For the first time, this year Toronto will be the honoured city at the Romerías de Mayo (May Pilgrimages) cultural festival at the 17th edition of this celebration in the eastern Cuban city of Holguín. Each year during the first week of May, the young artists comprising the Hermanos Saiz Association invite friends from everywhere to this World Festival of Artistic Youth.
Holguín, the so called City of Parks, becomes the capital of Young Art for the best musicians, theatre artists, researchers, dancers, writers, painters, playwrights and every type of national and foreign promoters of culture.
The streets and spaces of Cuba’s third capital become settings for fabulous concerts and performances, exhibits, parties, workshops and public dancing as well as for the socio-cultural brainstorming sessions of the Interactive Social Forum.
The debate on the universality of our regional cultures, a tribute to the founding fathers, the relationship between the arts and generations and more avant-garde and experimental exercises, all have a place in this week committed to facing the need for new promotions and the urgency to provide a panorama of contemporary universal thought.
Discussion of the latter is seen not only from the capital’s perspective, but also from those who create and work in the arts in diverse regions, many who lack recognition and attention from the media.
The main events of this World Festival of Artistic Youth underscore the event’s diversity, including the Memoria Nuestra award, the Babel Fine Arts Edition, the Fifth Meeting of Street Dance and Theatre, the Hug Fiesta and La Camara Azul International Audiovisual Event.
The origin of Romerías de Mayo dates back to May 3, 1790, when Franciscan Friar Antonio Joseph Alegre climbed to the top of Cerro del Bayado carrying an enormous wooden cross that he placed on the summit to mark the geographic north of Holguin and perhaps also as a sort of protection against natural catastrophes and epidemics. The people of the town began marking May 3 by a climb to the top to request aid or miracles from the cross.
Over time, the townspeople began climbing up the now named Loma de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) during the first week in May - the feast of flowers - some of them religiously honoring the Virgin Mary, others to keep promises and still others to dance, drink and play, although the hill was very difficult to climb.
In the 1920s, to give more grandeur to the Romerías and facilitate access to the cross, Oscar Albanez Carballo, president of the Catholic Knights, proposed building a stairway.
To pay for this, street parties were held and over a period of 23 years, 458 steps were built. On May 3, 1950, the official inauguration of the stairway and summit chapel composed of a small square balcony with the cross on a pedestal on the altar.The fort was also rebuilt and a roundabout created.
The religious observance fell off, but the celebrations were remembered and the young artists of the Association Hermanos Saíz decided to expand the popular festival. Romerías de Mayo has since become one of the peak cultural events in Cuba. As well as culture, it is important as well for its plurality, diversity of events and the embodiment of its motto: Because there is no Today without Yesterday.