I Am a Blacktina: Reflections on Being an Afro-Cuban in the U.S.

I Am a Blacktina: Reflections on Being an Afro-Cuban in the U.S.

For Harriet

Felice León

I am a Blacktina. Get it: Black [La]tina?

A friend gave me this nickname years ago, and it has stuck. My father is Afro-Cuban, and my mother Afro-American. I identify with both cultures and have tried to balance both, but I’ve found that I associate more so with my blackness, particularly while living in the United States.

Last week, President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba. There is said to be a U.S. Embassy opening in Havana. This is a big deal. It has been decades since the U.S. has had relations with Cuba, and Obama’s announcement marks a pivotal point in American history. Politically, there is both optimism and skepticism. Amongst my peers, the announcement seemed to have gone over well. Facebook was flooded with posts about Cuba: plans to travel to Cuba, requests for Cuban cigars, and other foolish insights that people tend to share on social media. I was also delighted to hear of the news. I’ve visited Cuba once, but it wasn’t enough. Still, during my trip I had a deep connection with my Black and Brown relatives. I was accepted as being Cuban, and for those few weeks there was no question about my identity…

I have found that being a Black woman of Cuban descent comes as a surprise to many in this country. In a class discussion last year I spoke of why I choose to refer to myself as Black (I didn’t mention the Blacktina nickname in this conversation): “The ship made many stops before it arrived on these shores. I feel like the term ‘Black’ more so encompasses the African Diaspora.” African slaves made significant contributions in Latin America. There is a complex racial history. African blood runs deep in the veins of many Latinos, which is why I choose to identify as Black. But for others, there is a level of denial when it comes to their African roots…

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