Shades of Race in Contemporary Cuba

As an African American man living in Cuba I am surprised and overwhelmed by the kaleidoscope of names Cuban people use to describe race in their country, and I wonder what is to happen if and when American cultural influence fully invades Cuba again.” I wrote this line in my field notes during a long stay on the island in 2002 and 2003 conducting anthropological research about popular music and Cuban society. Both Cuba and the U.S. are melting pots, where various racial and national sources feed the continual process of nation building and cultural production. In both places, because of the decimation of indigenous populations and the importance of African slave labor for European masters, the binary of European/African or black/white became key. In the struggle between these groups there was much pain, exchange, and creation. The contributions of other immigrant groups, while of great importance, only impact and destabilize but never displace the black/ white paradigm of race in America or Cuba. In Cuba’s politics as well as its race matters I see a kinder, gentler take on the ways of an imperfect world, similar to our U.S. system, yet different. In these times of increased U.S. conservatism and international intervention, all with racial implications—some even predicting a U.S. invasion of Cuba—it is well to consider how people think and talk about race in Cuba with an eye to what it reveals about that nation. This also invites reflection about our own America.

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