S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. After decades of survival, in spite of American opposition, the Cuban government is struggling to resist an uprising of its own citizens. And while U.S. dialogue about that communist regime has historically been dominated by white Cuban Americans, Afro Cubans say that needs to change.
S2: We’re sons and we’re raised on both fronts in Cuba and the United States, across racial lines, across political lines.
S1: Afro Cuban perspective on the Cuba protests and politics coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson Stayton. This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Cuba’s communist regime has endured for over six decades and more than 10 American presidents, several of whom predicted and push for its downfall. But in recent days, a government that survived pressure from one of the most powerful nations in the world is facing its toughest fight from its own people. People like. Like. Cuban-Americans have added their voices to the call for a new government in Cuba from social media to the streets, and many of them are challenging the historic American narrative about Cuba. One of these people is Amalia Dache. She’s Afro Cuban and a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania. She researches the role of race in higher education and student activism. She’s also the author of the book Rise Up Activism is Education and Amalia Dache. She joins us now. Welcome to a word.
S2: Thank you so much. Jason glad to be here.
S1: We should note that at the time we’re recording this conversation, the Cuban government has become more aggressive about blocking communication. You still have family there. What’s the latest you’ve heard from them about what’s actually happening in the country?
S2: For the latest I’ve heard is that our cousin, our young cousin Laddy, has been taken by the government. He was part of the resistance. He is part of the Cuban youth who have been active in and challenging the government’s oppression and the dictatorship. And they can’t find him. And he’s he’s part of those who are missing, part of the many who are missing.
S1: When you talk to Cubans on the island, if you’ve been able to in the past and then look at the conversation happening in US politics and media, what’s the most critical disconnect or misunderstanding about the uprising?
S2: Also, the Cubans, Cuban natives, Cubans who are dissidents of of the revolution, which many of my family are, and Cuban Americans here agree that Cuba has to change. Cuba has to be more democratic between both the island and the United States. That’s the agreement with Cuban-Americans and Cubans on the island. I mean, just engaging in Twitter, you will see people saying that. You’ll see people on the left and people on the far right both saying similar things. Right. Like, OK, know, is it possible that the CIA has been involved in the resistance in Cuba? Have you not been following part three of either? Have you been following Afro Cuban artists? Have you been following what they’ve been doing? No, they haven’t. So this is what I’m saying. We’re Sunland’s and we’re raised on both on both fronts in Cuba and the United States across racial lines, across political lines. And this is a quandary for the Afro Cuban, for the black Cuban. But we’re hoping that African-Americans and black people who understand issues of institutional racism, even though they don’t know communism, they know capitalism. You know, we do know that these systems have hierarchies. You know, Cuba doesn’t have corporations that are powerful like the United States, but they have the military elite that’s powerful and that’s predominantly white. Right. Like, let’s let’s be real about this.
S1: Your research is taking you back to Cuba several times in recent years. What did you witness firsthand about the social and political climate there? And, you know, how was it affecting Cubans, depending on what your race or what your perceived race was?
S2: So when I was in Cuba in twenty eighteen, I started the study that engaged with Cubans from my neighborhood about their racial and political ideologies. And what I learned from interviewing Cubans in Havana was fear. There’s lots of fear and lots of secrecy about what they can say. So the fact that I too am Cuban, I was born in Cuba and I was born in this neighborhood. They they trusted me and they trusted to share their stories. And what I heard was really that in order to enter higher education, you have to be a part of the communist regime. In order to learn and to progress within the Cuban system, you have to be aligned with the communist regime. If you write a dissertation or thesis that critiques the communist regime, it won’t get published. And you would you’re going to face repression from the government. You and your family is going to face repression. There is no academic freedom in Cuban universities. There is no disciplinary peer review. And so you have a society of people who their knowledge systems are limited and can engage internationally because it’s a communist dictatorship.
