The term Afro-Cuban refers to Cubans who mostly have West African ancestry, and to historical or cultural elements in Cuba thought to emanate from this community. The term can refer to the combining of African and other cultural elements found in Cuban society such as race, religion, music, language, the arts, and class culture.
According to a 2002 national census which surveyed 11.2 million Cubans, 1.1 million Cubans described themselves as Black, while 2.8 million considered themselves to be "mulatto" or "mestizo". Thus a significant proportion of those living on the island affirm some African ancestry. The matter is further complicated by the fact that a fair number of people still locate their origins in specific African ethnic groups or regions, particularly the Yoruba (or Lucumí), Akan, Arará, and Congo, but also Igbo, Carabalí, Mandingo, Fula, Makua, and others.
A study from 2014 estimated the genetic admixture of the population of Cuba to be 72% European, 20% African, and 8% Native American.
Although Afro-Cubans can be found throughout Cuba, Eastern Cuba has a higher concentration of blacks than other parts of the island, and Havana has the largest population of blacks of any city in Cuba. Recently, many African immigrants have been coming to Cuba, especially from Angola. Also, immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti have been settling in Cuba, most of whom settle in the eastern part of the island, due to its proximity to their home countries, further contributing to the already high percentage of blacks on that side of the island.
The percentage of Afro-Cubans on the island increased after the 1959 Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro due to mass migration from the island of the largely white Cuban professional class. A small percentage of Afro-Cubans left Cuba, mostly for the United States, (particularly Florida), where they and their U.S.-born children are called Cuban Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and African Americans. Only a few of them resided in nearby Spanish-speaking country of Dominican Republic and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami says 62% are black. The Minority Rights Group International says that "An objective assessment of the situation of Afro-Cubans remains problematic due to scant records and a paucity of systematic studies both pre- and post-revolution".
Afro-diasporic linkages between Afro-Cubans and African-Americans
Caribbean Historian Frank Andre Guridy, Associate Professor of History and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Forging Diaspora: Afro-Cubans and African Americans in a World of Empire and Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). A monograph that demonstrates the transnational relationships nurtured by Afro-Cubans and black Americans helped to shape the political strategies of both groups as they attempted to overcome a shared history of racial oppression and enslavement. His book was awarded the Elsa Goveia Book Prize by the Association of Caribbean Historians, the leading association in the field of Caribbean history. He documents the institutional relationships and cultural interactions between Afro-Cubans and African Americans from the U.S intervention of 1898 until the eve of the outbreak of the Cuban Revolution. By excavating these hidden narratives of cultural and political interaction between these communities in various contexts, from Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute, to social and cultural movements such as Garveyism and the black transnational cultural renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, to the black travel networks created during the Good Neighbor and early Cold War eras, Guridy highlights the centrality of transnational linkages to the ways both of these Black communities negotiated their entangled processes of imperialism and racial discrimination.
Afro-Cuban descendants in Africa
Countries such as Nigeria, the home of the Yoruba and Igbo cultures, and Equatorial Guinea experienced an influx of ex-slaves from Cuba brought there as indentured servants during the 17th century, and again during the 19th century. In Equatorial Guinea, they became part of the Emancipados; in Nigeria, they were called Amaros. Despite being free to return to Cuba when their tenure was over, they remained in these countries marrying into the local indigenous population. The former slaves were brought to Africa by the Royal Orders of September 13, 1845 (by way of voluntary arrangement) and a June 20, 1861 deportation from Cuba, due to the lack of volunteers. Similar circumstances previously occurred during the 17th century where ex-slaves from both Cuba and Brazil were offered the same opportunity.
Angola also has communities of Afro-Cubans, Amparos. They are descendants of Afro-Cuban soldiers brought to the country in 1975 as a result of the Cuban involvement in the Cold War. Fidel Castro deployed thousands of troops to the country during the Angolan Civil War. As a result of this era, there exists a small Spanish-speaking community in Angola of Afro-Cubans numbering about 100,000.
