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CUBABA is an exhibit by Cuban-American artist

Xavier Cortada

April 4th thru May 9th, 1998

at the

ArtCenter / South Florida

1037 Lincoln Road

Miami Beach, FL

(305) 534-3339

Coming up Cuban-American, caught somewhere on the gangplank between identities, Xavier Cortada always struggled to span the two worlds that defined him. He was the Americanito who knew Cuba only through the hazy reminiscences of his parents, and the Cubanito who grew up praying to La Caridad del Cobre. The kid from upstate New York who stumbled over his Spanish, and the Miami exile who labored to learn the difference between share and chair.

But it wasn’t until he hit college that the contradictions of duality turned sharp. Encased in that Americano world of fraternities at the University of Miami, Cortada was never farther away from his Cubania. He had been raised in that near-Cuba that was el exilio and now here he was, a world from the enclave that defined him.

His childhood had been spent surrounded by friends from unvisited but familiar places – places like Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, Camaguey. Now, living at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, his friends were from truly distant locales – Missouri, Massachusetts, Kentucky. He was suddenly a foreigner in his own home.

It is in this muddled place that Cubaba was born. It was someone’s mispronunciation of his name. And it stuck. Cortada became Cubaba, a foil to himself, a frat house caricature in sombrero and toga who brought comic relief to the pain of otherness even while empowering the Cubanito in the Mexican hat.

Later Cortada came to view those Cubaba years as a youngster’s crude attempt at negotiating identity -- a necessary passage to self-discovery, and ultimately, self-acceptance. Cubaba, the exhibit, is product of those explorations of self, and of one Cuban-American’s coming to terms with what part of his identity is truly de aqui and what part is de alla.

The Cubaba series offers not the simplistic iconography of Cuban nostalgia, but the tempered expressions of being caught somewhere between the truths and the myths that frame el exilio. When are you most Cuban? When you’re wearing your Cubaba persona in good-natured defiance of shame? Or when you’re kneeling before your virgen on the edge of Biscayne Bay. And when are you most American? When you’re praying for an unknown island, safe at the edge of that bay, or when you finally find yourself on that mythical island, praying among strangers in a strange place?

Cubaba reaffirms the precarious balancing act that is bi-culturalism. And the endless search that is finding a sense of place and person when you are the product of two worlds.



Bacardi - Martini, USA

Bisazza, North America

Gibraltar Bank
Bell South


"The CUBABA exhibit is truly a cultural celebration. About then and now. About identity and belonging. About being Cuban, being American. Being both, and being neither."