The Cuba Visit, In Context

This is not a political blog but I’m Cuban so what can I say, I woke up like this.

Political conversations are just part of your DNA when you’re Cuban – you can blame or thank Castro for that.

The Rolling Stones performed for free in Cuba last night.

Rolling Stones in Cuba

A local newscaster reported that their music and Rock & Roll in general was once “discouraged” in Cuba. The truth is that it was once banned and considered counter revolutionary, a grave if not criminal offense.

I am hopeful that Obama’s somewhat awkward but well-intentioned move towards normalizing relations with Cuba will have a positive effect, in time, but until then let’s not downplay the Cuban government’s history of and continued oppression of its people – Cubans are not free.

Obama and Raul

Real change can only happen when we challenge the real problems, that said here are a few points from Obama’s Speech that need additional context:

Read the full transcript of his speech at Voice of America News.

Obama: “. . .People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.” (Laughter.)

Celia Cruz, Salsa Music, Afro Cuban

Not so fast: The music of Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan and several other great Cuban musicians and artists who left the island has been banned in Cuba for decades. In 2012 there were reports that the “unofficial ban” was lifted but there have been conflicting reports on this.


Obama: “Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.”


Not so fast: The communist party continues to regulate all aspects of religious life in Cuba through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA). Any religious group that is not authorized by the ORA is subject to harassment including violence. Recent reports show that Protestant groups are experiencing more harassment of late and many are considered politically subversive.

Obama: “Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. (Applause.)  And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.”

Havana University

Not so fast: This article in The Atlantic gives a great explanation of a why a free education isn’t always as free as you think. Especially when limited resources mean the government has to approve every single applicant for higher education.


Obama: “I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — (applause) — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. (Applause.)”

Dissident Arrested

Tell me about it: A reported 304 dissidents in Cuba were arrested in the days and hours before Obama landed in Havana. Every week, the “Damas en Blanco” (Ladies in White) the wives of political prisoners are arrested for peacefully protesting. Obama’s visit did not disrupt the routine.


Obama: “We’ve played very different roles in the world. But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering.” (Applause.)

Cuban Doctors Abroad

Not so fast:  To be sure Cuban doctors have served in some of the poorest countries in the world however,  they are working under close supervision,  in dangerous neighborhoods and in cramped quarters for a mere pittance of what the Cuban government receives for their service. Some of the doctors have called it a form of modern day slavery.

Obama: “And in examining his [Nelson Mandela] life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries. And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent — (applause) — who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.”

Black Cuba

Tell me about it: I’m so glad that Obama noted the need to “lift up” Black Cubans, acknowledging that the Revolution did not end racism in Cuba. It is alive and well, as this  New York Times article notes when describing the nearly “Lilly-white audience” that accompanied Obama throughout his trip, although the island is more than 50% Black.  Not to mention the real economic disparities that exist.







Obama’s Cuba Visit: Addressing the Myth of a Post-Racial Cuba

I was 16 years old when I first returned to Cuba and met my large extended family. It was exhilarating to see so many people who looked just like me and to see so many beautiful Afro Cubans everywhere.

I swear that Diahann Carroll’s twin is living in my mother’s small town of Alquizar and the unsung diva rides a bicycle to work.

Even at that young age I couldn’t reconcile the dichotomy between the racial makeup of the Cuban population on the island versus the population in the United States.

Why aren’t there more Afro Cubans in America? I asked my mother.  Continue reading →

Afro-Latinas Stand Up!!!!!

Afro-Dominican photographer Suhaly Bautista-Carolina, aka The Earth Warrior is creating a book of 100 portraits of Afro-Latinas in New York City.

Each portrait included in the final series will be paired with a brief write-up that delves into that woman’s black identity, Afrocentric traditions and hopes for future generations of Afro-Latinas.

The open call runs through March 31. If you are interested you should send the following information to

  • 1-3 photos of yourself
  • Neighborhood & Borough (i.e. Inwood, Manhattan,)
  • 3-5 sentences on how you identify

To find out more about the artist and the series go to the

Me Gritaron Negra!/ They Screamed “Black” at Me

Me Gritaron Negra/ They Screamed “Black” at Me

By Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz

 Victoria Eugenia Santa Cruz was known as the mother of Afro Peruvian dance and theater.

She passed away in 2014 at the age of 91 but her legacy lives on. Check out this video of a toddler reciting this poem.

Her poetry speaks for itself. The power of her words reverberate in your heart and soul and you don’t have to understand Spanish to feel it, but it’s important that we all understand this so I’ve written out the translation below. I’m going to watch this every time I need to go into battle. You all know what I’m talking about. The struggle continues.

Continue reading →

International Woman’s Day- Thank you

On International Woman’s Day I want to shout out all the enlightened and empowered women I met last week at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz cultural center in New York City.

Dominican Independence Event

This group of about 50 proud Dominican women (and some men) gathered last Saturday, February 27 to commemorate their national Independence Day.

Dominicans celebrate their Independence from Haiti not Spain and this group questioned not only the racism embedded in that celebration but also the racism that remains pervasive within the Dominican community, on the island and abroad.  Continue reading →