exquisito, published in 2001, established him as an important author of contemporary literature. The story takes place in Little Havana, and narrates a chilling first person account of a casual visits to a drug dealer’s home to have a cup of Cuban coffee.

Cardenas coped with racism throughout his life, and he was aware of the challenges that faced him as someone who wanted to live from his poetry and arts, without holding an academic title or having a trade that would endorse him and provide sustenance. His works reflected the frustrations and marginalization faced by Cubans who arrived in the 1980s, as well as others suffering during that time.

After two very serious accidents (one in the early 80s and the second in 1992 — in Little Havana), Cardenas had to undergo long periods of rehabilitation and lived incapacitated in shabby Miami apartments and boarding homes.

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