In the midst of President Donald Trump’s decision to reverse the Obama-era engagement with Cuba, I resumed my plan for the summer of 2017, spending one insightful month in Cuba. I chose to study in Cuba because, with the little knowledge I had about the island, I knew it was going to be an intriguing experience. As a “typical” UC Berkeley student longing for social equality and a progressive future, my quest on this trip was to understand how the Cuban community feels about living in a socialist nation under communist rule. What is it really like to be living in a nation that aims to promote social equality and justice?
Throughout my trip in Cuba, I had the opportunity to speak to many Cuban residents, but there was one conversation that appealed to me the most. One late afternoon, as my friend and I made our way home in Havana, we met a Cuban named Albert. Albert kindly had approached from his humble home to speak to us. I took this opportunity to ask him about his personal view on his country after discussing social conflicts that have become major issues in the United States. As a dark-skinned Cuban, Albert eloquently expressed to me in Spanish, “Tengo orgullo de mi país porque he sido liberado y vivo en tranquilidad. No vivo con el temor de ser discriminado ni perjudicado. (I have pride in my country because I have been freed and I live in peace. I do not live in fear of being discriminated nor prejudiced).”
The Cuban experience, he further explained to me, is that every person who walks on the Cuban streets is able to walk freely, day and night, without fear of being starved or murdered; every Cuban receives exceptional health care and is provided with hospitality and most importantly, every Cuban receives an education. Albert, who worked as a police guard at an elementary school, seemed content to be Cuban and live in Cuba, like many other Cubans who I spoke to.
The reality Albert explained was the reality I observed and experienced in Cuba. It became apparent that all Cubans have been integrated into the Cuban society to form the “cubanidad,” or Cuban identity. But how? How have Cubans been able to welcome everyone and form one identity?
Like much of the Americas, Cuba’s population is diverse. The prevailing Cubans ethnicity consists of a mix of European, African, Asian and Indigenous descent. Because mostly every Cuban is mixed-race, there is no such classification of being a “white Cuban” or a “black Cuban.” Each Cuban is able to identify themselves as a “mulatto,” someone who holds both black and white descent.
In a conversation about race, a dark-skinned Cuban explained to me that mostly all Cubans consider themselves part of one mixed race, Cuban — “Todos hemos sufrido y luchado para pertenecer parte de una comunidad donde todos nos apoyamos y celebramos quiénes somos. (We have all suffered and fought to belong as part of one community where we can support each other and celebrate who we are.)”
My Cuban experience is a glimpse into the lives of many Cubans, which represents a quality of life that greatly differs from growing up the in United States as a female of color. And to imagine myself feeling comfortable walking on the streets — not having to worry about receiving health insurance, or affording and affording college tuition or feeling welcomed to live in the United States — seems to still be a dream.
Contact Marlin Banuelos at [email protected].