Haitian Creole and culture first entered Cuba with the arrival of Haitian immigrants at the start of the 19th century. Haiti was a French colony, and the final years of the 1791–1804 Haitian Revolution brought a wave of French settlers fleeing with their Haitian slaves to Cuba. They came mainly to the east, and especially Guantánamo, where the French later introduced sugar cultivation, constructed sugar refineries and developed coffee plantations. By 1804, some 30,000 French were living in Baracoa and Maisí, the furthest eastern municipalities of the province. Later, Haitians continued to come to Cuba to work as braceros (hand workers, from the Spanish word brazo, meaning "arm") in the fields cutting cane. Their living and working conditions were not much better than slavery. Although they planned to return to Haiti, most stayed on in Cuba. For years, many Haitians and their descendants in Cuba did not identify themselves as such or speak Creole. In the eastern part of the island, many Haitians suffered discrimination. But according to the Castro regime, since 1959, when he took over, this discrimination has stopped.
After Spanish, Creole is the second most-spoken language in Cuba. In addition to the eastern provinces, there are also communities in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey provinces where the population still maintains Creole, their mother tongue. Classes in Creole are offered in Guantanamo, Matanzas and the City of Havana. There is a Creole-language radio program.
The Abakuá religion is a secret society for men, similar to the freemason orders of Europe. It has not been syncretized with Roman Catholicism and remains close to its origins in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon, from the Ekpe society of the Efik people of Cross River State and nearby areas.
Afro-Cuban music involves two main categories of music, religious and profane. Religious music includes the chants, rhythms and instruments used in rituals of the above-mentioned religious currents, while profane music focuses largely on rumba, guaguancó and comparsa (carnival music) as well as several lesser styles such as the tumba francesa. Virtually all Cuban music has been influenced by African rhythms. Cuban popular music, and quite a lot of the art music, has strands from both Spain and Africa, woven into a unique Cuban cloth. The son is a typical example of this. While much of the music is often performed in cut-time, artists typically use an array of time signatures like 6/8 for drumming beats. Clave, on the other hand, uses a polymetric 7/8 + 5/8 time signature
Other cultural elements considered to be Afro-Cuban can be found in language (including syntax, vocabulary, and style of speech).
The Afro-Cuban religions all maintain some degree of use of African languages. Santería and Abakuá both have large parts of their liturgy in African languages (Lucumí, Igbo and Ñañigo, respectively) while Palo uses a mixture of Spanish and Kikongo, known as Habla Congo.
The term Afro-Cuban is rarely taken into the economic sphere, despite the fact that, as in most of the Americas, black Cubans are generally poorer than whites, which translates into class phenomenon along racial lines. The political situation, however, forbids public acknowledgement of the existence of social classes and of racial problems of any kind.
According to anthropologists dispatched by the European Union, racism is entrenched in Cuba. Black people are systematically excluded from positions in tourism-related jobs, where they could earn tips in hard currencies. According to the EU study, black people are relegated to poor housing, and black Cubans are excluded from managerial positions.
