Black Cuban Female Blogger

March 24, 2009 | Print Print |

By Patricia Grogg

Sandra Alvarez

Sandra Alvarez

HAVANA TIMES, March 23 (IPS) – Sandra Alvarez remembers. Her mother, a dressmaker, and her five siblings lived in the modest Havana neighborhood of Lawton. Her mother used to tell them, “You have to study because you’re black; your classes are twice as important for you.”

“Always, ever since I was little, I’ve known that I’m black, and I’ve fought being discriminated against as a black woman,” pointed out the young psychologist, who has won recognition on the island for her blog Negra cubana tenía que ser (The Black Cuban woman has to be) – http://negracubana.nireblog.com .

The website is a meeting place for people interested in issues such as gender studies, sexual diversity and racial discrimination. Alvarez, who works as a publisher and journalist for Cubaliteraria (http://www.cubaliteraria.com ), collaborates with the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) and with the Center for the Prevention of STDs/HIV/AIDS, from where she also gathers information for publishing on her personal webpage.

Alvarez spoke with Culture and Society magazine of IPS earlier this year. More than a formal interview, the encounter soon became a rich dialogue. We present them some of the highlights of the discussion below:

THE BLOG

“I believe that, in some way, my blog does the country good. I approach issues that the country is addressing. There has been an opening to sexual diversity, the racial issue is being discussed, and there are advances. My blog can serve to collect those things that don’t usually come out in the press.

“I don’t believe that it’s saying anything so out of the ordinary, but in Cuba we are not used to discussing these issues.

“I’ve received testimonies from women who have identified with the blog and have accepted it as a space for them as well. It has helped me to communicate with other people, and especially to express myself.

“As poet Dulce María Loynaz once said, ‘In each grain of sand there’s a landslide.’ My desire is not that this be a super blog. Nevertheless, that which doesn’t exist is an accomplice to what’s not said, and what is not discussed doesn’t exist. I try to say things, even if only three people read them.”

WOMAN, FEMINIST

“I realize that my position of being on the fringe allows me to be aware of other things. The fact that I’m a feminist makes me flexible on many issues.

“For me, being a woman has never been a problem, but being black has. Being a woman has not entailed the challenge of having to brace myself before any difficulty, or to prepare myself more.

“Ever since I was a girl, I was different from my sisters. I’m strong. I can build a brick wall, for example. That has to do with the education that I was given. Any limit comes from not having the ability; it’s not the fact that I am a woman.

“I realized that abilities are human – not female or male. Society tells you that women have to be sensitive, and men valiant. However, both courage and sensitivity are human.

“Being a different kind of woman has narrowed my opportunities. It has cost me more than other people, because I say what people don’t want to hear. Sometimes people tell me I’m a loud-mouthed woman, opinionated, controversial…”

THE BLACK CUBAN WOMAN

Sandra Alvarez and Benny More

Sandra Alvarez and Benny More

“The black woman in Cuba has the same rights and opportunities as other women. However, what I’ve clearly noted is that it’s possible to build racial identity from the fact that they don’t take us into account. This can be appreciated in things as banal as the shampoo sold in stores; until just recently, products did not exist specifically for black women.

“When I was 16 years old, the nicest thing you could say to me was ‘black girl, you are white’ or ‘the only thing keeping you from being perfect is that you’re not white.’ It’s very difficult to build your identity as a person -including racial identity- when you’re trying to be what you’re not.

“This situation of being black and wanting to be white is unjust. Moreover, what does it mean to be white? That has to do with the question of power, which doesn’t have anything to do with a socialist revolution. I’m especially interested in the psychological question. How can you be a true black woman if at 15 you’re given hair straightener so you can be like a white girl?

“When we think of human beings, we don’t think of just any human being. We probably think of a man, and of a white person. The human condition is closely bound to being white.

“I know that race as a biological concept doesn’t exist, but socially and psychologically it does. People in Cuba continue to say, “They had to be black” [referring to anyone possibly involved in a negative occurrence].

