Lizeth Perez Acosta always loved to sing; as a nursery school teacher the moment she enjoyed the most was to sing with the children. And even when life takes many turns this joyous Cuban continues to delight us with her voice. Now she doesn’t do it for a group of kids but to all who walk through Old Havana.
She is a woman that lost her given name to become one of those delightful characters in this city. Her voice silences the noise of the streets … Maní, maní…./ Si te quieres por el pico divertir/ Cómprame un cucuruchito de maní….(Peanut, peanut …. / If you want to have fun through your mouth / Buy me a little cone of peanuts ….)
Over a year ago Lizeth was given her license as food processor-seller. Currently she has permission to sell eleven products, but she prefers peanuts because of all of them it is the easiest and most comfortable, she says.
From the first day she walked down Obispo street with her cones, her singing was heard. "It was in March last year; I had prepared a LOT of peanut cones and told myself, oh my holy God, what am I going to do? The idea to start singing I got it from a friend who was also a nursery school educator. She suggested me to do what I always liked: singing. Then I stood behind a pillar, looking to the sides, with tremendous fear, just in case a stone would fall from somewhere (she laughs) and I started to sing softly “El manicero” (The Peanut Vendor.) I had a great feeling because everybody at that time began to buy peanuts. "
Thus, almost unintentionally, this Havana city 40 year old lady began a restoration of one of the oldest traditions of this country: the proclamation, which-according to the ethnologist Miguel Barnet, constitutes an important chapter of Cuban folklore and it is an expression of the deep poetic and musical wealth of the people of the largest island of the Antilles.
But Lizeth, not only did revive this art, but created a character reminiscent of the vendors of earlier centuries. She told us that the idea came from Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal. "Once I was walking through the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis and one of Leal’s advisors with a cell phone asked me to sing and on the other side of the phone who was listening to me was the Historian himself. Five or six days later I ran into him, he greeted me and told me I was looking very pretty, but I was dressed in a too popular way and he wanted me to shine. He suggested me to dress in white, cover my hair and use a basket. I did not know how, but I said: well, with what little I have saved I will start! I got a white knee-high dress, because I was sure that was the one who would allow me make enough to buy the other dresses. "
And it did. Today Lizeth has 17 dresses, all linked to the Afro-Cuban religions. She always use a different one, everything depends on "how I feel when I wake up," she jokes. "Each one cost me sweat, tears and suffering because I’m chubby and these costumes take a lot of fabric, she says, but this way I could do the character of the peanut vendor. They say I’m the first, I do not know. "
We do not know either, but if not the first, at least she is one of the most recognized in the streets of Havana. And that is because she feels herself fulfilled, because she knows she is a person who people like and that think her worthy "I feel happy when my mother asks me for something and I can spoil her, because she is the child that I don’t have. With this work I found peace of mind and that is the main thing in life, " she says.
However, Lizeth is dreaming, because human beings always want a little more. Her ambition is to leave the streets of Havana. "I know I have talent and many people who can sing have told me that I sing well. I love my job because I laugh, I have millions of friends now, I make thousands of anecdotes, but, she confesses, my greatest aspiration is to one day sing in a theater ".
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