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Victoria Santa Cruz (1922 - 2014)

Trailblazer of Afro-Peruvian Culture


In the bustling heart of Lima, Peru, in 1922, Victoria Santa Cruz entered the world as the eighth child in a family pulsating with artistic fervor. Raised amidst a tapestry of black heritage, music, and intellectual discourse, Santa Cruz was destined to leave an indelible mark on Peru's cultural landscape.


Her upbringing was a symphony of influences. Her mother, steeped in the rhythms of the marinera and other traditional dances, imparted upon Victoria a rich understanding of Peruvian folklore. Meanwhile, her father, who had absorbed the nuances of European classical music and the works of Shakespeare during his adolescence in the United States, broadened her horizons.


The seeds of Santa Cruz's groundbreaking career were sown in 1958 when she, alongside her younger brother Nicomedes, co-founded Cumanana, Peru's first black theater company. Together, they embarked on a mission to excavate the buried narratives of Peru's African heritage. Their seminal work, "Malató," unveiled the hidden dynamics between master and slave, confronting the whitewashed history of Peruvian haciendas.


But Santa Cruz was not confined to the stage. She wielded the pen with equal finesse, composing poetry that echoed the rhythms of her Afro-Peruvian roots. Her verses, steeped in the cadences of her mother tongue, resonated with themes of identity, resilience, and cultural pride. Through her poetry, she offered a lyrical exploration of the Afro-Peruvian experience, reclaiming narratives that had long been marginalized.


Her journey took her beyond Peru's borders. From 1961 to 1965, she honed her craft in Paris, studying under luminaries like Jean-Louis Barrault, Eugène Ionesco, and Maurice Béjart. Immersed in the cultural melting pot of Europe, she emerged as a sought-after costume designer and choreographer.


Her return to Peru in 1966 heralded the birth of Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú, a platform that catapulted Afro-Peruvian culture onto the global stage. With performances that pulsated with the rhythms of landó and zamacueca, Santa Cruz electrified audiences from Lima to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.



In the tumultuous landscape of 1970s Peru, Santa Cruz assumed leadership roles in the realm of folklore, spearheading the Escuela Nacional de Folklore and later the Conjunto Nacional de Folklore. Her company crisscrossed Latin America, the United States, and Europe, spreading the gospel of Afro-Peruvian heritage.


Even in the twilight of her career, Santa Cruz remained a beacon of inspiration. As a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, she nurtured the next generation of artists until her retirement in 1999.


Her passing in 2014 left a void in Peru's cultural fabric, but her legacy endures. Victoria Santa Cruz, with her unwavering commitment to awakening black consciousness and pride, continues to resonate as a trailblazer of Afro-Peruvian culture, immortalized in the annals of history and honored at the Museo de la Nación in Lima.


In her lifetime, Vitoria received numberous prestigeous honors and awards. These achievements underscore Santa Cruz's enduring influence as a trailblazer of Afro-Peruvian culture and her dedication to promoting cultural pride and awareness in Peru and beyond.

  • National Award for Culture - Santa Cruz was honored with the National Award for Culture in recognition of her significant contributions to the enrichment and promotion of Afro-Peruvian culture.

  • Medal of Honor of the National Institute of Culture - In acknowledgment of her outstanding achievements in the fields of theater, dance, and folklore, Santa Cruz was awarded the Medal of Honor by the National Institute of Culture.

  • Best Folklorist, 1970 - Santa Cruz was recognized as the Best Folklorist in 1970 for her exemplary work in preserving and promoting Peruvian folklore.

  • Appointment as Director of the National Folklore Ensemble - In 1973, Santa Cruz was appointed as the Director of the National Folklore Ensemble of the National Institute of Culture, further solidifying her role as a leader in the preservation and dissemination of Peruvian cultural heritage.

  • Recognition at the Museo de la Nación - Following her passing in 2014, Victoria Santa Cruz was laid in state at the Museo de la Nación in Lima as a tribute to her enduring legacy and impact on Peruvian culture.


Below is a list of Victoria Santa Cruz's notable work:

  • Malató (1961) - A three-act musical play written, choreographed, and staged by Victoria Santa Cruz. It revealed the historically prevalent intimate relations between slave and master in Peruvian haciendas and sought to reconstruct nearly forgotten black religious practices.

  • La muñeca negra (The Black Doll) - Staged circa 1965, this ballet showcased Santa Cruz's talents as a choreographer and marked her first exploration of Afro-Peruvian themes on the international stage.

  • Teatro y Danzas Negras del Perú (1966) - Founded by Santa Cruz upon her return to Peru, this group served as a platform for promoting Afro-Peruvian culture through theater and dance.

  • Escuela Nacional de Folklore (1969) - Under the Revolutionary Government of the Peruvian Military Forces, Santa Cruz was appointed director of this institution, where she played a pivotal role in preserving and promoting Peruvian folklore.

  • Conjunto Nacional de Folklore (1973) - Santa Cruz became the director of this national folklore ensemble, leading them on extensive tours throughout Latin America, the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.

  • Poetry - Throughout her life, Santa Cruz composed poetry that explored themes of identity, resilience, and cultural pride, echoing the rhythms of her Afro-Peruvian roots.

    • "Me Gritaron Negra" ("They Shouted Black at Me") - One of her most famous poems, "Me Gritaron Negra" addresses issues of racial identity and pride, challenging societal perceptions of blackness and reclaiming it as a source of strength.

    • "Festejo" - A celebratory poem that captures the vibrant rhythms and joyous spirit of the Afro-Peruvian festejo dance, reflecting Santa Cruz's deep connection to her cultural heritage.

    • "Canción para Todos" ("Song for Everyone") - A poignant reflection on the universality of human experiences, emphasizing the importance of unity and solidarity across differences.


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