“I have to prepare a great deal, doubly, but I’m not trying to be white. Since I’m black, I study a lot because I have to demonstrate how much I’m able to do. I know that because I’m a different kind of black woman, people ask themselves if I’m a woman or not, or if I’m feminine or not.

“The starting line for the black women is much further behind. You can’t ask them to get to the same place if you don’t keep that difference in mind.

“Community-based universities in Cuba are full of young black men and woman. I imagine that they’re the ones who got left behind on the track of going to standard universities.

“That doesn’t have to do with the fifty years of the Cuban Revolution, but rather with the fact that they’re starting from further behind. The impact of slavery is still here. Black people were slaves; therefore, neither the starting point nor the finish line can be the same.

“It’s difficult to be a black woman that doesn’t fit the stereotypes. I assume my negritude as it affects me. It’s difficult to navigate all the obstacles; you have to have guts. That’s the sense of my blog.”


What's your opinion?

  • Patricia Grogg,

    Thanks for the excellent article. I have sent your article to my granddaughters, Anna and Laura Catherine in Eastern North Carolina.

    Robert

  • Michael N. Landis

    Your quote of Dulce Maria Loynaz, “In each grain of sand there is a landslide,” reminds me of how much potential lies within each individual; how do we unlock it? The answer lies within both the individual and the society: we are part of this world, and this world is part of us. Racism, Sexism, Ageism, etc., in a word, all stereotypic, prejudiced and parochial thinking limit us from using our potential. Still, I am glad more people are eventually recognizing this potential within themselves and, later in life, returning to school. Such education is often more valuable, for the student brings more to the table than the adolescent or young adult. To sing the blues, you’ve gotta pay your dues!
    Thank you for a most thoughtful article.

  • Nice article

    Like yourself, i was taught from way back that i had to study hard to make a difference because i am black, a woman and last an AfroCuban. I did not understand this in the beginning because i had never really known discrimination, i thought that everyone had a fair shot.

    Today, i am an semi retired sexual assualt nurse examiner and AIDS educ (sane and PHN), and at an age which is almost as old as dirt ,my mind is still sharp and my vision clear. I also volunteer outside of my practice, and educate people of Cuban descent and (others) about the immigration laws and policies and do what i can to help them make decisions which will decide thier course. i also take the time to share what i know is always present when it comes to an Afrocuban sitting down at the immigration office and telling the white interviewer why they want to stay in the US.

    On the other side of my being; i still fight the good fight as i never fade, always stay on point and make sure that i speak truth 2 power. i tell people that in the US just being of African descent has set the tone, and when you speak spanish and are black that is another kind of prejudice, and when you are Cuban that sets off another set of guidelines.

    Like your mother i constantly encourage young applicants to be the best, to learn english, study, go to the univ and better themselves but never give up who they are. I share the fact that supremacy came long before slavery and before our capture, and that supremacy in inborn abd inbred, passed down like a name and adhered to like some adhere to the bible?
    I tell them that they are free, and that no man can change that other than themselves. I explain that when i was in college i had friends of all races who never knew upon meeting me that i was from Cuba, and never saw me any different from the next black american until i spoke spanish. Once they became aware of this the changes became visible. However, as a strong and committed African Cuban i never broke down or missed my stride.
    There were comments like wow, you are different? how so? your not like other blacks?
    Sandra, this is another story which i do not have room for tonight, however, i hope to see you at your blog, and perhaps we can chat again..

