News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cuba: A blend of races with a single culture

Cubans are a people with genes from many parts of the globe. You'll find faces on the island that reveal ancestors ranging from Nubian to Nordic. Most mainstream Americans visiting Cuba for the first time find that diversity surprising. But it's not really unusual. Many other nations in Latin America have similar tapestries of phenotypes. But what makes Cuba unique goes beyond features and pigmentation.

The United States is also made up of a wide range of races. These racial groups are, for the most part, divided into separate communities. African-Americans, in particular, live in a vastly different culture. There are "black" styles of music, food and fashion. Many African-Americans speak with a distinctive English dialect, These differences are an unquestioned fact of life in the United States.

In contrast, Cubans have a single cultural identity. Cubans of every color share the same music, the same food, the same accent. That's not to say racial prejudice does not exist in Cuba.

Look at the highest echelons of Cuban society and you'll find a preponderance of lighter skin. Poverty, on the other hand, is much more egalitarian on the island. The poorest districts are mostly integrated, These conditions preceded the communist revolution, by the way. The Castro brothers can take credit for removing Cuba's versions of Jim Crow. But the strongman overthrown by the communist revolution, Fulgencio Batista, was a person of mixed European and African heritage.

Perhaps Cuba's greatest unity comes from our music. The neurosurgeon and the hotel maid still move their hips in the same saucy way when they hear a conga beat. It seems we all have the 1-2-3, 1-2 rhythm of the clave hardwired into our nervous systems.

Want proof? Watch the video below. You'll see a rainbow coalition of Cuban musicians and everyday folks sharing their passion for music--and the moving words of poet and statesman, Jose Marti.

To be sure, we Cubans have our faults and foibles like every other nation. But there is a lot the world can learn from the beauty of Cuba's cultural unity.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

No comments: