Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar, Dancing En Clave


Today’s La Vida En Black History Month message hails from Bayamòn Puerto Rico… A Boricua who influenced ballroom dance so much that his signature moves are now Latin dance competition standards, Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar was the original Mambo King.apollo1 Crowned in 1952 as the “greatest Mambo dancer ever” by Tito Puente and Life Magazine, Cuban Pete launched a nationwide Mambo Craze with his Afro-Cuban dance style that was all the rage.

This story is one of triumph and tragedy and Pedro “Cuban Pete”Aguilar was always its star. A showman from the start; he emulated Bill Robinson, tap dancing to the music of El Manisero when he was just a toddler of three. Pedro was a natural born dancer.   Wrenched from his mother’s side as a five year old, Pedro & his siblings were mandated to an orphanage for the rest of their childhood.  As a young man in the 1950’s he catapulted to international fame on the dance floor of New York’s Palladium Ballroom. Pedro’s dancing mesmerized the world with his originality, grace and instinct sense of rhythm. Dancing made him the popular one. Dancing gave him freedom. Dancing brought him love.

Coming out of an institutionalized childhood at 18, with a serious axe to grind; Pedro tried his hand at boxing. Beaten viciously in a match; famed singer, Miguelito Valdes told Pedro he should be dancing.   Aguilar took his advice and entered a contest, winning a thousand dollars his first time out. He was so proud! He had never seen that kind of money in his life! From that day on, Pedro never stopped dancing.

Cuban Pete & Millie Donay
Life Magazine Photo originally read “Sambo Does Mambo”

The original king of the Mambo; Cuban Pete created steps that are standards in today’s Latin dance competitions. Machito, Tito Puente & Tito Rodriguez, played rhythms specifically arranged with Pete’s dancing in mind. He set the Palladium dance floor on fire with his moves, becoming the root of the national 50’s mambo craze.  And in 1951, Pete broke the color line in on stage by dancing with his Italian wife, Millie Donay to the very sensuous “Love For Sale”.

In 1954 the couple broke the color line nationally, appearing in a spread for Life magazine about the Mambo.  The dance team of Cuban Pete & Millie created magic, enchanting audiences clear across the country.   Their impeccable style is still revered in the dance community. Cuban Pete, honored in several museums, received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to Latin dance, its culture and history.

In 1991 Pete was contracted by the movie producers of “The Mambo Kings.” He was the image consultant to Antonio Banderas & Armand Assante; entrenching them both, with the 1950’s Palladium attitude. He choreographed dance scenes and consulted on set designs; bringing authenticity to the film.

Pete with clave from Pasos Latinos
Pete appears in MimiTVA’s doc “Pasos Latinos; A Mambo-mentary”

In 2000, Aguilar, with then dance partner, Barbara Craddock, was choreographic consultant to the Miami City Ballet’s innovative “Mambo No 2 a.m.,” under the direction of Edward Villela.

Pete has danced before Presidents Eisenhower & Johnson, Prime Minister Ben Gurion and given a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II. Yet no one was more in awe of his fame than the legendary dancer himself.

Cuban Pete
Pete at Smithsonian Latin Jazz Exhibit

A humble soul, a tender giant, Pete was unaware of the genius he emitted on the dance floor.  His is the story of a great American dream, Pedro “Cuban Pete” Aguilar was an icon symbolizing the clave-based Afro-Latin Dance, exactly like Tito Puente is an icon symbolizing the Music.  Cuban Pete was a hero in which we can all take pride, for his steps, his accomplishments…his life “en clave.”



Today’s La Vida En Black History Month features the Baby Catchers, Las Parteras, the doulas, the midwives.   These women keep our people alive… they do the work of nurturing our women through the single most important event of their lives: dando luz a un ser humano or bringing to light another human being.

5073_10201376779729421_110812270_nOn this, my very own born day I honor the long line of midwives from wence I come. My Aunty Nenen (Mother’s Older Sister) or Nurse Luces as she was known in Trinidad; brought hundreds of babies into the world as a midwife.

38107_1530199782899_3262076_n     Ironically Daddy’s mother, my grandmother    was also a Trinidadian Midwife.  Ada Machado was a force with which to be reckoned all over that island of my parents’ birth.  Nurse Ada Machado brought children into Trinidad during the Great Depression, initiating hundreds of women into Motherhood.  Doulas are a part of my historical DNA and celebrating that DNA is my mission in all the work I do.