    Thanks you for remaining Sandra

    Milagros Villamil

    Your article is one of excellence and i hope to hear from you again

  • Thanks for the nice post. I am currently an expat living in Italy.I have been afforded the opportunity to meet several black women from Cuba. Unlike some of the other ethnicity’s of black women, Cuban women stand out because they are proud, solid and aware. There is almost like an instant meeting of the minds when I can look across the way and see another sister who although our languages differ, nods a head in solidarity. As an American, it almost feels as if they are saying, Yes, I see you and I know your story. Thanks for the great post It was inspirational

  • Stimulating thoughts. Here in Hawaii there is another racial mix with a history that reaches back into 19th century capitalist exploitation and racism that permeates even today in the many variants of the human family that call Hawaii home. It’s important to realize that the problem never has been “the evil white man”, but the evils of the economic system he owned embraced and perpetuated. To deny this is to rage against the facts of history: various races have at one time or another been on top of the other–Czarist Russia had a system of slavery white on white as cruel as any that existed anywhere. The Revolutionary consciousness clarifies the complexities. Aloha is the way. Make LOVE, mix it up… “the quality of the…

  • Milagros

    2.msday April 22nd, 2009 1:43 am :
    Unlike some of the other ethnicity’s of black women, Cuban women stand out because they are proud, solid and aware. There is almost like an instant meeting of the minds when I can look across the way and see another sister who although our languages differ, nods a head in solidarity. As an American, it almost feels as if they are saying, Yes, I see you and I know your story. Thanks for the great post It was inspirational

    i was called back to this post by a fiend and to this particular comment and after i read it i asked myself..How many other ethnicites of African desc women does she know? Obviously not many Perhaps a bit of science would help . The remark was not factual but it was racist.

  • Milagros

    Thanks for the nice post. I am currently an expat living in Italy.I have been afforded the opportunity to meet several black women from Cuba. Unlike some of the other ethnicity’s of black women, Cuban women stand out because they are proud, solid and aware??? WTF?

    i was called back to this post by a friend and to this particular comment and after i read it i asked myself..How many other ethnicites of African desc women does she know? Obviously not many Perhaps a bit of science would help . The remark was not factual but it was racist.

  • kedrh

    Great article,
    It is good to hear a cuban black womens view of her people and culture – who has her own mind.
    Iam black and live in England and am interested in cuban way of life. Your right Education is Key.
    Stay strong

  • Keep on, Keeping on-Right on! We suckled them from our breast along side our own chillum! How dare a people continue to perpetuate such disrespect! I have a symbolic machete for every beast that carry this racist and machoism in their heart. I am seated where the rivers meet the ocean. I find solitude amongst the “aje in the monte”, They are my close companions. Keep on educating and fighting “lil sister”. The universe is watching!

  • Insightful… more needs to be revealed about Cuba’s African Heritage.

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    Our culture and heritage has already been revealed, all that people need to do is just read. slavery was alive and well in Cuba until 1898+ not 1865 like i the US

    1 Our fair share by Anne Helg
    2 Drumming for the Gods by my father /Felipe Garcia Villamil

    Also perhaps because you are not African Cuban, it is possible that because all that americans and others see on the boob tube are Cubans that are white or light? The facts are that the major populations in Cuba looks like me “An African” call it what u wish..80% of the people in Cuba are African descendants and the majority of those who came via Mariel during the 80/90 etc w\were not African Cubanos!

    For far too long my culture and its authenticity have been maligned and assiassinated, and if people would stop worrying about FIDEL, and get the facts, it bwould help immensely
    Go to http://www.afrocubaweb type in (or google) my name of daddys name and get the real truth

    Milagros back from cuba

  • Latwana Perez

    This reply is for Milagros Villamil. I truly understand you and I can relate to what you commented “There were comments like wow, you are different? how so? your not like other blacks?” I am an Afro-Guyanese ( from Guyana) living in the states. Unlike most of my Afro-Hispanic brothers and sisters I didn’t have to face the language barrier that is their between Afro’s around the world and African- American here in this country. I speak and understand English, but to many African American my English, isn’t English apparently. English creole of the caribbean is look upon as if its a whole other language, this barrier is put between myself and those of African American heritage. I came to the US in my high school years. I remember telling a classmate that I am from Guyana, and this individual replied ” I thought you were black” What? I was so taken back from this comment. Why am I not black. Cause I am not from America? I fought with this problem for years.