Art, Politics, & Identity: A Student Dialogue with Rubén Blades


Tuesday, April 26, 2022, 7:00pm to 8:00pm


Tsai Auditorium, CGIS South

This event will be held in-person for Harvard affiliates only. Please register here with your Harvard email address – IDs will be checked at the door.

Featured guest: Rubén Blades L.L.M ‘85, musician, actor, politician
Student panel: Ines De la Morena ’24, Harvard Association Cultivating Inter-American Democracy (HACIA); Gilberto Lopez-Jimenez ’25, Harvard Fuerza Latina; Martin Reyes Holguin ’23, Harvard Organization for Latin America (HOLA); Dinah Orozco-Herrera, doctoral student, Department of African and African American Studies
Moderated by: Doris Sommer, Ira Jewell Williams, Jr., Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and in African and African American Studies

Join DRCLAS in welcoming 2022 Harvard Arts Medal recipient Rubén Blades for a student-led conversation about his life, work, and what is still left to come.

Latin Music icon Rubén Blades was at the center of the New York Salsa revolution in the 1970s. His landmark albums in classic Afro-Cuban salsa are touched with rock, jazz, pan-Latin, and worldwide influences. Blades has collaborated with rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, reggaeton, and salsa artists, and has composed hundreds of songs and dozens of hits, known for their eloquent, socially charged lyrics, colorful characters, and memorable melodies. His 2017 album Salsa Big Band was awarded the Latin Grammy Album of the Year, and in 2021 the Latin Recording Academy named him Person of the Year, and was awarded, again, the Latin Grammy Album of the Year and the Latin Grammy Best Salsa Album.

He is the subject of the 2018 award-winning documentary Yo No Me Llamo Rubén Blades directed by Abner Benaim. He has won 10 Grammy and 10 Latin Grammy Awards, and this year he returns to star in the AMC television series Fear the Walking Dead. His role in the show has earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor Image Award.

He has starred in Hands of Stone opposite Robert De Niro, and in Safe House opposite Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Blades has played memorable roles in films with such acclaimed directors as Robert Redford in The Milagro Beanfield War, Robert Rodriguez in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spike Lee in Mo’ Better Blues, Alan Pakula in The Devil’s Own, and Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes. He was nominated for three Emmys for his roles in the television movies The Josephine Baker Story, Crazy From The Heart, and The Maldonado Miracle. His work by him has been honored with Cable ACE, Independent Spirit, and ALMA Awards, and honored with the Raúl Juliá HOLA Founders Award and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Arts Award.

Beyond Blades’ artistic success, he holds degrees in political science and law from the University of Panama, and an LLM from Harvard Graduate Law School. He ran for President of his native Panama in 1994 and served as Minister of Tourism 2004-2009. The Loeb Music Library at Harvard University formed The Rubén Blades Archives in 2008 to collect his work and papers from him. New York University Steinhardt appointed him Scholar in Residence for the 2018/2019 academic year.

In 2021 Blades, with Panama’s Roberto Delgado Orchestra, released SALSWING!, offering up both salsa and jazz tracks, as well as SALSA PLUS! with the salsa tracks, and SWING! with the jazz tracks, for genre purists. He and the Delgado Orchestra will return to touring in the US in November and December.

Blades was born in a rooming house in a small Latin American country, but he refused to see limitations or barriers; his work has crossed geopolitical borders, cultures, and genres and has made an impact throughout the world. He says he has “more past than future” – but he’s not done yet.

Doris Sommer is Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies. She is founder of “Cultural Agents,” an Initiative at Harvard and an NGO dedicated to reviving the civic mission of the Humanities. Her academic and outreach work promotes development through arts and humanities, specifically through “Pre-Texts” in Boston Public Schools, throughout Latin America and beyond. Pre-Texts is an arts-based training program for teachers of literacy, critical thinking, and citizenship. Among her books are Foundational Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (1991) about novels that helped to consolidate new republics; Proceed with Caution when Engaged by Minority Literature (1999) on a rhetoric of particularism; Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education (2004) for our times of contested immigration; and The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (2014). Sommer has enjoyed and is dedicated to developing good public school education. She has a B.A. from New Jersey’s Douglass College for Women, and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. 

Presented in collaboration with the Office for the Arts at Harvard