By: Bayyina Black
Have you ever had the feeling that a place was calling your name? There was something about it that you were attracted to but you couldn’t quite explain it. Cuba was that place for Aja Monet, the Brooklyn-bred poet who’s ancestral roots trace back to Cuba and Jamaica. Aja has traveled all over the world, living in several different countries studying and performing poetry.
While in Europe this summer she received a chance of a lifetime to visit and perform her award winning poetry in her grandparents homeland of Cuba. Ecstatic by the opportunity to finally visit the place that had been calling her home since she was a small child, Aja a U.S. citizen, was unsure of how she would be able to pull off this trip. Cuba is still off limits to Americans unless they are granted an official license by the U.S. government and the approval process can take weeks and even months. Where there is a will there is certainly a way and a way was made for Aja to travel to Cuba accompanied by her best friend and new boyfriend for a journey that would change her life forever.
I have been following Aja’s work for the past several years and was planning to visit Cuba around the same time. When I found out that she would be in Cuba I became so excited and reached out to her. We were both on similar paths to reunite with our families in the Castro ruled, communist country. I’ll never forget the day we met up in New York after we had both returned from Cuba. I presented her with a sunflower which just so happened to be her favorite flower, and mine too ironically. Not so ironic though since we were both Cubanas and sunflowers are the unofficial flowers of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba.
We met at one of her favorite restaurants in the Lower East Side and as she sipped her watermelon margarita I listened to her tell this story that will one day be in the pages of her New York Times Best-selling book. I felt like she was telling my story! Those stories we shared were powerful and in a completely different language that cannot be taught in a classroom. That day Aja shared with me her desire to share her story of Cuba with a small and intimate crowd. Well on a cold and rainy day in December, Aja returned “home” to the Nuyorican Poets Café (where she holds the title as the youngest slam poetry champion) to host her first sold out solo show in New York City. I made sure that I returned back in time from my own journey to be front and center and listen as my friend told a very familiar story of sitting on the Malecón, eating endless mangos, long bus rides on Viazul, and being reunited, re-rooted, and rewarded for taking the brave journey home.