Enrique Patterson describes race as a "social bomb" and says that "If the Cuban government were to permit black Cubans to organize and raise their problems before [authorities] ... totalitarianism would fall". Esteban Morales Domínguez, a professor at the University of Havana, says that "The absence of the debate on the racial problem already threatens ... the revolution's social project". Carlos Moore, who has written extensively on the issue, says that "There is an unstated threat, blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail. Therefore the struggle in Cuba is different. There cannot be a civil rights movement. You will have instantly 10,000 black people dead. [...] The government is frightened to the extent to which it does not understand black Cubans today. You have a new generation of black Cubans who are looking at politics in another way." Barack Obama's victory has raised disturbing questions about the institutional racism in Cuba. The Economist noted "The danger starts with his example: after all, a young, black, progressive politician has no chance of reaching the highest office in Cuba, although a majority of the island's people are black"
In the years between the triumph of the revolution and the victory at Playa Girón the Cuban government was one of the world's most proactive regimes in the fight against discrimination. It achieved significant gains in racial equality through a series of egalitarian reforms early in the 1960s. Fidel Castro's first public address on racism after his rise to power was on March 23, 1959 at a labor rally in Havana, less than three months after he defeated Fulgencio Batista. He is quoted as saying: "One of the most just battles that must be fought, a battle that must be emphasized more and more, which I might call the fourth battle--the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. I repeat: the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. Of all the forms of racial discrimination the worst is the one that limits the colored Cuban's access to jobs. " Castro pointed to the distinction between social segregation and employment, while placing great emphasis on correcting the latter. In response to the large amount of racism that existed in the job market, Castro issued anti-discrimination laws. In addition, he attempted to close the class gap between wealthy white Cubans and Afro-Cubans with a massive literacy campaign among other egalitarian reforms in the early and mid-1960s. Two years after his 1959 speech at the Havana Labor Rally, Castro declared that the age of racism and discrimination was over. In a speech given at the Confederation of Cuban Workers in observance of May Day, Castro declared that the "just laws of the revolution ended unemployment, put an end to villages without hospitals and schools, enacted laws which ended discrimination, control by monopolies, humiliation, and the suffering of the people." Although inspiring, many would consider the claim to be premature."
Research conducted by PH.D researchers Yesilernis Peña, Jim Sidanius and Mark Sawyer in 2003, suggest that social discrimination is still prevalent, despite the low levels of economic discrimination. After considering the issue solved, the Cuban government moved beyond the issue of racism. His message marked a shift in Cuban society's perception of racism that was triggered by the change in government focus." The government's announcement easily allowed the Cuban public to deny discrimination without first correcting the stereotypes that remained in the minds of those who grew up in a Cuba that was racially and economically divided. Many who argue that racism does not exist in Cuba base their claims on the idea of Latin American Exceptionalism. According to the argument of Latin American Exceptionality, a social history of intermarriage and mixing of the races is unique to Latina America. The large mestizo populations that result from high levels of interracial union common to Latin America are often linked to racial democracy. For many Cubans this translates into an argument of "racial harmony", often referred to as racial democracy. In the case of Cuba, ideas of Latin American Exceptionalism have delayed the progress of true racial harmony.
Most of the Latin population of Tampa in the 1950s was working class and lived in restricted areas, ethnic enclaves in the vicinity of Tampa's hundreds of cigar factories. Black Cubans were tolerated to an extent in the Latin quarter (where most neighborhoods and cigar factories were integrated). Ybor City and its counterpart, West Tampa, were areas that bordered on other restricted sections-areas for U.S. blacks or whites only. In this Latin quarter, there existed racial discrimination despite its subtleness.
During the 1920s and 1930s Cuba experienced a movement geared towards Afro-Cuban culture called Afrocubanismo. The movement had a large impact on Cuban literature, poetry, painting, music, and sculpture. It was the first artistic campaign in Cuba that focused on one particular theme: black culture. Specifically it highlighted the struggle for independence from Spain, black slavery, and building a purely Cuban national identity. Its goal was to incorporate African folklore and rhythm into traditional modes of art.
History of the movement
The movement evolved from an interest in the rediscovery of African heritage. It developed in two very different and parallel stages. One stage stemmed from European artists and intellectuals who were interested in African art and musical folk forms. This stage paralleled the Harlem Renaissance in New York, Négritude in the French Caribbean, and coincided with stylistic European Vanguard (like Cubism and its representation of African masks). It was characterized by the participation of white intellectuals such as Cubans Alejo Carpentier, Fortunato Vizcarrondo, Fernando Ortiz, and Lydia Cabrera, Puerto Rican Luis Palés Matos, and Spaniards Pablo Picasso and Roger de Lauria. The African-inspired art tended to represent Afro-Cubans with cliché images such as a black man sitting beneath a palm tree with a cigar.
Poems and essays by black writers began to be published in the 1930s in newspapers, magazines and books, where they discussed their own personal heritage. Afro-Cuban and Afro-Cuban heritage artists such as Nicolás Guillén, Alberto Arredondo and Emilio Ballagas brought light to the once-marginalized black race and culture. It became a symbol of empowerment and individuality for Afro-Cubans within the established Western culture of the Americas and Europe.
