For the first time in more than a century, black Cubans might have a real opportunity to gain the enfranchisement and equality for which our ancestors fought so hard — and were on the verge of winning — only to see their hopes and aspirations frustrated when a U.S. naval ship was blown to pieces in the port of Havana in 1898.
The blood and sweat of our forefathers in the overwhelmingly Black Mambi army was shed for naught as our nation and the 20th century were born. Since Cuba’s inception in 1902, its black citizens never truly gained equal footing in that troubled country. Despite their decisive role in the struggle for independence from colonialism, blacks were almost totally excluded from all levels of power and denied full participation in the everyday life in the fledgling nation.
Unhappy with their exclusion and seeking a better compact, black Cubans were once again prevented from gaining the equality they thought they had earned in the battlefield when their nascent racial movement seeking social justice was violently decapitated — literally, in some cases — a decade later. What followed was a long, hard procession of years of drudgery — sprinkled with a few, incremental gains — under the suffocating hardships of Cuba’s tropical version of Jim Crow.
In 1959, the Cuban Revolution artfully gained control of every aspect of Cuban life and promised to eradicate all vestiges of racial injustice in the island. Shortly thereafter, la Revolución, loudly, proudly and unilaterally, proclaimed victory in its self-declared fight against racism and promptly proceeded to label anyone who dared bring up the topic of racial inequality as a counter-revolutionary and applied “revolutionary” punishment and penalties to those who dared to transgress.
More than half a century later, however, whether by government intent or simply as a result of misguided policies, black Cuba is immersed in its most difficult juncture; at a disadvantage economically (reduced access to foreign currencies), politically (little to no representation in government) and sociologically (i.e., marginalized, racially profiled, disproportionally incarcerated, etc.).
Truth be told, throughout its history, Cuba has never been kind to its darker citizens, regardless of who has been in power or his political ideology. It is time for that elephant in the room to be both acknowledged and dealt with.
Now the catastrophic dynasty that has afflicted our nation for almost 60 years finally appears to be near its end — Father Time and biology proving to be our only true and reliable friends. Add the surprising announcement of an attempt to normalize relations between Cuba and United States, and Cubans — black, mulatto and white — might soon have the opportunity to “reboot,” to recreate a new, more inclusive nation; a nation “with all and for the wellbeing of all,” as dreamed by Jose Marti.
Skeptics will say that nothing will change, that the Castro clan will never relinquish power, or that the generals and/or other parasites will cling to their perquisites by any means necessary. But the fact is that in the not-too-distant future, we can envision both brothers leaving the scene, either in a pine box or to convalesce at a well-appointed home for retired dictators.
With those two out of the picture, and with whatever new relationship that evolves from the recent rapprochement with the United States, there is little doubt that our nation is headed to a new dawn, a different way of doing business.
Black Cubans, who by all measurable accounts have borne the brunt of the damage wreaked by the regime, are well positioned to finally savor their rightful — and so far elusive — share. By essentially heaping misery and squalor on the entire population and thus somewhat “leveling the playing field,” the Cuban Revolution has given Cubans of color, for the first time, the ability to compete academically, culturally and socially with their white compatriots. It is not an accident that a good percentage of the most prominent dissidents in the island are people of color.
And let us not forget that, contrary to the Cuban government’s official numbers, Afro-Cubans are no longer the minority. Malcolm X once said: “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” I will simply follow the advice of an old wise man who once said to me; “Stick always with the optimists, because life is hard even if they are right.”
Ricardo Gonzalez, chief of staff for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez, is a member of Civic Awareness, Inc., a non-profit organization seeking race and gender equality.