Afro Cuban Relations with Florida

Alberto N Jones

US President Obama arrives at the Miami Airport. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — In a speech in Miami on Friday November 8, 2013, President Barack Obama said “We have to be creative and we have to be thoughtful and we have to continue to update our Cuba policies”.

Many have questioned, some were alarmed, while most know very little about the 400 year old history of Afro Cubans with Florida.

Long before the birth of the United States, conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in St. Augustine in 1565 with a number of Afro Cubans in his expedition.  Some were left behind to build and man defensive fortresses in St Augustine and Jacksonville and it is said, some made families and became part of the Seminoles tribe.

In the spring of 1886, hundreds of Afro Cuban relocated from Key West to Tampa, where they became 15% of the population and contributed decisively to transform Ybor City into the mecca of the cigar industry in the US.

After an assassination attempt against Jose Marti, whenever the father of the Cuban nation, who was living in New York, visited Tampa, he always stayed at Afro Cuban Ruperto and Paulina Pedroso’s Boarding House, with Ruperto sleeping in the hallway for his protection.

The Marti-Maceo Society was founded in 1900 at the Pedroso’s home and soon became a model for social, education and healthcare services for its 300 members paying $0.60 weekly dues, to counter the rabid segregation in Tampa. Their brick Clubhouse dancehall on 11th St and 6th Ave., hosted concerts with Fats Domino, B. B. King, Cab Calloway and others, until its decline began in the 1940 until today, for lack of young blood.

Booker T. Washington worked hard to enroll Afro Cubans in Tuskegee College in Alabama, especially in architecture. Luis Delfin Valdes a Tuskegee graduate, designed the Club Atenas, a major twentieth-century Afro Cuban cultural Center in Havana.

Dr. Mary McCleod Bethune was acutely aware of the importance of developing relations with Cuba, which lead her to enroll Afro Cubans as early as 1924 in her nascent academy of learning in Daytona Beach, where after graduating, a couple stayed on board and excelled in the academic world.

Aside from the United States, Cuba had the largest number of chapters of the Marcus Garvey Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Langston Hughes described his detailed search for the heartbeat and songbeat of Africa in Cuba.

He developed a close intellectual relation with Nicolas Guillen, Wilfredo Lam and other Afro Cuban intellectuals, which have survived a myriad of adversities to this day thru the Latin America Study Association (LASA) and other organizations promoting scientific and cultural exchange.

Can anyone imagine Jazz, professional baseball, Latin American and Caribbean literature, without Afro American and Afro Cuban close collaboration?

Have we thought for a minute, how much educational, scientific, cultural and sports development has been lost in the past fifty years of a sorrowful and senseless estrangement?

Could it be that President Barack Obama is aware of these irrefutable, historical interactions, which transcends artificial, man-made divisions?

Notwithstanding the existence of real political differences between the United States and Cuba, millions of dollars in legal business transactions takes place every day in Miami, New York, Tampa and LA, none of which are in the hands of Afro Americans, Caribbean migrants or provide employment for them.  Why?

US Congresswoman Cathy Castor (D) Tampa

Misinformed Afro America is unaware of the present and future changes in the pipeline in Cuba and the United States. US Congresswoman Cathy Castor (D) Tampa has said, her most important task in Congress is to work towards normalizing relations with Cuba, which will mean 20,000 jobs for her district.

Richard Feinberg, Senior Fellow of Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institute wrote the following in November 2013, “Soft landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Class”: In conclusion, Cuba is undergoing its most profound changes since 1960, but the outcome is uncertain and several scenarios are imaginable. The stakes are high for Cubans and the United States.

The US has abundant opportunities to play a constructive role, particularly if it can coordinate with other regional and global players. But the US forfeits its leverage if it stands on the sidelines, hamstrung by domestic politics wrangling or distracted by apparently more pressing crisis.  Yet, in a turbulent world where events are often beyond the reach of Washington, in nearby Cuba, which remains relatively peaceful and stable, a historic opportunity beckons.

Millions of marginalized Afro Americans, Afro Cubans, Caribbean and Latin American men women and children have waited centuries for justice. Cuba like no other country can begin the healing and developing process, by opening and stimulating commerce with its neighbors, re-open migration to Cuba and foster stronger educational, cultural and historical ties, with its unconditional friends and supporters to the south.

2 thoughts on “Afro Cuban Relations with Florida

  • Great work Alberto, Moses you must realize the struggle we went through in the US to be Black and the continuing struggle to be African. This is not a struggle unique to our brothers and sisters in Cuba. Look also at the rest of South and Central America. This struggle for true identity is being waged and will only intensify in the coming weeks, months and years. We must mid-wife this struggle.

  • Your interest in promoting the historical relevance of Afro-Cubans is notable. It would appear however that the first hurdle you must overcome is the marginalization of Afro-Cuban contributions to Cuba before you tackle American society. Most Cubans, white and black, in my experience, lack your interest in Afro-Cuban culture. Even more disturbing, I have seen white Cuban “intellectuals” spend hours expounding on the contributions of their Spanish forefathers to Cuban life and ignore the West African contributions altogether. BTW, what are your thoughts on the recent Cuban census? It is interesting to note that on a self-reported basis, only 9% of Cubans claim to be Black. Obviously, this is clearly an underestimate given the prevalence of Black Cubans throughout the island, especially in the eastern provinces. Even my beautiful wife, who is Black woman here in the US. still calls herself a mulatta from Cuba. Sounds like some self-denial right?

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