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Manuel Vega, Sr.

1998 Florida Folk Heritage Award


Manuel Vega, Sr. (1942-2013) was considered by many from his small hometown of San Antonio de las Vueltas to be an expert in festival arts as well as other traditional arts. Vega was closely involved in the production of the annual patron saint’s day celebration, for which he created floats, costumes, fireworks, and farolas (decorative lanterns carried by carnival dancers). In addition to these, he tried his hand at boat making, cabinetry and other wood crafts.

In Cuba, people enjoy keeping song- birds in their patios, where they care tenderly for the birds and teach them tunes. At home in Miami, Vega continued to construct traditional wooden birdcages to sell to pet stores or give to friends. Some cages are simple structures that trap and keep small songbirds, while others provide veritable palaces for the birds. He created most of the cages in his home workshop, where he gathered together a wide variety of wood and metalworking tools.

Another traditional art which Vega preserved is handmade Cuban and Chinese-style kites. Cuban children have flown traditional six-sided paper kites for generations. Young boys in Cuban communities in Cuba, Key West and Ybor City used to spend their days competing to see who could create the best kite. As in other Caribbean nations, many Chinese immigrated to Cuba for work and business opportunities. Vega learned about the large, decorative Chinese kites while visiting Havana’s Chinatown and resolved to master the art. Apparently he did, for one of his Chinese kites was exhibited at Chicago’s Field Museum. Vega preferred to make his kites from wood frames covered with special types of rice paper.