Así son los cubanos: narratives of race and ancestry

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2022-02-02 17:55Z by Steven

Así son los cubanos: narratives of race and ancestry

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 44, 2021 – Issue 11
pages 2135-2153
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2020.1823447

Elizabeth Obregón, Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology
University of Illinois, Chicago

This paper will focus on the ways in which conceptualizations of race are (re)produced through Cuban genealogical narratives in Western Cuba. Ethnographic interviews collected among eleven Cubans in Havana were collected during summer 2017 and are described here. My ethnographic data argue that despite Cuba’s colourblind racial democracy – where race “does not matter” because all races are “treated equally” – the familial narratives of ancestry actively reinforce the complex racial landscape and illustrates the superiority of whiteness that belie this ideal. These same family narratives ultimately highlight the various ways interlocutors negotiate racial self-identities and narrate family ancestry across lingering gendered and racial hierarchies.

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Confronting Anti-Blackness in “Colorblind” Cuba

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2021-10-11 17:55Z by Steven

Confronting Anti-Blackness in “Colorblind” Cuba


Elizabeth Obregón, Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology
University of Illinois, Chicago

A man holds his grandson inside the doorway of a fruit and vegetable shop in Havana, Cuba. Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Communist government claimed to have eradicated racism in Cuba. An anthropologist explores how racial hierarchies persist despite these official narratives, shaping family dynamics and significantly limiting opportunities for Afro-Cubans.

I sat waiting for Yudell* to finish his shift at the paladar, or small-scale private restaurant, in the central Vedado neighborhood in Havana. I’d already interviewed a few of the workers there. As I bided my time at a corner table on the outdoor patio, two of the waiters began to tease Yudell, yelling across to me, “Don’t believe what he says! He will probably tell you that he is Negro because he is a racist!”

Yudell timidly looked at me across the patio and chuckled. Growing up Cuban American, I had been to Cuba on past occasions to visit family, but this time I was there to conduct ethnographic interviews on processes of racialization for my dissertation in anthropology. I knew from experience that I had to tread carefully when entering conversations about race in Cuba.

In Cuba, a place where the revolutionary Communist government has claimed to have eliminated racial inequality, directly speaking of race is more than taboo; it is counterrevolutionary.

When we sat down for our interview a little later, Yudell proudly described himself exactly as his co-workers had said he would: “I am Negro” (a Black man). We talked about the persistence of colorism in Cuba, a system of discrimination based on skin color. Yudell chose not to self-identify as a Mulato (a mixed-race person) or a Moro (a dark-skinned person with a thin nose and “good hair”), since he saw such taken-for-granted racialized categories as a way for individuals to distance themselves from Blackness…

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