“I am grateful for the hospitality….however, I believe that they probably wouldn’t associate with me if I was the average Black Cuban. I learned that prejudice attitudes towards Black Cubans were very normal..”
Since freshman year of college, I always knew that I was going to study abroad. It was just a matter of when and where. It turned out to be senior year, my last semester of college. I decided on a whim that I was going to study abroad in Havana, Cuba. It was a decision I continuously went back and forth on solely because of the duration of the trip. The duration of this study abroad program was about three and a half months, shorter than most study abroad programs, but still a lot of time for me personally. I traveled abroad before but only for a very short period of time. Although I am not someone who gets homesick very easily, I had the usual concerns about making friends and my ability to communicate effectively. (Especially since the last Spanish class I took was during my junior year of high school) But I decided to say screw it and submitted my deposit the day of the deadline.
Well, as an international relations major most of my courses revolved around studying the social and political climates of different regions. I decided conducting my thesis on Cuba specifically would be an interesting place to study race because of the socialist structure. To study the racial dynamics within a political structure of which allegedly no class division exist was a topic I found very intriguing to write about. TWB aka Traveling While Black, was the least of my concerns especially since I had heard so much about Cuba’s Afro-Cuban culture and was informed that I would be living in a predominantly Afro-Cuban neighborhood. After doing some research and talking to a few of the program directors I was assured that I would most likely blend in so I didn’t worry too much about getting stared at, random people touching my hair or any of the usual horror stories you hear about from other black individuals abroad. The very few worries I had were put to ease and I envisioned my time in Cuba to be the best three months of my life.
And it was… and wasn’t at the same time.
While trying to conduct my thesis regarding race in Cuba, I soon realized it wasn’t a topic people liked to talk about. The Cuban revolution that occurred from 1953 to 1959 is regarded as the equalizer of prejudice and discrimination. The only race to exist in Cuba is the human race. This is the response I got from most people. I didn’t want to push or insist that there was racism since I am coming from an American perspective. However, as my trip continued, I picked up on micro-aggressions that were geared toward the native black population. (Mostly from the encounters with my host family)
The program I was on centered its program in a pre-dominantly Afro-Cuban neighborhood. However, the majority of the host families were ‘White’ Cubans, excluding one black family. (Which I did find to be an issue) Nonetheless, I started to become uncomfortable when the families’ members expressed negative attitudes about participating in community events, of which mostly Black Cubans attended because they believed the people there were ‘dangerous’ and ‘drunks’. At first, this didn’t bug me. I figured they must know more than me since they live there. A few weeks into the program, my host father expressed his dislike of the Angolan population there as well. Truthfully, I didn’t understand most of what he said but I did understand he was trying to justify them as inherently bad. This made me extremely uncomfortable.
I am grateful for the hospitality I received from my host family, however, I believe that they probably wouldn’t associate with me if I was the average Black Cuban. I learned that prejudice attitudes towards Black Cubans were very normal among the people that lived in my host families’ community. At times, it was difficult to find a taxi to take us back to our neighborhood as some would charge extra because it was a ‘bad’ neighborhood while others would outright refuse.
I must admit, hearing these disturbing comments and realizing my expectations of the Afro-Cuban experience was subdued. However, I would love to go back to Cuba and continue to learn about race dynamics.
Khadijah N., Queens, New York
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