This empowerment became a catalyst for the second stage to be characterized by Afro-Cuban artists making art that truly reflected what it meant to be Afro-Cuban. Beginning in the 1930s this stage depicted a more serious view of black culture like African religions and the struggles associated with slavery. The main protagonist during this stage of the movement was Nicolás Guillén.
Results of the movement
The lasting reputation of the Afrocubanismo movement was the establishment of a New World art form that used aesthetics from both European and African culture. Although the actual movement of Afrocubanismo faded by the early 1940s, Afro-Cuban culture continues to play a vital role in the identity of Cuba. It has been the Cuban Revolution that opened up a space for extended research of African ethnic roots in Cuba. The rhetoric of the Revolution incorporates black history and its contribution as an important stratum of Cuban identity. The Revolution has funded many projects that restore the work of Afro-Cubans in an effort to accommodate an African-driven identity within the new anti-racist Cuban society.
Arts and entertainment
- Laz Alonso — actor
- Renny Arozarena — actor
- Gastón Baquero — poet
- Matt Cedeño — actor and model
- Rosario Dawson — actress
- Ángel Escobar — poet
- Lola Falana — actress, singer, and dancer
- Nicolás Guillén — poet
- Wifredo Lam — artist
- Coco López — artist
- Faizon Love — actor
- Nancy Morejón — poet
- Luis Moro — actor and filmmaker
- Gina Torres — actress
- Alexis Valdés — artist and comedian
Human rights and democracy activists
- Afro-Cuban All Stars
- Francisco Aguabella — percussionist
- Federico A. "Tata Güines" Soto Alejo — percussionist and bandleader
- Carlos Alfonso — bassist and leader of Síntesis
- X Alfonso — singer
- Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros — trumpeter and bandleader
- Guillermo Barreto — percussionist
- Abelardo Barroso — singer and bandleader
- Mario Bauzá — musician and songwriter; brother-in-law of Machito
- Ignacio Berroa — percussionist
- Leo Brouwer — composer and guitarist
- Cándido Camero — percussionist
- "Changuito" — percussionist and former member of Los Van Van
- Julito Collazo — percussionist and singer
- Celia Cruz — singer
- Anga Díaz — percussionist and former member of Irakere
- Addys D'Mercedes — singer
- Richard Egües — flute player, a member of Orquesta Aragón
- Ibrahim Ferrer — singer (Buena Vista Social Club)
- Juan de Marcos González — musical director of the Buena Vista Social Club
- Rubén González — pianist (Conjunto de Arsenio Rodríguez and Buena Vista Social Club)
- Graciela — singer; stepsister of Machito
- Francisco Raúl "Machito" Gutiérrez Grillo — singer, musician, and bandleader
- Marcelino "Rapindey" Guerra — singer and composer
- Amaury Gutiérrez — singer
- Oscar Hernández — songwriter; known for his lyrics "Ella y yo" and "La rosa roja;" cousin of Alberto Arredondo's mother
- Generoso "Tojo" Jiménez — trombonist
- Enrique Jorrín — violinist, composer, and inventor of the cha-cha-chá rhythm
- Pedro Knight — trumpeter with Sonora Matancera, second husband, manager after 1967, and eventual widower of Celia Cruz
- Xiomara Laugart — singer
- Calixto Leicea — trumpeter, songwriter, and arranger with Sonora Matancera
- Pío Leyva — singer and songwriter (Buena Vista Social Club)
- Olivia Longott — singer
- Israel "Cachao" López — bassist, composer, and bandleader, creator of the mambo and the first to record Cuban jam sessions (descargas)
- Orestes "Macho" López — pianist and songwriter; brother of Cachao
- Orlando "Cachaíto" López — bassist (Buena Vista Social Club); nephew of Cachao and Macho
- La Lupe — singer
- Antonio Machín — singer and bandleader
- Kalimba Marichal — Mexican-born singer, actor, and athlete
- Rita Marley — singer, humanitarian, and widow of Bob Marley
