“The Women Behind The Smoke: Zoe Nocedo Primo and The "Amigas del Habano"
Picture Havaba Cuba… The streets alive with laughter, the rumble of vintage cars, and the nostalgic melodies of Buena Vista Social Club and the rhythm of the Cuban beat, wafting through the warm air.
“The Women Behind The Smoke: Zoe Nocedo Primo and The "Amigas del Habano"
Picture Havaba Cuba… The streets alive with laughter, the rumble of vintage cars, and the nostalgic melodies of Buena Vista Social Club and the rhythm of the Cuban beat, wafting through the warm air. This true land of rhythm, revolution, and rum has birthed another revolution, albeit a quieter one. This time it’s in the hallowed halls of the Habano – the cigar industry.
Amid the scent of freshly rolled cigars and the ancient notes of Cuban rhythms that are a mainstay in Havana's historical streets, we had the privilege of sitting down with Zoe Nocedo Primo, a maverick in the world of cigars and a beacon for women’s empowerment in the industry.
Chapter 1: A Journey Begins in the Heart of Havana
The sun began to dip behind the silhouettes of colonial buildings in old Havana, casting long shadows over the cobbled streets. Zoe, a woman deeply intertwined with the rich history and culture of this vibrant city, stepped into the mellow, earthy aroma of a small yet significant establishment - The Tobacco Museum. Her dark, thoughtful eyes roved around the exhibits, tales of tobacco intertwined with her own life story.
Raised amidst the heartbeats of Havana, Zoe's journey from a dedicated history teacher to an emblematic figure in the world of Habano is nothing short of a serendipitous adventure, peppered with moments where her passion for history, culture, and tobacco beautifully converged. In 1997, a turn of fate led her to the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana (OHC), a moment that bridged her academic prowess with her forthcoming love affair with tobacco culture.
Chapter 2: Illuminating the Museums, Bridging the History and Present of Tobacco
Zoe’s eyes gleamed with a particular kind of pride as she witnessed her projects at the Tobacco Museum bloom and flourish, each program a stitch in the vibrant tapestry of Cuban tobacco culture. She became a pivotal figure, navigating through educational projects and programs such as "Cuban Tobacco: From its Origins to Commercialization," offering an enriching perspective to hundreds of specialists from varied fields.
Nestled within the historical walls of the museum, Zoe was not just a curator of artifacts but a harbinger of stories that seeped deeply into the veins of tobacco culture. Her endeavors didn’t go unnoticed. In 2018, the "Habano Communication Award" lauded her, a woman making her mark in a predominantly male-driven sector.
Yet, Zoe's path was not solitary. By her side, Frank Linea Soto, her life partner and confidante, tread the path of exploring and documenting the world of Habano. His unexpected departure a year ago left an unfillable void, yet his essence pervaded through the pictures and memories intertwined with their collective ventures into the universe of Habano.
Chapter 3: Amigas del Habano – A Collective Symphony of Women and Culture
While enjoying a great Cuban cigar, Zoe reminisced about her years at the Tobacco Museum. "When Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler appointed me as the director, I realized I was diving deep into the heart of Cuba's tobacco legacy," she said with a soft gleam in her eyes. Under her leadership, the museum became an epicenter of education on tobacco culture.
Recalling the sheer passion and drive of the eight-woman team she led, Zoe recounted, “We were a small but fierce team, dedicated not only to the museum but to our broader social mission. I saw potential everywhere, a chance to bring the fascinating world of cigars to the masses, and especially, to the women of our community."
At this point in our conversation, the melancholic tones of a nearby guitar drifted our way. Zoe paused and took a moment, her thoughts drifting to her life partner, Frank Linea Soto. She spoke tenderly of him, detailing their shared dreams and how they navigated the world of Habano hand in hand, before he tragically passed away a year ago. "He was not only my partner in life but a true pillar for all our projects,” she added, her voice imbued with emotion.
Transitioning from a walk down memory lane to the present, Zoe enthusiastically detailed the birth of "Amigas del Habano." The idea was inspired by the combination of the "Flores del Habano" Colloquium, which celebrated women's role in tobacco culture, and an earlier attempt to create a group at the "Amigos de Partagás" event. "The day we launched 'Amigas del Habano,' we had women from Argentina, Great Britain, Spain, and beyond. It was an electrifying atmosphere, filled with hopes and dreams," she recounted.
Chapter 4: Sowing Seeds of Unity, Culture, and Empowerment
"Amigas del Habano" was never about just smoking. It was about fostering a deep appreciation for the culture and history behind every cigar. This vision was critical in shaping the group's identity. In many ways, it was revolutionary, challenging the traditionally male-dominated spaces of the cigar world.
