To the right, retired university professor Acela Caner Román and María Ángela Marengo. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Family and community exchanges have left an inedible mark on relations between Italians and Cubans, strengthening fraternal ties in the neighborhood of Pogolotti, in the Havana municipality of Marianao.

This People’s Council was Cuba’s first working class neighborhood to be built in the 20th century, following the end of its Wars of Independence against Spain. The area is named after the Pogolotti family; a group of renowned intellectuals who lived in the neighborhood.

Doménico “Dino” Pogolotti (1873-1923) fromPiedmont, Italy, bought a cheap plot of land in this rural zone on the outskirts of Havana which had been almost completely destroyed following the country’s independence wars toward the end of the 19th century.
In order to increase the value of the area, he launched an urban development project, visible today in the design of the roads, water system and buildings.
His son Marcelo (1902-1988), a celebrated artist, continued to contribute to the area’s development through the prestige associated with his name and by financing investment projects with the earnings from his paintings.

His works include a painting of a march by workers in Marianao to demand their rights, and depict the lives of the poor and exploited.

Meanwhile, intellectual Graziella Pogolotti, Marcelo’s daughter and fellow Granma journalist, also notes her pride in belonging to this community, where she has played a key role in developing collaborative social projects with the University of Turin in Italy.

Regarding this work, retired university professor, Acela Caner Román, noted that since 2002, the Italy-Cuba Friendship Association, Giaveno City Hall in the region of Piedmont, Italian Union of Retired Workers, Turin’s Immigration Museum, as well as other institutions from the European nation, have been supporting community projects in the area, designed to improve the quality of life of residents.

The book Encuentro entre Amigos, contains traditional recipes from Cuba and Piedmont. Photo: Nuria Barbosa

Participating on the Cuban side, meanwhile, are the Ministry of Higher Education, Group for the Comprehensive Development of the capital, municipal government, Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, and Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, which organize activities at the Comprehensive Transformation Workshop, composed of a community center with spaces for senior citizens and young people.
All these efforts form part of the Sinergia en Pogolotti social project, which includes research into the origins of the neighborhood, as well as the aspirations and lifestyles of residents, in order to bring the population together to partake in a collective work of community building, increase their knowledge and make a personal contribution.

“Through research and the subsequent publishing of various books, this project has helped spread knowledge that the most prominent Italian family in Cuba was from Piedmont. Such books have been made available in schools in Cuba and Turin. This way people can learn more about their origins, which strengthens their sense of belonging and pride in the neighborhood,” stated Caner Román, with a Masters degree in Geography and delegate of electoral district 53 in Marianao (equivalent to a local councillor or community leader).

Meanwhile, he highlighted the participation of artists from the area in the 2015 edition of the International Visual Arts Festival known as the Havana Biennial, during which community spaces were transformed into galleries to display works by local and international artists.

Likewise, these experiences in Cuba, as well as efforts to promote dance, music and visual arts, among other manifestations, and pen-pal initiatives between Cuban and Italian students, have sparked interest in learning more about the Caribbean island among students and teachers from schools in Turin.
“Each one of us contributes what knowledge we have to the neighborhood, and as a result have helped to build a youth center and also offer pattern cutting and sewing classes. The sewing machines were sent from Italy through the Sinergia project. We have also built a cooking space, given young people’s interest in this subject,” stated Román.

Another outcome of the project is the book: Encuentro entre Amigos which contains traditional family recipes from Cuba and Piedmont, and was presented last February 24, to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of the neighborhood.
Finally, Caner Román noted that “We seek to build knowledge, solidarity and friendship between the peoples. We are working to improve their material and spiritual conditions, in order to bring happiness and joy.”

María Ángela Marengo, former director of the University of Turin’s Professor and Student Exchange Office and now retired, highlighted the work she and her colleague have undertaken to secure support from government officials in both countries.
She went on to note that efforts have also been directed toward raising funds for the project and encouraging families to donate, in order to buy cameras for a photography workshop, for example.
Meanwhile, the project has also received financial support from tour operator Viaje Solidario.
María Ángela has lost count of how many times she has visited Cuba, but described the island as living history, in which the legacy of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro continues to thrive.