So naturally an entire episode of the La Vida En Black documentary series will be dedicated to La Partera extraordinaire, Ynanna Djehuty, an Afro-Dominicana from the Bronx, NY.

An "Aminata DIallo" of today!
An “Aminata Diallo” of today!

This talentosa jovencita is a gifted writer, an emerging intensely powerful doula and a passionately motivated reproductive health activist. Ynanna Djehuty is THE spiritual midwife a pregnant woman wants in the room catching the baby; ushering her into the new life in the power and grace that comes with the Motherhood phase of life.  And Djehuty comes armed with an arsenal of knowledge and awareness of the African ancestors and that influence all that she possesses within her spirit.  A modern-day ” Aminata Diallo!

Ynanna is empowering women and  young people of the African Diaspora, intentionally through her Afro-Latina Identity.  Her experiences as a birth doula raise awareness on maternal and infant health for women, and ultimately shines a light on the crippling disparities in the healthcare system in the United States for women of color. She is a clear and present danger to the unacceptable status quo, a soldier of midwifery advocating for the woefully neglected low-income woman and their overall well-being.  Simply put Ynanna’s goal is to uplift the way we bring our humanity onto this earth.  I am honored to feature her in my La Vida En Black Documentary Series and as my La Vida En Black History Month feature today.. My Born Day!

Please Visit Ynanna’s site…!Rethinking-Black-History-Month-by-Ynanna-Djehuty/c1cqn/B705A00B-4129-4D2E-AF34-347D7EFB41BF
Specialties: AfroLatina Identity, Womyn’s empowerment, Spoken Word, Childbirth & Women of Color

An Excerpt from Ynanna Djehuty “While our Black/Latino male counterparts are active in the fight to defend black and brown lives against police violence, they seldom acknowledge the attacks on our reproductive capacities experienced by women of color. What is more important for humanity than the ability to bring and sustain life on the planet? Who can deny that the most valuable resource in making that happen is women?  Therefore, calls to reinstate our homegrown midwives and healers, improve the conditions our women experience in the hospitals and create spaces for comprehensive reproductive healthcare are imperative to the survival and thriving of people of color in this world.

Chile’s Encomiendas = 40 acres and a mule…

Todays La Vida En Black History Month message comes from deep in South America. Chile’s first Afro-descendants were brought as slaves and soldiers in 1536, with the explorer Diego de Almagro. The African Slaves worked in farming and agriculture, mined gold and worked on construction projects. The quality of the slaves’ lives was so low the mortality rate was high. Africans were enslaved to supplement the native labor population. Being that Chile is far and islolated, their slave population did remain small.  They were taken mainly from Angola, Congo, and the Guinnea Coast. importing them was costly, due to the long routes, which encouraged smuggling.

Bimagesut as time passed the Afro-Chilean were not just slaves, they also became soldiers. Those that served with distinction, earned “encomiendas”, or land grants. Some notable Afro-Chilean encomiendas owners were Juan Valiente, (the first to own an encomiendas) Juan Beltrán, Leonor Galiano, Gomez de Leon, and Cristóbal Varela.

Another specific group of Black people in Chilean history were members of the 8th Regiment of The Andean Liberation Army that fought the Spaniards in Chacabuco. That Army, organized in Argentina was led by San Martin to liberate Chile and later, Peru. San Martin was a fan of black soldiers because “blacks were the only people capable of success in the infantry.” The Afro-Latino soldiers received their freedom after crossing the Andes and fighting the Spaniards. Inevitably being on the front lines brought the greatest risk of death in battle. This history of Chile is never recognized and those black soldiers did not received the proper commendation for their contribution to the liberation of Chile.

Maestra; Norma Guillard #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

Maestra; Norma Guillard #BlackHistoryIsGlobal



Today’s La Vida En Black History Month message comes from Cuba and is about a woman who as a teenage girl, helped a revolution teach her entire nation to read. Norma Guillard is a Social Psychologist and a former brigadista with the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign or La Campaña Nacional de Alfabetizaciòn.

I am proud to say my friend, NORMA GUILLARD was just 15 years old in 1961, living in Havana when she joined the national campaign that would change the course of her life forever.

The Cuban literacy campaign took 250,000 young volunteers from the city (Habana) and sent them out to the countryside to live with families to teach them how to read and write. In the end they taught over 700,000 people to read and write in one year. 100,000 of the teachers were under 18 years old. Over half were women.  One of them was Norma Guillard.


