Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Black Cuba

Whoever linked this article to my “Quote Of the Moment” on September 23, I thank you for sharing. I believe the article deserves a post all to itself.

A Black Cuba
By: Vasco B.
Diseducation.com Newsletter

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Cuba thing.

I’m sure you all have seen the college-educated neo-liberals (both Black and White kids) who seem to have this strange Cuba-fetish that has become really apparent with the recent news of Fidel Castro’s illness. They wear hats with the Cuban flag and t-shirts with Che Guevera. They eat at bougie Cuban restaurants, sipping $10 Mojitos and discussing the intricacies of socialism. They bemoan the anticipated US presence on the island when Castro decides to keel over and die. They blast the Buena Vista Social club album and cheered the Cuban baseball team against the Americans.

Despite all of this passionate pro-Cuba talk from my friends, I don’t think they really know that much. I can’t talk — all I really know about Cuba is from the movie Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. So I enlisted some help to understand what the struggles in Cuba mean to people who look like you and me. My co-worker, Lynn Gonzalez, is Black Cuban-American, and I turn to her and her father for answers.

Ricardo Gonzalez, Lynn’s father, was born in 1949 in a small town outside of Havana. In 1962, he came to the US through a special government program supporting the emigration of unaccompanied children after the communist revolution. He survived orphanages in Miami, went to college, and had a successful career in the insurance industry. Despite his American citizenship, he still maintains passion for his country and for all issues dealing with Black Cuban Americans. He taught me a lot in our 30 minute conversation.

The traditional American view on Cuba often doesn’t apply for folks who look like you and me.

Cuba has a racist history. In 1884, Cuba was only the second-to-last country to abolish slavery in the western hemisphere (only Brazil held slaves longer). For Blacks, life before Castro very much resembled the American south under Jim Crow, with segregated schools, restaurants and public areas. So when Castro led the Cuban revolution for the poor, it was often the Black Cubans who benefited….and the upper/middle class White Cubans who fled to Miami in exile.
The numbers don’t lie: In one of Mr. Gonzalez’s studies, over 90% of all Cuban-Americans are White. But on the island, 70% of all Cubans are of African descent.

So Black Cuban-Americans, like the Gonzalez family see the world differently than everybody else. As Fidel Castro shows his mortality, you won’t see as many Black Cubans partying and celebrating in the streets with their White counterparts.

It’s true that, for the most part, all ex-Cubans in the US hate Castro. But as the White Cuban-Americans plan on exacting their revenge (many of them lost money and property in the revolution of 1958 and want it all back) whenever they get a chance, Black Cuban-Americans sit on their hands nervous to what will come next.

No-one really knows what a post-Castro Cuba will look like. True, Castro and his inner circle are mostly White, but the social programs he has implemented have disproportionately benefited Black Cubans that lived in the lower classes before the revolution. Thanks to Castro there are more Black Doctors, Lawyers and professionals in Cuba. But, as Mr. Gonzalez says, “Its true Castro leveled the playing field, but at a very low level.” Black Cuban-Americans indeed want a new government, just one that’s representative of the people and that maintains the advances made through the revolution.

A Black Government in Cuba? Impossible!

With the current American government’s influence on world decision-making, we know that this is a difficult proposition. Considering White Cuban-Americans are primarily Republican (a classification they have held since they blamed JFK for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion), we all anticipate a return to pre-revolutionary Cuba, with a White power structure and a Black underclass – paying supreme deference to the United States government.

Many Black Cubans, especially those like Mr. Gonzalez who came from Cuba right after the revolution, identify with the American civil rights movement and the struggle for equal representation. White Cuban exiles came to America, but kept their distrust and discrimination of the Black Cubans who came with them. I guess, as the saying goes, “….still a nigger.”
They are often united with us on many social issues, and maintain a healthy distrust for the US government, stemming from the 1902 revolution when the US Government (in very typical fashion) installed an all-White Cuban government that slaughtered 7,000 Afro-Cubans in a 1912 race riot.

The Afro-Cuban community is strong and rich in culture. Under the Castro regime, they have been restricted, but they have benefited from the massive social overhaul in the country. So, as Black folks across all nationalities, we can only hope that upon death the Castro regime literally fades to BLACK. And that US lawmakers have the sense to let a government by the people take over, bringing Cubans up to date with the rest of the world, but maintaining the social programs that have allowed Black folks there to flourish.

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