HAVANA TIMES — Recently, on the eve of October 10, a Cuban national holiday commemorating the date (in 1868) in which Cuban landowner Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and his retinue of (former) slaves took up arms against Spanish colonial domination, a Round Table program bearing the controversial title of “Neither Black Nor White: Cuba is Mixed Race” was aired on television.
During the Round Table discussion, Cuban scientists presented valuable and interesting evidence showing that our population’s gene pool combines the DNA of African, European and Asian / Indo-American peoples, concluding that, therefore, it would be impossible to define any Cuban “races” on the basis of genetics as such.
On the basis of this accurate insight, however, they also suggested something that I consider dangerously dubious: the notion that Cuba is a “mixed race” country.
The other day, a journalist for the afternoon news interviewed Cuban singer Eme Alfonso, who is promoting an artistic project centered on the notion of a “mixed race” community in a club located in Havana’s neighborhood of Miramar.
I am extremely concerned about these developments.
Without a doubt, from the perspective of genetics, nearly all of humanity (with the possible exception of some isolated, endogamic communities) can be considered to be of “mixed race”.
Without a doubt, in the most intimate sense, both in terms of biology and human dignity, there are no races – something Jose Marti once said and a thesis that, for many activists of the Afro-Cuban community (myself included) is already a truism.
Without question, every member of the human family should have the same rights, regardless of the color of their skin and other attributes.
But the way in which the issue is being framed is very dangerous. Most of the peoples of Latin America have already abandoned the practice of using the concept of the “mixed race” to establish their national identity. It is sad to see that, in this day and age, Cuba should propagandistically seek to defend a thesis which is everywhere considered misguided.
To say that Cuba is “neither white nor black” is to exclude those who culturally regard themselves or are seen by others as white or black peoples. The classification of human beings on the basis of skin color and “racial background” is a cultural fact. We can’t afford to create a “national identity” on the basis of a single identitary color or “race”.
While I recognize the interesting work being done by Eme Alfonso, the fact that there are people from the Canary Islands, Haitians, Orthodox Christians, Jewish people, Afro-Jamaicans, Galicians and practitioners of the Yoruba religion in Cuba is not a sign that we have a “mixed race” community, but of socio-cultural diversity – that is the correct way to put it.
No one is a mix of all colors and cultures, but it is convenient and right that, in the midst of a community’s many social mixes and hybrids, no one should feel excluded or discriminated against because of their color or culture.
The fundamentalist formula of “Cuba is mixed race” excludes those who do not feel they are. This is the reason that the divulging of this “ideology” is a very negative development.
I don’t know what forces could be at play behind this new slogan. However, I do know (and I am very much concerned following this Round Table program) that to deduce cultural attributes directly from biological ones was one of the most sinister aspects of the genocidal world-view of the Nazis.
A culturally diverse Cuba devoid of labels, where there is room for everyone, is what I long for the most for my country.