Cuba is a mecca for African culture. Although it’s significantly smaller than Brazil, it is one of the pinnacles of the historical preservation of the customs, languages, and religions of the Africans brought to this hemisphere by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Los negros de Cuba poseen un orgullo de ser negro que es incomparable a todos de los latinos en la diaspora. Sin embargo, la condición de la negritud viene con un precio alto. Cuba has always had a tempestuous past with its black citizens even after slavery ended in 1886. Approximately three-fifths of the island’s population are direct descendants of Africans and are not white as most people in this country are led to believe.
The world has a love affair with what has become a caricature of black life in Cuba. Beyonce, Jay- Z, and Rihanna walked among the many brown faces of mis paisanos with seemingly NO consciousness of the struggles that they endure daily and what they have been enduring for centuries. Folks from Europe, Canada, and now the United States flock to the island to immerse themselves in the “blackness” of Cuba. Their offbeat claps and stiff hip swivels to son, yambú, timba, guaguancó and mambo, as they enjoy the harmonious fruits born of oppression, while obsidian faces sing and drum for their leisure. Even the Cuban government wanted a piece of the exploitation of cultura afrocubana. Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba is a government sponsored group dedicated to showing the world the gems of Cuba. All of those gems come directamente from la sangre de africanos. Our songs of worship were reduced to ditties that are danced and sang like they do not invoke our egguns or orishas when we call unto them. White colonial power, albeit in the form of a dictatorship, has my folks shucking and jiving for the world because they couldn’t care less that the masses know of the beauty and even the pain of what it is to be afro-cuban. Black pride in Cuba was subsumed under the banner of Cuban patriotism. Worship that has been passed down from generation to generation incluyendo en mi propia familia. Thousands of people with no blood lineage to Africa come to Cuba, regularly, to receive the blessings and guidance of our gods or even forsaking their own faiths for the knowledge and sometimes power that each orisha bestows upon his or her child by initiating into Lucumi.
Forgive me if I seem a little salada (salty). It is well-known throughout Cuba that these people come to the island to receive ocha. However, the very people who are mentoring, feeding, rebirthing and caring for these “outsiders” are not getting their due respect or their “propers” and more times than not—they are black. It is customary in African culture to “pay it forward” and you bless the people who look out for you and in Cuba—a blessing could be something as simple as a pair of shoes, money for a refrigerator (costs no more than $300 USD), even things like Tylenol, or nice summer clothes.
El gobierno cubano siempre ha tratado de presentar la idea de “una Cuba, un solo pueblo” y honestamente- es una mentira. Fidel didn’t make life in Cuba easy after the revolution PERO let’s be clear about the folks that look like me who are no longer slaves in campos de caña de azúcar ni campos de café. Black folks were allowed to be educated and Cuba has a 98% literacy rate along with THE BEST doctors in the world and FOR THAT- I fux with him. The Cuban government also allows black and latino students in the US to go to medical school for free. Pre-Castro, there was incomprehensible oppression for black folks. For as much as Fidel spoke “against” racist policies, he was a willing adversary of racial solidarity namely among Cuba’s black population. He, at one point, banned the worship of Lucumi as well as banned afros among black Cubans because it was “racially divisive”. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, GTFOH! It was a pathetic attempt to erase contradictory practices in modern, post-revolutionary Cuban society in part due to the deep-seated, racist ideologies which existed in the country for centuries. Black Cubans are disproportionately poorer than white Cubans on the island. How the hell is that so when EVERYBODY IS POOR? Black folks are speaking up about it too. Soandres Del Rio Ferrer, also known as Soandry, is an afro-cuban hip hop artist that openly speaks about the injustice and racism que la gente negra experience on a day-to-day basis.
Con respeto a la gente del mundo que se niegan a ver la raza o el valor de los negros en sus países respectivos, you can have ALL the damn seats. Es extremadamente importante que el pueblo africano de Cuba sea reconocidos por su formación de la percepción del mundo de esta nación hermosa y no por cantar ni bailar como monos en demanda. Cuando el MUNDO vea cualquier cosa de Cuba, espero que sepan que es de gente negra- bella y fuerte. La sangre, el sudor y las lágrimas de mi eggun son profundas en esta tierra y no voy a permitir que sean irrespetados o minimizados.
K. Araújo, a native Detroiter, is a cross between Claire Huxtable, Rosie Pérez and Millie Jackson. Una negra y afro-cubichita casada con un afro- dominicano de East New York and Mami to the dopest Ethiopian EVER, she is the Editor in Chief of “Negra With Tumbao” and an opinionated Staff Writer for “The Urban Twist”. Also known as a smart ass bruja (Oní Yemayá), the hell and high water, a socially-conscious bloguera, an expert salsera, cussologist and is and forever shall be–unapologetically black.