S1: You know, a lot of the protests are protests in general are generally led by young people, and you’ve also studied like uprisings in the United States. The protests that we’ve had over the years, what are some similar threads between the youth uprising in Cuba and see what we’ve seen in the United States not just last year, but over the last several years? What’s similar?
S2: What’s similar? It’s these youth in particular because the topic of today’s conversation is race. Afro Cuban youth have been have been leading. They live in the most marginal or oppressed neighborhoods and repressed, oppressed and repressed neighborhoods in Cuba. So would this resistance began was in one of the southern barrios of Havana, which is highly marginal as far as race and as far as the economic situation, because in Cuba, even though you have this totalitarian state and supposedly everyone’s the same across the economic system, you still have neighborhoods, you still have barrios that are worse as far as their housing, as far as who lives there across the demographics. And you do have predominantly black and underserved and impoverished within the scale of Cuban poverty communities. So even in this kind of government, you still have a hierarchy of poverty and those who are highly affected are black Cubans and the youth are the ones that are coming out. So that’s why you see with the sign, you see the movement that is black artists, that it’s these artists that that are coming from this neighborhood, coming from the San Ysidro neighborhood, coming from neighborhoods that are impoverished. And so the youth are coming out of these neighborhoods similarly to the work I did in Ferguson. Right. So I began study activism and wrote my book on activism because I was a professor at University of Missouri in the belly of the beast of white supremacy in 2014. And Michael Brown gets killed. And I’m studying what’s happening. And it’s those that are living in northern San Luis, right. Those who have been oppressed within the county and who have been living, you know, years from the the oppressive housing structure in St. Louis and the segregation in schools. Those are the people who have been highly impacted by the police day in St. Louis. And so the Ferguson community in Ferguson use those again, very similar to the Cuban youth are the ones that are on the streets. And they’re the ones who are saying, look, we have to do something, we have to change. And they’re angry and they have no fear. That’s the other thing is that this power of everything being take away from you. And so in a sense, the power the state takes away your fear to they’ve taken everything. They’ve taken your body, they’ve taken your family, and now they’ve taken fear.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll talk more about the Cuban perspective, about the uprising in Cuba. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. Did you know you could be listening to this show, ad free, all it takes is a slate plus membership. It’s just one dollar for the first month and it helps support our show. Plus, it lets you hear all Slate podcast without ads and read unlimited articles on the Slate site without ever hitting a paywall. So sign up now for Slate plus at Slate Dotcom. Again, a word plus that slate. Dotcom, a word plus. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about the Cuban political crisis with the University of Pennsylvania Professor Amalia Dutchie. Dr. Dashi, I got to ask this. In the past, you’ve spoken about how and this is my perception as well, the political left in America, the black political left and the white political left tend to romanticize these ideas of racial equality in Cuba. Can you do a little bit to absolutely destroy that myth? Because it’s something that that anyone who has a lived experience in Cuba has always spoken out against. But for some reason, certain factions of the American left want to keep promoting it.
S2: Yes, absolutely. So this is a major fact and it aligns with what’s happening in the United States, where the critical race theory, supposed debate how the Republicans are trying to get rid of critical race theory in the classroom. Listen to this Afro Cuban people, black people in Cuba have not been able to engage in their own history since 1959. Since 1959, the Cuban government, the communist government has wiped out off the face of the Cuban planet all black political associations, all black organizations. Cuba before 1959 had 200 black societies. These black societies survived colonialism, you hear me? Colonialism. They used to be called garbanzos. They were completely disband in the 19th in the early 1960s because the communist government said that it had eradicated racism. So you can’t even engage in black history in Cuba. The Cuban curriculum cannot engage in these conversations because it’s not part of the revolution. It’s counter-revolutionary to talk about black history in Cuba, to engage black history. Black Cubans don’t know their history. They don’t know about black resistance. They don’t know about how black Cubans, natural Cubans during the republic during 1912 between nineteen point one in 1959 were part of changing the Cuban society. The young Cuban society Yeutter with racism in Cuba between nineteen and one in nineteen fifty nine, there was racism all over the United States. It was institutional racism everywhere, but it was a young nation and black Cubans, Afro Cubans were part of creating the most progressive constitution in nineteen forty. It was the most progressive constitution in Latin America. So Cubans across racial lines were making strides. But yes, of course we can critique it because we were looking at it from the US lens. Of course we can critique it. But it was a new nation.
