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In Conversation with Blogger, Podcaster, Host “Voice of the Water Lily – Our Stories.”

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TOMÁS PEÑA: Welcome, Anani! Tell me about the Podcast, “Voice of the Water Lily” and how you present music and stories from a “Taina youth’s perspective.”

ANANI CENTENO: My father, Jose Centeno, and his family moved from Guanica, Puerto Rico, to New York (the Bronx) in the 1950s. In the 80s, he reconnected with his Taino roots. Everyone knew him as “Running Water.” He raised me and my brother, Hatuey, with the consciousness that we are of Taino, African, and European ancestry. My made sure that we were aware of our ancestry!

TP: Tell me about your brother.

AC: He is ten and named after the Taino Cacique Hatuey. His name means, “Certainty of the sun.”

TP: In the book, “Taino Earthschooling in the Diaspora,” there’s a passage that describes your upbringing. “Our daughter, Anani Kaike at the age of 8 years old, has a profound mind and spirit. She was born within the reclaiming of our Taino identity (Taino resurgence), and she was born with Ceremonies from when she was in the womb, to her birth, to her blessing Ceremony and the planting of her placenta. She took her first steps in the Batey’s and Ceremonial Lands that her Elders caretake, and represents a generation of children who no longer need to think of reclaiming, but who take that ‘reclaiming’ to the new dimension of ’embodying.’ Her name is Taino and means ‘Flower of the Water who Nourishes the Earth.'”

Anani Kaike

AC: My father’s passing in 2019 gave me a sense of responsibility to create the blog and podcast. Also, I grew up in a musical environment. My parents didn’t expose me to mainstream music. They believed, “This is your cultural music. It’s what you should listen to.” I grew up listening to Ismael Rivera, Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Bomba, Plena, Patato y Totico, Latin jazz, and a wide variety of music. Also, my grandfather, who I never met, loved Jibaro (folkloric) music, Bobby Capo and Daniel Santos, which he instilled in my father. I am keeping the culture alive and honoring the ancestors. That’s what’s important to me!

TP: Tell me about your mother.

AC: My mother, Laura Centeno, was born in England and grew up in Pennsylvania. Her family moved to Pennsylvania when she was a baby. My mother never bought me fiction books, she bought biographies, which sparked my interest in people’s stories. My mother is so immersed in the Puerto Rican culture she surprises me. She’s an “Honorary Boricua!” 

Left to Right: Hatuey, Laura, Anani, Jose

TP: You and your family live on a farm. Where is it located?

AC: In Maryland, about one hour outside of Baltimore. 

TP: And, you and your brother are homeschooled.

AC: Yes. I love it. I take online classes from 9 AM to noon and I have the rest of the day to research, write, catch up on my Podcast, and pursue other interests. 

TP: What came first, the blog or the podcast?

AC: My father encouraged me to create the blog, which I did in 2018. I launched the podcast in August 2021.

TP: What doe the title, Voice of the Water Lily signify? 

AC: It signifies my name, Anani, which means “Water Lily” in the Taino language.

TP: And, Kaike?

AC: Kaike means “Nurturer of the Earth.”

TP: What’s a day in the life of Anani Centeno like? 

AC: I go to school, draw, paint, work on the Podcast, research, read, sew. We live on a 50-acre farm, so there are always things to do. We have sheep, goats, chickens, pigeons, a garden, and we practice regenerative agriculture.

TP: Returning to the Podcast, Aurora Flores has given you her blessing.

AC: Aurora is important to me. She appeared on several podcasts and shared her stories. Also, she inspires me because women’s voices are so rare in Latin music, Salsa. 

TP: Aurora is the CEO of Aurora Communications, an award-winning journalist, author musician, songwriter, cultural historian and founder of the group, Zon del Barrio. The episodes on the life and work of Rafael Cortijo and Roberto Roena are exceptional. How is the Podcast doing, thus far?

AC: The Podcast is new, but it’s been good overall. My goal is to uplift and tell the stories of our ancestors truthfully and without glorifying them. They were icons, but they were people! More problematic is building an audience for stories about political and controversial figures like Don Pedro Albizu Campos. I think Ruben Blades said it best, “People want to hear music that’s geared towards escape.” 

TP: Which, to some degree is understandable but, knowing one’s history is essential!

AC: If we don’t know our culture and history, we are lost! 

TP: What grade are you in?

AC: I’m in the 10th grade. I graduate in a couple of years, but I haven’t figured out what I will do yet. Perhaps journalism, history, or teaching.

TP: Tell me about the book, “Taino Earth Schooling in the Diaspora,” and projects you are working on. 

AC: I wrote the book when I was nine. It goes into how I was raised, spirituality. I’m currently working on a book about music, musicians, and how music is our collective expression.

TP: Impressive! Particularly for one so young. Thank you for speaking with me. It’s good to know the music and stories are in capable hands. I urge readers to visit Anani’s Blog and Podcast HERE. To gain a deeper understanding of Taino Earthschooling, I highly recommended Anani’s book, which you can find HERE.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2022

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