She remembers a conference Moreno-Vega organized that brought together Yoruba priestesses from Nigeria, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. “While they couldn’t speak each other’s languages,” Sims says, “they could communicate with each other in Yoruba, which is the original language for Santeria.” Back then, despite the Civil Rights movement that had roiled through the 1960s and defined the era, consciousness around systemic racism was only nascent—particularly in the culture sector.
“The art world, as you know, is one of the most racist, discriminatory, and marginalizing experiences because it’s grounded in a Eurocentric vision as opposed to a global vision,” says Dr. Moreno-Vega. “So when we started, people really didn’t understand what we were doing. In time, because of the Black Art Movement, and the Eureka Movement, and the Native American Movement, and all of the movements that branched out of the Civil Rights movement, you begin to get people who are conscious of these movements.”
Today, that increased consciousness has put a spotlight on the rampant inequities of the art world—as well as bringing attention to numerous under-recognized artists of Latino and African descent, such as
and Archibald Motley—but Moreno-Vega stresses the constant labor and vigilance that is necessary to keep moving the dial. “Finding a multigenerational audience is part of our reality, because we need to train the next generation,” she says. “We have to think about the future, and continuity. We have to think about what we’re putting into our kids’ brains, because they have to know who they are.”
The strength of Latino and African-American voices across the culture sector, one imagines, can only benefit from the spirit of diversity and inclusivity that characterizes the CCCADI. “We’re talking about black and Latino solidarity,” Acevedo remarked at the opening, noting that there has historically been tension between the two communities in West and East Harlem, often considered to be divided along 5th Avenue.