The first doll I ever had was black. She was a skinny little thing, with a plastic body and a rubber head. I don’t remember how it was dressed.
The second one was chubby-I liked that better-and it was also dark skinned.
My first doll came from Angola, the only souvenir my father brought back from his military service in that country. But the second was from Cuba, as were the third and fourth. All of them were black.
During this stage of my life, one of my favorite music and dance groups was Boney M. I glowed imitating their costumes and their dancing. My first friend was Albertico; he was darker than asphalt, and so was my second friend.
One afternoon, while we were playing in the schoolyard, the leader of the group decided to play a new game. We weren’t more than seven years old, and all of us wanted to be on the same team as Ricardo, the liveliest.
Most of us were happy when we could be with him and his group, because they were white.
There were only three or four mulatto and black kids. I hung around with them. It wasn’t that I had any consciousness about justice or anything like that; I was simply one of them. I didn’t understand the reason for the separation.
We didn’t continue playing that game much longer.
One thing I’ve thought a lot about is that several years later I suffered bitterly, with the proverbial sensitivity of adolescence, because my mother, jokingly, insisted that I had thick African lips.
I still had friends who were black. Apparently my way of thinking wasn’t racist. So why did I feel so upset about having a physical trait that gave away my dark roots? Was this just an adolescent complex? I couldn’t be sure.
Although my family (all of them) would give their blood (all of it) for the Revolution, they have suffered with every black boyfriend or girlfriend brought home by any of us-sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or grandchildren.
And when I say suffer, I mean seriously, and big time. None of them will openly confess the reason for their suffering, although they reveal signs, and none would ever do anything to harm a black person; on the contrary, they have friends of that color. But from friendship to love is a long stretch.
Even though I grew up with Cuban society’s anti-racist pronouncements, the remarks I overheard when people spoke amongst themselves-the jokes and prejudices of their entire lives before 1959-became ingrained deep in me.
Luckily, my adolescence ended. I continue to love people as I did in my childhood, without noticing how white or black they might be. But I doubt that the adults in my family have managed to love others as in their childhood. They didn’t have the same opportunity that my generation has had.
Now there is an African-American president in the United States. Heroes and heroines of African descent are becoming common in cartoons and movies. Soon, the black dolls will once again return to Cuba.
Although the matter is much more complicated than the existence of those toys, I’m sure that these are each child’s first friends. These will help when youth enter their adolescence; they won’t feel bad because their hair is not like their white pop star idols, nor will they feel ashamed when introducing their black boyfriend or girlfriend to their family and friends.
At the moment, those dolls still haven’t returned. I wonder; will it be necessary to wait for others to produce them for us?