Cuba: For many Afro-Cubans, Obama’s visit represents a source of pride, inspiration
President Obama’s historic three-day trip to Cuba not only marked the first visit by a sitting U.S. president since the 1959 revolution, but also represented a source of pride and inspiration for many Afro-Cubans.
Obama’s message of hope has spread far beyond U.S. soil and resonated deeply among many Afro-Cubans who saw his visit as an opportunity to spark open dialogue on lingering prejudice and inequality in Cuba.
In many ways, Cuba’s history of segregation has mirrored the unequal conditions of blacks in the United States. In one of his first acts after overthrowing Cuba’s government, Fidel Castro declared an end to racial separatism in Cuba. During a rally in Havana in 1959, Castro declared, “We are a mixed race from Africa and Spain. No one should consider themselves a pure race, much less a superior race.”
But, nearly 60 years later, Afro-Cubans are still underrepresented at Cuba’s universities and within political and economic ranks. Additionally, blacks in Cuba account for a disproportionate number of the urban and rural poor. Discriminatory hiring also persists, particularly with jobs in hospitality and tourism where waiters, waitresses, and bartenders are overwhelmingly white or light-skinned, mixed race Cubans.
Known for its renowned music and dance, the island’s culture is a blend of both African and Spanish influence. According to official census records, 10 percent of the population of 11 million identify as black. Another quarter identify as mixed-race.
During the visit, Cuban President Raul Castro cited Obama’s personal background as a factor in the renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations—a hopeful signal to a new era.