I met Norma when I was promoting the award winning film about this tremendous time in Cuba’s history… MAESTRA is a 33-minute documentary that features as one of its central characters, La Maestra, Norma Guillard.

At the UN General Assembly in September of 1960, Cuba announced that they would eradicate illiteracy in one year. They launched a massive national media campaign and over 250,000 Cubans volunteered. It was the “most important time in my life” Norma explained. She was a courageous young woman who teamed with thousands of Cuban teenagers to teach their own people to read and truly changed the world.

Facing a bevy of dangers, Norma stayed in the community where she was teaching, and completed the year-long course. In the end the Campaign was enormously successful raising Cuba’s literacy rate to 95 percent in 1962 and then maintaining literacy at 98 percent to this day.

Today, Guillard is a social psychologist. She was one of the first Cuban women of her generation to call herself a Feminists and works on issues of gender, race, sexual orientation in Cuba. Guillard has contributes regularly to the discourse on race and racism in Cuba.

An adjunct professor at the University of Havana teaching psychology and gender, she is also one of the past presidents of the Cuban Association of Psychologists. Norma Guillard is also an advisor to United Nations Development Program and UNESCO on gender and HIV/AIDS prevention. She is a principal collaborator at the National Center for the AIDS Prevention and the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which spearheads work to educate against homophobia and lobby for civil unions in Cuba.

She is an avid speaker at conferences, educational, social and cultural forums worldwide. Norma currently collaborates with CENESEX championing the rights of LGBT Cubans. And Norma Guillard is La Vida En Black History continuing to teach and expand the breath of knowledge about Afro-Latinos throughout the world.




Alberto Santiago Lovell, Afro-Argentine Wins Olympic Gold! #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

Alberto Santiago Lovell, Afro-Argentine Wins Olympic Gold!  #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

grafico-1142-alberto-lovell-4667-MLA3792574252_022013-FToday’s La Vida En Black History Month message is about an Olympic athlete.  He hailed from Argentina.  And came from a great boxing family Alberto Santiago Lovell (1912–1966)  won the Gold Medal in the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.  Just 20 years old, Lovell fought in the heavyweight category at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Lovell was a relentless boxer.  During the games he quickly eliminated a Finnish boxer, Gunnar Barlund in the first round.  Then he went on in the semifinals to TKO a Canadian contender, George Maughan.  The Afro-Argentine was particularly powerful and his performance earned him the gold medal; making Lovell the first black Olympic heavyweight champion. Although Lovell should have received a hero’s welcome to Buenos Aires, it  did not happen.  On the boat ride home, an argument about the quality of the ship’s food led to Lovell punching one of the ship’s officers.   A near-riot ensued  with other athletes of the Argentine Olympic squad and Lovell was the accused ringleader.  Lovell was kept in custody for the rest of the voyage and instead of being meeting a ticker-tape reception he was thrown in jail.

369_001Four years later in Berlin, at the Summer Olympics, Alberto’s brother, Guillermo Lovell, aged 18, won the silver medal in the heavyweight category.

Guillermo Lovell is Pictured right .


In his career as a professional boxer, Alberto Lovell became the Argentine and South American champion, winning 76 matches, 55 of them by knock out.  Alberto Lovell was only defeated 8 times (2 by Knock Out), and had 3 draws.

Alberto Lovell went professional in 1938; becoming the champion Argentine and South American heavyweight.  His first professional fight was against Eduardo Primo on January 20, 1934, losing by technical knockout. Santiago Lovell also beat Red Burman and Maxie Rosenbloom. His last fight was against Archie Moore in the Luna Park in Buenos Aires on July 7, 1951.  On July 7, 1953 the Asociación Argentina de Boxeo took his title and declared the championship vacant because Lovell had not defended his title since 1944.

Lovell’s boxing talent seemed to be a familial trait; besides his brother, his son, Alberto Santiago, would make it to the quarter finals in Tokyo in 1964, as a heavyweight as well.  Santiago’s son went on to box professionally with some success and another son Pedro, was also a professional fighter and played the part of “Spider Rico” in the first and last “Rocky” movies.


A Love Letter to My Trini-Vene Tribe… #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

Today’s La Vida En Black History Month moment comes in the form of a love letter.  A love letter written through history, by our ancestors, by our Grandmothers and Grandfathers…today’s Post is dedicated to mi famila.

