Some people were surprised by the presence of a Puerto Rican man siding with white supremacists in the ill-fated Charlottesville rally of 2017. I was disappointed to see a fellow Latino on the wrong side of the fence, but I wasn’t surprised. Anywhere in Western world were slavery was an institution, racism surely followed. It’s the same in Cuba, where I was born.
While Cuba may not have the deep ingrained systemic racism in its dictatorial government entities, racism still abounds among the people. Not that there isn’t some of that in the government institutions, but the “Revolution” is not as old as this country. Many white Latinx people are told by someone in their family that they can marry anyone they want, except for a black person. I was often told that by individuals in my family. There was no reason. There was no justification. There was no attempt to mask that “advice” as anything else.
Even as a kid, I didn’t buy it. It just didn’t make any sense. I knew I was a “white” Cuban because that’s what I was told. But even this “whiteness” was relative because when compared to my two cousins who had smooth, straight hair, I was often told that I had “bad hair” or “pelo malo.”
I remember that when I emigrated to the United States, one of the many forms I had to fill out asked if I was; White, Black, or Hispanic. All of a sudden, I wasn’t considered white. That was quite a shock. In Cuba, I was considered to be a white person. In the U.S., I was something else. I was this “Hispanic” word that I hadn’t encountered before. While many official forms today may distinguish between ethnicity and race, that wasn’t the case in the 1990s.
This new identification didn’t launch me into an existential nightmare, but it did give me some pause. Maybe some kid in America was being told that they could marry anyone they wish, except for a black or Hispanic person.
When I see a number of Miami-Cubans supporting Trump, I’m not surprised. While Cuban support for a Republican president is usually tied to the relations with the Cuban government, I suspect that there is something there, some vestige of their old white supremacy creeping in. Racism is seductive to those who feel superior to others. Of course, Trump and other white supremacists don’t care about the Cubans, the Puerto Ricans, or any other Latinx person, no matter how pale their complexion may be. But in Miami, where most people are Hispanic/Latinx, they haven’t faced what I call the “real America.”
Even in Miami with all of its multiculturalism, white America reminded where I was from in the form of other kids calling me slurs and police officers frisking me and treating me like a criminal for no reason. Despite that, or maybe because of that, I wanted to fit in, to assimilate. So, I learned English really fast, as in after one year in school I was on my way out of ESL. Many of my other recent immigrant friends were left behind, including both my cousins who left Cuba with me. I started taking “regular” classes, meaning all English taught-classes with white and black students and of course some second-generation Latinx students.
My family took pride in me “having no accent.” And I did too, until I met and married my wife, who is white and not from Florida. She assured me that I still have an accent and she’s right. Once I even told her that I thought I could fool some gringos and pass for white. She wasn’t buying it. She’s right, as I have experienced living in the mid-West.
Leaving that Miami bubble has been an education. My next door neighbors in Cuba were black. I’ve never had any black neighbors in the 25 years I’ve lived in the United States. That’s part of the problem. People who thought of themselves as “white” in their country of origin, came to a segregated America, thus perpetuating the myth of their whiteness.
What I mean by whiteness is the idea that there is such a thing. In reality, race was invented for racism. For generations there were Irish people, English people, German people and so on. But a justification was needed to explain away and attempt to rationalize the exploitation of black bodies.
Just to be clear, so that the professional race-baiters do’t twist my words, I don’t have anything against white people; I married a white woman and my children are half white. But I am against white supremacy and I will call out those who seek to perpetuate it, whether in the white community or my own.
Overall, I do believe that there is hope that the younger generation of Latinx people in America will break the shackles of racism and colorism in our own communities. I see a lot of that now. The conversations are happening. They’re not easy, but we must have them. It’s going to take all of us, white, black, Latinx, Asian, Native, etc., all of us, coming together and realizing that we have more in common than meets the eye. That’s the only way we can begin to dismantle the systems of oppression in this country.