Nicomedes Santa Cruz was a Peruvian poet, journalist, and folklorist. He was born on June 4, 1925 in Lima, Peru. He was best known for raising public awareness of Afro-Peruvian culture.
As a child, his mother, Victoria Gamarra Ramirez would recite décimas to him. A décima is a style of poetry that is octosyllabic and has 10 lines. This artistic form of poetry is often found in Latin America. In 1945 he met Don Porfirio Vasquez who was a decimista and folklorist. He was one of the pioneers to regain cultural identity of Afro-Peruvians. Vasquez became a major factor in Nicomedes development as a decimero.
Nicomedes began his professional life as a blacksmith. He opened his own store called Herrira Y Cerrajeria Santa Cruz” in 1954. However, in 1956, he abandoned his shop to fulfill his destiny. Santa Cruz decided to travel throughout Peru and Latin America, composing and reciting his décimas. After his travels he became an a radio announcer and a commentator for various playhouses throughout Peru. He made his theater debut in 1957 at the Teatro Municipal de Chile, with the company Pancho Fierro, in a show called Black Rhythms of Peru. Through his radio broadcasts, and collaborations in the daily newspapers like “Expreso” and “El Comercio”, him along with his sister Victoria began to revive Afro-Peruvian folklore through a theater company they formed. They wrote several playwrights together from 1959 to 1961.
He recorded 4 notable albums in his career. The first was in 1959, after his mother’s death with his group Conjunto Cumanana titled Kumanana. The next two came out in 1960 titled Ingá and Décimas y poemas Afroperuanos. The final was a four-album set called Cumanana which came out in 1964. He also wrote a series of books filled with poetry. All listings of books and recordings can be found here.
In the 1970s, he continued promoting Afro-Peruvian folklore. Nicomedes presented the first Black Arts Festival, held in Cañete, in August 1971. He then went to Africa in 1974, where he participated in the symposium “Négritude et Amérique Latine” in Sengal. That same year he traveled to Cuba and México, participating in a series of television programs.
In 1980 he moved to Madrid to work as a journalist at Radio Exterior de España. During this time he does some traveling including a trip to Brasil in 1985, where he participates in the Consultation on Black Culture and Theology in Latin America, by giving a lecture entitled “Aportes del Negro al Cristianismo en America”. In 1989 he taught a seminar on African culture in Santo Domingo. He did manage to travel back to Peru several times always promoting his culture through his books and teachings. Nicomedes Santa Cruz died on February 5, 1992 from lung cancer in Madrid, Spain.
While I did not highlight everything he did, I consider him to be a very prominent Afro-Latino that not many people may have heard of. I know up until this project, I have never heard of him. If you wish to learn more about him and Afro-Peruvian culture, please check out: www.nicomedessantacruz.com