IMG_1813Born in the “in between” time my Mummy, Josefa Machado was a bright daughter in the Luces family.  She was an enterprising young woman, working at the US Naval Base in Chaguaramas during the war as a nurses’ assistant.  The Trinidadian peninsula was leased to the United States in 1940 for the construction of a naval base under the Destroyers for Bases Agreement bringing over 30,000 soldiers to the Island nation from the US, Canada, and Great Britain.  It boosted the economy and brought a new generation of children into the Trinidadian culture. And Josefa had 5 beautiful boys in Trinidad before the war was done.
IMG_1810My Dad, Pedro Machado was an intelligent, handsome young man with an adventurous spirit and a gypsy’s soul because he loved to travel.  He joined the merchant marines and came to the United States in 1947 on a ship he boarded in Venezuela.  After WWII they both headed to The Shell Oil Compound in Venezuela and met, fell in love and had seven more children.   I am a proud product of this profoundly beautiful Trini- Vene Tribe.

I am because of them.  We all are because of them. They moved from Venezuela to Miami for an “opportunity” for their children. “Get an education” Daddy used to say, “and dont talk about people, talk about ideas.”  In his lifetime he worked on futuristic projects at MS DOS in the Silicon Valley of the late 60’s and at Eastern Airlines in Miami, Florida.  Unfortunately this force of nature that was my father died “with his boots on” almost 40 years ago. But he lives in us all and is vibrantly alive in all the work we do.

From Josefa we received our entrepreneurial spirit.   Her gift was the way she hustled on an international scale. In Venezuela she ran a salon in our house and when we moved to Miami she continued her styling.    Buying the latest fashions in Miami and taking trunk shows to her clients in Venezuela and Trinidad, my mother was a stylist extraordinaire! “Do good and good will always follow you” was her catch phrase to us all as chastisement,  as advise, that woman was the closest person to God we have ever known.

My siblings are all extraordinary people, we are an enterprising loving tribe, born of incredibly resilient, resourceful people.  We are chefs, musicians, entrepreneurs, educators, filmmakers and in the end really “good people.”  Our children may not have the riches of Rothschilds or the Rockefellers  but they do inherit a history and a legacy of a familial community rich with good music, great food and wonderful stories.

For these and other great stories of The African diaspora in the Americas check for La Vida En Black a documentary series from MimiTVA… This is Episode 1 Trini-Vene Tribe…
Happy Valentines Day Machados and Luces I love you.

El Maestro Rafael Cordero, La Vida En Black History Month #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

El Maestro Rafael Cordero, La Vida En Black History Month #BlackHistoryIsGlobal

Todays La Vida En Black History Month Message comes from Borinken… or the Beautiful island of Puerto Rico…  One of the most renowned Puerto Ricans of African ancestry was Rafael Cordero (1790 – 1868), a freeman born in San Juan into a poor family, his father Lucas Cordero worked in the tobacco fields and his mother was Rita Molina. He was one of three siblings, his two older sisters were Gregoria and Celestina.   He became known as “The rafael corderoFather of Public Education in Puerto Rico”.

Cordero was a self-educated Puerto Rican who provided free schooling to children regardless of their race.  Cordero was self-educated. His love of literature and his determination to teach and educate himself drove him to develop the skills to teach elementary school.

At the beginning of the 19th century Rafael Cordero established, in his house, a free school for all children, regardless of race, who were unable to afford an education otherwise. Cordero maintained his educational center for 58 years at Luna Street in San Juan. There he taught reading, calligraphy, mathematics and catechism. Among the distinguished alumni who attended Cordero’s school were Román Baldorioty de Castro who went on to be one of Puerto Rico’s most diligent Abolitionists, Alejandro Tapia y Rivera a poet and women’s rights activist and José Julián Acosta a journalist and civil rights activist in Puerto Rico. Cordero proved that racial and economic integration could be possible and accepted.08102907_VU92CK98SZ70

Cordero was awarded the coveted Premio de Virtud by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, (the Friends of Puerto Rico Economic Society) an economic club.   A cash prize associated with the award was given to Cordero and he gave the money away to those most in need. Using half of the money, Cordero bought books and clothes for his students and the other half was given to the homeless.

The people’s love and respect for Cordero was evidenced by the fact that more than 2,000 people attended his funeral in 1868. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Church, upon the request of San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, began the process of Cordero’s beatification, the first step in the process of canonization.  That’s La Vida En Black History for February 13, 2015.