Authority on Yoruba influence inaugurates Schomburg Speaker Series

An expert in expressions of the ancient Yoruba religion in the African diaspora offers a lecture at Bates at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, in the Benjamin Mays Center, 95 Russell St.

The speaker is Marta Moreno Vega, who teaches Afro-Caribbean religions and Afro Latino/a studies at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Her talk is titled, Africa to the Americas: Connecting Our Histories, Cultures and Lived Experiences.

Open to the public at no cost, the lecture inaugurates the Arturo Schomburg Afro-Latino Speaker Series, presented by the Multicultural Affairs office at Bates. For more information, please call 207-786-8376.

With Robert Shepard, Vega co-produced and co-directed the 2002 documentary film Cuando los Espiritus Bailan Mambo (“When the Spirits Dance Mambo”). Tracing the role of sacred African thought and practices in the formation of Cuban society, culture and music, the film celebrates the roots of the Yoruba-derived religion called Santeria as practiced in Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

Vega also wrote a memoir with the same title, published by Three Rivers Press in 2004. This vivid work recalls an Afro–Puerto Rican girl’s upbringing in 1950s Spanish Harlem and explains the background for the author’s eventual status as a priestess of the Santeria/Lucumi religion.

Earlier she wrote The Altar of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santeria (One World/Ballantine, 2001) and co-edited Voices from the Battlefront: Achieving Cultural Equity (Africa World Press, 1993).

Vega brings an extensive background in educational and cultural activism to her work connecting the philosophies, traditions and creative expressions of international African diaspora communities.

She is co-director and a co-founder of the Global Afro Latino and Caribbean Initiative, which has established an alliance of nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations grounded in African descendant communities. She was a founder of the Association of Hispanic Arts and the Network of Organizations of Color, and served as director of El Museo del Barrio and the Association of Hispanic Arts.

Vega is founder and president of the Franklin H. Williams Caribbean Cultural Center/African Diaspora Institute, commonly known as the Caribbean Cultural Center. This international nonprofit is dedicated to researching, documenting and promulgating the history and traditions of African descendants in the Americas.

She began her career in education in public school, teaching history and arts-in-education at the intermediate and high school levels. Vega received her doctorate from Temple University in May 1995. From 1996 through 2000, she taught in the black and Hispanic studies department at Baruch College.

The Schomburg series at Bates honors Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a prominent Puerto Rican historian, writer and activist of the early 20th century. The series will highlight contemporary Afro-Latino/a scholars, performers and artists in discussions of identity, politics, culture, literature and history.

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