S1: Your family was part of the Mariel boatlift in the early 1980s, something that a lot of Americans are only familiar with, either through Scarface or Miami Vice or that sort of thing. You just tell me a little bit about what compelled your family to leave. And then also, how were Cuban Americans who came over on the boat live perceived differently? Or how do they have a different political experience in America than those who came over after the revolution in the 50s?
S2: The Cubans like my father, my father was a political prisoner, one of the major Cubans. They were called the darker exodus because the ones who came from the U.S. came in the eighties. One hundred and twenty five thousand Cubans that came in the 1980s were different from the Exodus Cubans in the 1960s and 70s, because this was this was not the elite. This is not those who owned businesses. For example, in 1960s and 70s, these were the Cubans that were some had some possibly believe that there was going to be change on the island in 1960s and 70s and believe in the revolution to a certain extent. Right. They start noticing that it’s not what they it’s it’s not what Fidel said it was going to be. And so in total, one can argue that about a quarter of the Cuban migration was black. And so I see that as a form of resistance. I see it as a form of resistance to the government who was both institutionally racist and socially repressive. So these Cubans come to the United States like my family and so many other families, face racism on the island, faced racism in the United States. Yet their main focus and this is what I’ve learned on the in the interviews I just did in Miami a couple of weeks ago of Mariel and Cubans, they’re so focused on their families in Cuba, they’re so focused on liberation and freeing these people that they engage in the political and the political structures of the United States in order to basically take down the system. And so you don’t see them engaging vocally against issues of race. Primarily, their focus is political. And so black Cubans at times feel like they have to choose between being black in America and being a black Cuban and again, battling both fronts, battling racism here, but feeling as if primarily their concern is what’s happening to their families in Cuba.
S1: Is there a lot of anti black racism within the Cuban community in addition to institutions, and how does that also create a challenge? Because you mentioned this idea that Afro Cubans often feel like, OK, I got to either choose being Cuban or choose being black. I don’t know many circumstances where you get that opportunity. You always going to be black.
S2: When my family came here in the 1980s, we were refugees and we were a part of the refugee camps in the Orange Bowl in Miami, and there were also families, Cuban families that had sponsored us. And so we were divided across gender lines. So my mom and myself went to a Cuban family and then my dad and my brothers went to another Cuban family. And these were white Cuban families. And although they were helping us economically. Right. Do I have to also acknowledge that Cuban-Americans did help push to push the government to accept Cuban Cubans right here at the same time, they were there was racism towards illegals. Right. They seen us as criminals to be seen as as as those who are other. And still, my mom and I, she was saying in this Cuban family, the Cuban family was like in politics. They called my mother like the help. They would say, like, oh, we have to we have these Cubans here. They’re good Cubans. They’re good black Cubans. Yeah. Well, these you know, we have this Negrito here and there. My mom kind of became like the help, like the the houseworker of these Cuban-Americans in Miami. There was this tension between, wow, you’re helping me as far as you’re helping provide economically and supporting me politically right here. I left this regime and this dictatorship because of the help of Cuban Americans at the same time in this fight and this family kind of small social space that we have in this home. You’re racist towards me, right? And you treat me like another. So that’s that was the complicated conundrum of Cuban Americans who are black and and have to deal with anti blackness within the Cuban-American community. But at the same time, they align when it comes to the political system as far as their experiences in Cuba and as far as experiencing communism and the dictatorship. And and that’s that’s the complexity that that’s missing in the United States as far as understanding the role of Afro Cubans and black Cubans in the United States.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more about the AfroCubism perspective on the Cuban uprising. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about the uprising in Cuba with Professor Amalia Dashi. President Biden made a brief statement about the uprising. Here’s a clip. Folks, I
S3: want to start by recognizing the remarkable protests that have taken place in Cuba, the Cuban people demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this in a long time, quite frankly, ever in the United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government government to refrain from violence or attempts to silence the voice of the people of Cuba.
