The Candela book club facilitates a safe place for people to share their experiences and learn from the experiences of others.
The Candela book club. Photo credit: Candela book club.

Leilani Bruce had never been part of a book club. She knew the usual book club bumps — how members may or may not actually read the book, how they may or may not show up after RSVP-ing ‘yes,’ how it’s often hard to get shy members to speak up. She was surprised then, when the Afro-Cuban-focused book club she co-founded, Candela, took off like a flame.

Candela, an eloquent acronym that stands for Cuban-American Narratives and Dialogue for Equity, Liberation and Allyship, found its roots over the summer amidst the tragedies of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Along with the Cuba One Foundation, the Miami Freedom Project began a dialogue about systemic racism in Cuban-American communities. This dialogue expanded to a Whatsapp conversation, virtual meetings, and finally blossomed into the birth of the Candela book club, which is meant to highlight black voices and Afro-Cuban stories.

There are over seventy book club members officially signed up from cities such as Miami, Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles.

Leilani shared the purposes of the book club she co-founded with Daniela Carolina Roger: “Our goal here is to facilitate open discussions about race, culture, identity, and how they play a role in our lives as Cuban Americans in a space where people can feel safe and welcome to share their experiences and learn from the experience of others. In holding this space, we can build a continuous dialogue that evolves our community.”

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The book club is mostly composed of Cuban Americans, however, Leilani extends the invitation to sign up to honorary Cubans as well. She says that there are more white Cuban Americans in the book club than Black Cuban Americans but that they have been able to tackle complex issues such as what is considered beautiful within the Cuban-American community. There are over seventy book club members officially signed up from cities such as Miami, Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles. Leilani has used Instagram to promote the project and while her day job is as a marketing manager, she says that leading the book club has been very different.

The book club is mostly composed of Cuban Americans, however, Leilani extends the invitation to sign up to honorary Cubans as well.

The first meeting of the Candela book club took place in October over Google Hangouts. The members read The Power of Race in Cuba (Oxford University Press, 2017) and Leilani felt fortunate to have the author, Danielle Pilar Clealand, present for the discussion. After that first invigorating and lively meeting, Leilani knew the bar had just been set pretty high: she would need to invite all of the authors to Candela’s book club meetings. In January the group read Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) by Devyn Spence Benson, and was joined by the author. The next meeting is scheduled for March and the group will be reading Alan Aja’s Miami’s Forgotten Cubans: Race, Racialization, and the Miami Afro-Cuban Experience (Palgrove MacMillan, 2016). 

As for the book club bumps that so many organizers face? Leilani hasn’t really had an issue. All the members in the book club are there to support each other, they’re there to raise Afro-Cuban voices and awareness of racism within their small communities. And they’re committed to change and discussion, as Cubans always are. 

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Leilani Bruce, co-founder of Candela book club.

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Kate Oberdorfer is a writer from Tampa, Florida. She studied English and music at Mount Holyoke College, and spent a semester in Havana in 2007. She has returned to the island almost every year since then. Kate wrote her master’s thesis on the Cubans of Union City, New Jersey at the Columbia Journalism School. She is currently finishing her first book in Bethany Beach, DE. Kate loves to cook, sing, and dance and is a diehard Washington Capitals fan.

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