A collaboration with Cuban Families

Essay by Cuban ethnographer Abel Sierra.

One libreta for each year of the revolution.     Open edition. Two books were created in 2010 with 51 libretas, two books in 2014 with 55 libretas and four books in 2015 with 56 libretas. One book in 2016 with 57 libretas. One book in 2017 with 58 libretas and a second book contains over 200 libretas and was donated to Casa de las Americas, Havana.

5.25 x 3.25 x 6.25 ins.

I make books by hand, often looking for stories to help me understand life in Cuba. In 2006 or 2007, my landlady Magalis came to me with two libretas and said: “You make books. Make something with this.”

My first question to Magalis was: “Ok, what is it?” I had learned about the ration system in Cuba but knew very little about it, and I had certainly never seen a libreta until she handed one to me. I decided the best thing to do was to gather them and make them into an individual book.

In 2010 I bound the first two books Cincuenta y una libretas, cincuenta y una familias with fifty-one libretas, one for each year of revolution. An essay by Cuban sociologist Dr. Abel Sierra Madero, is included in the book. I use a portion of the proceeds to purchase art supplies for students at San Alejandro Academy of Art.

During the creation of these books, I talk with the Cubans who read the libreta, sharing with me their annual diary. These moments are always fascinating and humbling. I read every libreta I acquire. When someone donates a number of sequential years, I see a family change with births and deaths, or perhaps the name of a young individual is crossed out. I think maybe they left Cuba.

Starting in 2015 I  created the book, Cincuenta mas años-a collaboration with Cuban Families that stayed in Cuba. Cincuenta mas años took 3 different visits to Havana  to complete in the Spring of 2017. Instead of creating the book with one libreta for each year of the revolution, I bound together over 200 libretas.

There is a family story in each libreta.

These  libratas are the strongest collaborative book that I’ve done to date.


Casa de las Americas, Havana, Cuba

Cuban Heritage Collection, Richter Library, University of Miami

Mexican American & Iberian Collections, Green Library, Stanford University

Haas Family Arts Library, Yale University

Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies, Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California

Special Collections, Oberlin College Library

Special Collections Library, University of Iowa

Mortimer Rare Book Room, Neilson Library, Smith College

Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

Special Collections, Paterno Library, The Pennsylvania State University