Cuba: The Experiences of Someone My Color
August 5, 2014
Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — When I was a teenager, I used to hear people repeat that
there was no racism in Cuba. At school, teachers would insist we all had
the rights, duties and opportunities. This is what I believed when I
studied at the tourism entertainment school, graduated and started working.
It was an exceptional opportunity unique to the 1990s. The country was
developing its tourism industry and needed qualified young people to
make the stay of tourists at Cuban hotels more pleasant. That said, I
did notice some hints of prejudice and racial discrimination (though I
didn’t take them seriously then).
When we graduated, the Empresa Turistica Playas del Este instructed us
to go to the Itabo Hotel to begin working there as entertainers. This is
where I had my first awful work experience, owing to the color of my
skin. They turned me away, knowing full well there were job vacancies.
My academic record was very good, but I was the only black person in the
“I don’t need any black entertainers,” said the hotel manager.
“I didn’t come looking for a job,” I immediately replied, as I was the
only black person in the group. I got up and left the meeting.
I already had a job, not as an entertainer, but renting motorcycles to
tourists. With time, and my skills, I knew I could get a job as
entertainer at the Villa Mirador del Mar Hotel, at the Santa Maria del
The following year, I had the job: I was hosting important shows for
tourists. One night, after the show was over, the manager who previously
hadn’t wanted any black employees sent for me. He congratulated me and
offered me a job at his hotel. I accepted because I wanted the
acknowledgement of being the first black persosn to graduate from the
tourism school to work there.
I worked at the hotel for several months and the manager in question was
very happy with me, to the point of acknowledging the work I was doing
(though, during the week, he would have to get me out of the police
station once or twice, where I would end up on charges of “stalking
The other entertainers didn’t get bothered, they were white. Some would
tell me I was unlucky. Others didn’t want to go out with me, out of fear
of getting into trouble with the police. That was the height of
hypocrisy, a very shrewd way of evading the issue and refusing to
recognize the reason behind such problems.
Our society is based on what many call a “white mentality.” Established
stereotypes, habits and customs have been repeated and reproduced since
colonial times, when the criteria of the dominant class – the
colonialists – prevailed over those of the black slaves, torn from their
distant lands and subjugated to enrich their exploiters. That is the
reason racism endures.
Thus, white, black and mixed race people tell jokes and make racist
allusions without “realizing” that they are denigrating non-whites. It
is a historical legacy.
The fact that, when the revolution triumphed, one of the major aims
declared by the new government was the elimination of any type of
discrimination on the basis of skin-color, has not been enough. A little
over 50 years isn’t enough to rid us of the burden of centuries. The
racial divide was far too great, and not even those who have managed to
leap across it – thanks to perseverance and a spirit of self-improvement
– are immune to discrimination.
It is clear that if we marginalize or segregate people, we hurt, not
only human beings, but also the unity that ought to distinguish us as a
nation. It is not enough for the Constitution to condemn racism, or for
civil society to attempt to eradicate an ill that continues to reproduce
Today, far from any tourist context, I continue to observe the same
phenomena I described above and do not see any adequate legal framework
to combat that ill.
Source: Cuba: The Experiences of Someone My Color – Havana Times.org –