Maria Matienzo Puerto

photo: Eduardo Soñora

HAVANA TIMES — Adela’s in-laws are a typical Cuban couple of their generation…an elderly pair with shared hatreds. The mother-in-law still hasn’t forgiven the father-in-law for his infidelity committed with a black woman way back during their first years of marriage.

She brings it up every chance she gets, but he’ll say nothing. Still, Adela told me that that the black woman was the love of his life but that the relationship didn’t go forward precisely because of her being black. What was his family going to say?

That was the thinking of many white men of that time (at least I thought so). Black and mulatto women were only “chosen” as mistresses, but never as wives, though there were plenty of anomalies of course.

How terrible, right? Given the already disadvantaged social position of women, being black or mulatto was yet another — let’s say — “subcategory.”

I had thought these social constructs had been left behind in the distant 20th century when another friend, Elena, started telling me about what happened to her in a relationship that ended a few weeks earlier.

After a several weeks of “passionate” lovemaking, the guy — a white man emerging as one of Cuba’s nouveau riche — decided they shouldn’t continue because he was falling in love and that such a relationship was going to interfere with his plans.

She was devastated, while he never realized that the feelings might be mutual. Nonetheless, Elena understood and consoled herself thinking that for her, too, a relationship at that time could have been counterproductive.

But, as the old saying goes, “Lies have short legs.” Less than two weeks after the breakup “European social style” — without tears, pleas or an excess of heartbreak — there came the news. He was engaged to a gorgeous blonde.

There were no complaints from Elena…there was really nothing to complain about. She was left with a bitter taste in her mouth for having been rejected, tossed to the side like a piece of old furniture, livestock or who knows what else.

These personal stories that seem drawn from old-fashioned melodramatic novels continue on in modern times.

I don’t know how things are in other parts of the world, but here the issue of race has no end. When you think some things have progressed a little, you realize that others have slipped backwards I don’t know how many steps.

And if we add to this the fact that education here isn’t aimed at making people more assertive in seeking needed changes in our society, I really don’t know where we’re going.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

4 thoughts on “The Race Issue that Never Seems to End

  • OMG, I agree with everything ‘Moses’ wrote! But there is a sneaky subtext – there ALWAYS is a sneaky subtext from this source.

    He writes, “Racism, whether in a socialist or capitalist country is still an ugly cancer.” Absolutely, but as ‘Cimarron’ points out, it “can only improve under a true, people’s egalitarian and multiracial democracy.”

    In an unequal economic class system, aka capitalism – classes always represent inequality – there is no hope of eliminating racism – one racial group will always come out ahead – whereas in a socialist society there is.

    In Canada, affirmative action programs that attempt to address racial and gender imbalances have never succeeded. Under an economic system that is based on inequality, how could it?

    The first Cuban Revolution was based on racial egalitarianism. Marti and others demanded that slavery must end so that all Cubans would be free, not just those seeking freedom from Spain. It took the US 75 years after it’s revolution to come to the same conclusion.

    The government-sponsored Afro-Cuban music and arts programs that I witnessed travelling around Cuba was unequalled to anything I’ve seen in the US or Canada. The degree of integration – mixing of races – in schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods was also beyond anything I’ve seen before anywhere else.

    The easier access that white Cubans have to acquiring CUCs – due to the preponderance of remittances coming from the overwhelmingly white Cuban Diaspora and from preferential hiring in the tourist industry of more tourist-friendly white faces – has obviously introduced an economic imbalance between white and black Cubans.

    When I was deciding on what I could do for my part to help the Cuban people, I chose a man and his family who I knew well that received no remittances who were the blackest Cubans I could find to send regular remittances to in order to help address the imbalance. Sometimes racial profiling works for the good.

    There are always prejudices in every society. Colonialism, practiced by whites, created white privileged classes that linger past the demise of the colonial period.

    When colonialism involved slavery it created another oppressed class of people at the bottom of the social order. White settlers, in the middle, ‘kissed up’ as the middle class in any system does, becoming the enemies of those on the bottom – the working class in capitalist systems and former slaves in slave-holding countries.

    This is one of the things that makes Jose Marti and the members of the first Revolution so incredible. They didn’t ‘kiss up’. What’s more, they wanted an inclusive society, one where the former colonialists would feel comfortable staying. After the US revolution, British colonialists fled to Canada!

    How much easier it is to eliminate racism in a classless society. While not perfect, Cuba has a huge advantage, starting with a system based on egalitarianism.

    There will always be prejudices when it comes to choosing the colour of your permanent bed partner, I think. I see more male-female things going on in Maria’s stories than racial prejudice, I must admit. Males are driven by hormones, seeking ‘love’ wherever they can find it, until it comes time to settle down.

  • Afro-Cubans should focus on equal representation in Government and all state institutions. It is more important to see an Afro-Cuban (male or female) become President of Cuba, Minister of Economic Planning, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, Minister of Defence…Director of Cuban Television, Host of “Mesa Redonda” , President of a university, etc.

    Social relations in a multiracial society can only improve under a true, people’s egalitarian and multiracial democracy.

  • Despite an African-american President and many other prominent and accomplished minorities through US society, the same goes on in my country every day. Racism, whether in a socialist or capitalist country is still an ugly cancer that impedes social progress.

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