The "Amigas del Habano" bloomed into a consortium of over 200 women, breaking geographical and professional barriers, becoming a nexus where historians, museologists, marketers, producers, and enthusiasts converged, championing a singular cause - the appreciation, defense, and propagation of tobacco culture.
In the cozy, intellectually stimulating gatherings, cigars and beverages, explored and appreciated by seasoned Habano Sommeliers, became catalysts for discussions, cultural exchanges, and a shared appreciation of art, history, and societal insights. This unity was not confined to physical spaces. Through digital platforms, the ‘Amigas’ continued their discourse, celebrated milestones, and supported each other beyond professional confines, delving into a bond that remarkably intertwined their professional and personal worlds.
“Our meetings are a blend of education, camaraderie, and celebration. From discussing topics central to our Cuban culture to enjoying artistic activities and expert-led pairings, we aim to elevate every experience," Zoe passionately explained. They are generally held monthly, with a program that includes:
• Welcome to the guests.
• A selected topic for discussion (related to tobacco culture or national culture).
• Active participation of the tobacco readers with poems, life advice, and other interesting topics.
• Pairing of cigars and drinks under the guidance of a specialist or an invited champion Habano Sommelier.
• Artistic activities
All these meetings initially received support from the Heritage Directorate of the Office of the Historian, as well as Habanos SA, which sponsors Amigas del Habano with cigars, Cubaron, Havana Club Internacional (rum companies that also sponsor our meetings with their beverages), Brascuba SA, Internacional Cubana de Tabacos (ICT), who assist us with promotional items.
Amigas Del Habano is a non-profit project, with a minimal contribution from each of its members and collaborators. Therefore, the support of all these state entities has been crucial in sustaining the project for 13 years.
The Amigas are present on social media, and platforms like WhatsApp, where they communicate daily and establish activity programs:
• Every day, they present commemorations related to significant cultural dates in Cuba and the world.
• Tuesdays are dedicated to Vitolfilia, where a specialist selects the theme and pieces to present.
• Fridays are for pairings and relevant news about Habanos brands and vitolas.
• A topic of the week is selected, with one or more themes for each day of that week. Specialists contribute to enrich the cultural experience of the "Amigas."
Chapter 5: Challenging Norms, Embracing and Advocating Equality
The 'Amigas' navigated through challenges, ensuring that their intentions were not misconstrued in a space often focused on production and economic dynamics. Their advocacy was firm – whether smokers or non-smokers, all women brought forth a potent message to every meeting and representation, embodying a principle that was pivotal yet remarkably simple – the woman’s significant role in the world of tobacco, recognized, celebrated, and never forgotten.
Through meticulous planning, empathetic leadership, and constant evaluation, Zoe and her team empowered the 'Amigas,' ensuring the flames of this cultural endeavor never flickered out. They stand united, not just as connoisseurs or professionals in the tobacco industry but as women, staunchly voicing their narratives, experiences, and insights in a space that has become a fortress defending and advocating for tobacco culture.
Chapter 6: Embarking on a Future, With Resilient Hope and Unwavering Dedication
As Zoe, etching her journey with “Amigas del Habano,” stands tall, having sculpted a realm where the entwining vines of empowerment, culture, and Habano find a nurturing ground, the question blossoms - has it pivoted the cigar culture?
A resounding affirmation echoes through the walls of every meeting, every chat, and every celebration of the ‘Amigas.’ Women, from different walks of life, have indeed carved out a niche, not just enjoying the Habano but being its active, vocal advocates, ensuring that their voices, stories, and contributions are not engulfed in the rolling mists of time.
Looking at all the Amigas, their eyes reflecting the myriad stories of the past and visions for the future, offers not just a glimpse into the world of Habano through a woman’s lens but presents a narrative where every ‘Amiga’ is a vital verse in a timeless ode to Habano, its history, and its indomitable spirit.
A Message in the Ashes
As our conversation draws to a close, Zoe looks out at the Havana horizon. "It's a story of love, culture, and resilience," she says. "It's about recognizing our place in the world. We may be wrapped in the delicate leaves of tradition, but inside, we burn with passion. She also adds how thankful they are for the SOTL Global Movement, an organization that plays a leading role in promoting and defending women's involvement in tobacco culture, supports our project with greater visibility. “The SOTL Global Movement and Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi (SGM Founder) really deserve recognition for all the work they are doing. Dr. Anastasia Psomiadi is truly bringing so much more attention to all of our cigar communities. It’s like a global voice of awareness that brings us all together.”
For those looking to connect, you can reach out to the "Amigas del Habano" at firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Instagram. Dive into their world, and discover a tale of cigars, culture, and sisterhood.