When the late Victoria Santa Cruz was about 7 years old, she encountered her first taste of racism as an Afro-Peruvian – an experience that has been immortalized in her decima cantada, Me Gritaron Negra. Recently, a girl who couldn’t be older than 5 recited the same words Santa Cruz made famous in her sung poem.
Despite her young age, she delivered the lines with intensity. We haven’t been able to track down who the girl is or what country she is from (some have said Ecuador, others have said Peru), but this video is just one example of Santa Cruz’s legacy.
In her poem, Santa Cruz rejects Eurocentric beauty standards and decides to move forward with pride. When she was young, she was the only black person among her group of friends. “One day there was a little girl among them with blond hair,” she said in a 2007 interview. “And she immediately said, ‘If the little black girl wants to play with us, I’ll leave.’ And I thought, ‘Who is she?’ She had just arrived and was already dictating the law. What a surprise it was when my friends told me, ‘You can leave, Victoria.'”
It was a painful moment, and one she never forgot, because it changed her point of view. “That girl stimulated something in me without knowing so,” she said. “And I came to discover what it means to stand on your feet without looking for someone to blame, suffering but discovering things. I began to discover life.”
It was also something that Victoria decided to handle on her own. She never told her mother or father about the incident.
Performing seemed to be in Victoria’s blood. She grew up in a bilingual household – her mother spoke only Spanish, but her father was fluent in both English and Spanish. She read Shakespeare in English, and they listened to Wagner and Puccini in her home. Her mother danced marinera.
Before 1960, Victoria and her brother Nicomedes started a theater company named Cumanana. In 1961, the group staged Malató. According to El Comercio, Peruvian writer and composer César Miró said, “Malató, if it’s not the first, is definitely the most ambitious work of black theater that has been done [in Peru]. Victoria and Nicomedes have accomplished it.”