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Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Cuba Is a Multicultural and Multiracial Country

November 28, 2013 | Print Print |

Dmitri Prieto

A theater set. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — “Cuba is a multicultural and multiracial country,” said a journalist for Cuba’s midday news while reporting on an activity organized for an anniversary of Havana’s Arab Union.

I’m glad someone’s finally realized that the concept of a “mixed race” is obsolete and dangerous.

Obviously, we can’t expect this new take on things to become official overnight, but the reporter’s words were music to my ears.

At the very least, the official media discourse ceased being monotonous for an instant…

In my opinion, trying to reduce Cuban identity to a series of stereotypes about its “national sport” (baseball, but, why not soccer?), “national dance” (danzon, but, for many young people, it is reggaeton) and “character” (eternal happiness, but, aren’t Cubans also entitled to be sad once in a while?), is extremely dangerous.

As regards the issue of “multiculturalism”, I have maintained a personal and friendly polemic with one of the leading authorities of Cuban socio-cultural anthropology, who claims there’s only one Cuban culture as such.

I doubt my arguments will help solidify an opposing viewpoint (in fact, I am immensely wary of the now fashionable concept of “multiculturalism”), but, the mere fact that I am part of a fairly neglected diaspora within Cuba leads me to think that we need a free debate about how diversity (understood as all of the dimensions of being human) is part of Cuba’s culture/s.


What's your opinion?

  • CUBAQUS

    Cuba is indeed multicultural and multiracial.

    Cubans also lack freedom of speech limiting any expression including cultural expression. Black Cubans also face racism.

    • c684570

      Black Cubans have better lives in Cuba than they have in Africa.

  • ac

    Nope. Cuba is a multiracial country with a monolithic culture. There is virtually no accommodation in Cuba for people of different cultural backgrounds although there is plenty of tolerance.

    To illustrate my point, the small minorities of Jews and Muslims are not harassed in any way and their practices tolerated, but the Cuban culture is a little bit too inclusive and whenever the respective values collide there is no other choice than integration or self-isolation.

    I’m not talking about bigotry here -from that there is very little AFAIK, but little cultural differences like what to eat or drink, what to wear, strict and outdated cultural restrictions like caste systems, puritanism, silly codes of conduct etc., makes multiculturalism impossible in their situation.

    In particular taking in account that Cuban people are friendly (too friendly say some) and have the weird tradition of laugh at everything, starting by themselves and their own problems, so when they laugh at you they are not showing ill intention, they are simply being themselves and is hard to not reciprocate in kind.

    The end result is that Cuban culture overwhelms the small minorities and although they preserve some of their core traditions, they simply get absorbed and over time become indistinguishable form other Cubans.

    • Moses Patterson

      Generally, I agree with you that Cuba is multiracial (barely) but not multicultural. I live in San Francisco. We are multicultural. Just walking downtown SF exposes you to a variety of languages spoken, and restaurants from many different countries. Cuba’s geographic isolation as a Caribbean island and its social and political negatives have made it unattractive to foreigners. There is very little non-Cuban culture to be found in Havana and even less elsewhere on the island with the exception of Haitian and Jamaican influences on the eastern end of the archipelago.

      • Griffin

        For the first 6 decades of the 20th century, Cuba was a popular destination for immigrants. However, since 1959 almost nobody has moved to Cuba. It’s the kind of place migrants move away from, not to.

        Add to that demographic fact, the bunker mentality of the official culture, where anything foreign is viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility. The result is a monolithic culture imposed upon a multi-racial society.

        I live in Toronto, which has been described as the most multi-cultural city in the world. I’m not sure how you measure such a characteristic, but it is said over a 100 languages are spoken in our streets and one can find restaurants of every conceivable ethnic or national style. There is no majority race or ethnic group, and more people have a mother tongue other than English than those who speak only English.

        While in a tour group visiting Havana a few years ago, the tour guide made a big deal of pointing out to us the local people of mixed-races, trying to make the point that this was special to Cuba and not what one can see in the racially segregated US. The group of Canadian & British tourists simply shrugged a collective , “So what?” He seemed surprised to hear that Canada, the UK & the US were multi-cultural societies where people of mixed race are considered normal & unremarkable.

        • rodrigvm

          Where people of mixed race are considered normal and unremarkable” Tell that to Trayvon Martin and the thousands of Latino and Black youth who are daily beeing racially profiled!

          • Griffin

            Racism exists in all races. For example, right before Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman he racially profiled him as a “crazy-ass cracker”. This is ironic, because Zimmerman’s father was German-American while his mother was Afro-Peruvian.

            Besides which, you missed the point: people of mixed race are normal in America.

          • rodrigvm

            What you describe as racism is actually racial prejudice, racism is a systemic problem, prejudice an individual. When the racial justice system, schools etc act on the basis of the racial prejudice of the majority that is racism. How many whites are racially profile? (I can tell you because I have seen the studies, very few). BTW way, Zimmerman is confused ask a true traditonal racist from Florida what he is certainly not white…..remember the “one drop rule”?

          • Griffin

            I accept your distinction between racism and prejudice. So you agree, Zimmerman was mixed race, and therefore Trayvon was confused when he racially profiled Zimmerman.

            But the fact that racism and racial profiling exists does not refute the fact that people of mixed race are a normal part of US society.

          • c684570

            If racism is so bad in the USA, why are non-Whites risking their lives to live there? Stop living around us racist Whites if we are so bad. Stay in your third world countries.

          • c684570

            Trayvon Martin was also slamming George Zimmerman’s head into the concrete, in case you missed that little detail. If you think White people are so racist, stay in Cuba.

  • George

    “I’m glad someone’s finally realized that the concept of a mixed race is obsolete and dangerous.”

    Has anyone realized that the concept of “race” as a whole is obsolete and dangerous? Why are people trying to re-establish “races” in Cuba? One of the great successes of the Cuban Revolution was moving beyond this concept. But sadly the world did not follow. I recommend people read “Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life” by Karen and Barbara Fields.

    • c684570

      Try telling your doctor that the concept of race is dangerous when you need a race-based bone marrow transplant.

      • George

        No, genetics is real, “race” is not. Bone marrow transplants require genetic similarity. To find a marrow match for anyone is difficult, even within one’s own family the chances are about 30%. “Race” prejudices certain genes. That is why it is a matter of perception, a fiction, rather than a reality. There is more genetic diversity within “races” than there is between them. This means you could have more genetic similarity with someone from a different “race” then you could have with someone from the same “race”. To simplify, imagine a tall skinny person with white skin and a tall skinny person with black skin. They share two traits, both are tall and skinny, but they differ by one trait, skin colour, yet we say they are different “races”. This is prejudicing one trait over two others. There is no rational reason to do this. It is irrational prejudice pure and simple with no scientific basis. We should abandon the concept altogether.

  • Moses Patterson

    Given the internal embargo and the lack of political freedoms, I think there are many other reasons far more potent than the partially-enforced embargo to discourage immigration to Cuba. Falling buildings isn’t exactly a ‘welcome wagon’ for prospective emigrants.