- Mellow Man Ace — rapper
- Celeste Mendoza — singer
- Pablo Milanés — singer
- Benny Moré — singer and bandleader; cousin of Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros
- Fats Navarro — jazz musician
- Bola de Nieve — singer and pianist
- Armando Peraza — percussionist
- Ignacio Piñeiro — musician, bandleader, and composer
- Omara Portuondo — singer (Buena Vista Social Club)
- Luciano "Chano" Pozo — Afro-Cuban/jazz percussionist, composer, and bandleader
- Dámaso Pérez Prado — "the king of mambo," composer, and the creator of the bachata rhythm, a variant of the guaracha
- Ramón "Monguito el Único" Sardiñas Quián — singer
- Orlando "Puntilla" Ríos — percussionist, singer, and bandleader
- Arsenio Rodríguez — musician, bandleader, and songwriter
- Yotuel Romero — singer
- Lázaro Ros — singer
- Gonzalo Rubalcaba — jazz pianist
- Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría — musician, songwriter, and bandleader
- Jon Secada — singer
- Compay Segundo — singer (Dúo Los Compadres, Grupo de Compay Segundo, and Buena Vista Social Club) and bandleader
- Sen Dog — rapper and member of Cypress Hill
- Rozonda Thomas — singer and composer
- Bebo Valdés — pianist
- Carlos "Patato" Valdes — conga player and composer
- Chucho Valdés — pianist and leader of Irakere, son of Bebo Valdés
- Javier Vázquez — songwriter, arranger, and pianist with Sonora Matancera; son of Bubú Valdés; succeeded Lino Frías on piano
- Yusa — female bassist
- Juan Almeida Bosque — politician and composer
- Víctor Dreke — Cuban revolutionary and second-in-command to Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the Congo
- Juan Gualberto Gómez — 1890s revolutionary leader, close collaborator of José Martí; served as a member of the committee of consultations that drafted and amended the Constitution of 1901 and as a Representative and Senator
- Mariana Grajales — part of the Cuban Independence War; Antonio Maceo's mother
- Esteban Lazo Hernández — politician
- Antonio Maceo — 1890s revolutionary leader
- Jesús Menéndez — Union leader and Cuban political
- Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez — cosmonaut; first Latin American and first person of African descent in outer space
- Julia Alvarez - poet and novelist
- Gilbert Arenas — NBA
- Yoel Romero - Olympic Wrestler
- Hector Lombard - Olympic Judoka
- Alexis Vila - Olympic Wrestler
- Bert Campaneris — MLB, cousin of José Cardenal
- José Cardenal — MLB
- Joel Casamayor — boxer; WBC Lightweight Champion
- José Contreras — MLB
- Martín Dihigo — Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame
- Liván Hernández — MLB, half-brother of El Duque
- Orlando "El Duque" Hernández — MLB
- Kid Chocolate — boxer; former World Featherweight and Junior Lightweight Champion
- Orestes Kindelán — most prolific home run hitter in the history of amateur Cuban baseball
- Minnie Miñoso — MLB
- José Nápoles — boxer; former World Welterweight Champion; also known as "Mantequilla" Nápoles
- Sergio Oliva — only bodybuilder to have ever beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Mr. Olympia competition
- Tony Oliva — MLB, three time batting champion
- Brayan Peña — MLB
- Tony Pérez — MLB Hall of Fame
- Yasiel Puig — MLB
- Ana Fidelia Quirot — athlete
- Alexei Ramírez — MLB
- Sugar Ramos — boxer; former WBA Featherweight Champion
- Alexis Rubalcaba — amateur boxer
- Félix Savón — amateur boxer
- Javier Sotomayor — world record holder in high jump
- Teófilo Stevenson — amateur boxer
- Luis Tiant — MLB
- Regla Torres — volleyball player
- Cristóbal Torriente — Negro League Baseball Hall of Fame
- Afro-Latin American - Central and South America
- Black Hispanic and Latino Americans - the United States
- Cabildo (Cuba)
- Haitian Cuban
- Angolan Civil War
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