S1: Based on what you’ve heard Biden say or anything that you’ve heard so far from the administration, Dr. O’Shay, like, is that enough? Do you think they’ve been supportive enough or is there a feeling that, you know what, U.S. you guys have done enough already? How about you just leave this to the people who were there?
S2: I mean, it’s complicated because you have this history of this Cold War history of United States, you know, intruding in international affairs of of countries like Cuba before 1959, a being what people call a neocolonial presence in Cuba before 1959. And so I know that the US has has had that history. We can’t we cannot acknowledge that. At the same time, when you think about the Cuban people and you think about what’s happening to people like my family and to my cousin and to so many other black Cuban youth and Cuban youth who are being taken and who have disappeared on the on the island because the Internet is we don’t know what’s happening. Cuban-Americans are desperate because our families are there. And that’s the thing we want. We want Americans and we want the world to engage in protecting Cubans. We want Cubans to be protected, just like we want the Ferguson activists to be protected, just like we want George Floyds activists to be protected from the state and from political tyranny. Right. That is what we want. And so I don’t know what that’s going to look like. Biden is in a complicated position as the president of the United States because he has people who are telling him that, look, you know, Cuban-Americans, they’re you know, they’re always causing a fuss. They vote largely Republican. They’re not really our base. But then you have people like me who are Democrats who, you know, who voted for Biden, who who’s a racial justice activist, who also believes in taking down the communist dictatorship. And I’m not sure how Biden is going to engage in the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen the next two hours in Cuba. But my hope is that Cuba becomes something like the Berlin Wall for Latin America. This is what I’m hoping. And I don’t know how much the United States government is going to be involved in that.
S1: Realistically, let’s jump ahead, you know, for years. Right. Let’s let’s jump ahead to twenty twenty four. Twenty twenty five. What do you think Cuba looks like? Do you think this is going to be a Tiananmen Square moment where if there were protests and people are going to have to flee, but it pretty much goes back to status quo? Or do you think this is the Berlin Wall where in another four years we will see a completely different look in Cuba or the beginnings of a very different Cuba?
S2: I think it’s the latter. I think it’s going to be a new Cuba. I think, again, learning the history and engaging in the work and the book I’m trying to write on Cuban-Americans and Afro Cubans engaging in racial political ideologies. I believe that what we didn’t know about Afro Cuban history in Cuba and the power of black Cubans and Cubans across racial lines in the in challenging colonialism and ending Spanish rule, Spanish colonial rule in 1899, in 1991, from between that period and how Cubans were able to make progress, small progress and small gains, how Cubans had one of the strongest and most progressive constitutions in 1940. I believe that Cuban people and Cuban Americans and Cubans from all over the world who have left Cuba because for political reasons, because they can’t live freely, are going to engage the island, are going to go back with knowledge, with, you know, hopefully doing research, collecting data openly and transparently. That’s my goal, to to go back to Cuba and to engage freely and openly and not do interviews of Cubans in silence and in fear of what the government might say. And so my hope is that getting rid of the curtain, getting rid of what what might can be considered the Iron Curtain, we’ll be able to lift the voices of Afro Cubans and the ancestors who who fought for justice during the colonial period, who fought for justice during the nineteen. 30S and 1940s, who were leaders of black societies. You know, I’m hoping that that’s the history and that’s the kind of discourse that will be engaging in during during a new Cuba in 2025.
S1: Amalia Dache is a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Rise Up Activism His Education. Thank you so much for joining us on the work.
S2: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.
S1: And that’s a word for this week. The show’s email is a word at Slate Dotcom. This episode was produced by Ahyiana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcasts Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcast at Slate. June Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.