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Six-day event in Pittsburgh targets discrimination in Cuba

Six-day event in Pittsburgh targets discrimination in Cuba
Fidel Castro declared it nonexistent, but racism is still pervasive in a
country known more for its rich culture
May 11, 2013 12:13 am
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Think Cuba, and images of music, dance, cuisine and the 1959 revolution
come to mind. But one of the most pervasive pictures has been hush-hush
since Fidel Castro declared racism and all talk of it nonexistent by fiat.

Amid such denial and a lack of legal recourse, pervasive racism has been
a silent scourge on 60 percent of the population considered black or
mulatto.

A group of Cubans attending AfricAmericas, a six-day event being held
here through today, told stories that most U.S. blacks would find
familiar, “but it is not like here,” said Manuel Cuesta Morua, who has
been a tour guide, history teacher and a museum director whose political
activism cost him his job. “In Cuba, we are all equal, but [blacks]
can’t be in the media. We have the same education, but we can’t have
that job.

“Here there are civic tools” and a justice system that can work, he
said. “We have no political or symbolic representation, no access to the
emerging economy” and no avenues to leadership positions.

Mr. Cuesta and four other members of Cuba’s Citizens Committee for
Racial Integration spoke Wednesday to a crowd of 60 at City of
Asylum/Pittsburgh on the North Side.

AfricAmericas has featured conversation, film, poetry, photography and
cultural exchange highlighting Cuba. A photo exhibition, “Crossing
Havana,” by Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna is on display from noon to 3 p.m.
today at the Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association, 1205
Boyle St., Central North Side.

“It took heaven and earth to get these men here, and not just
financially,” said Kenya Dworkin, director of Coro Latinoamericano and a
professor of Hispanic studies at Carnegie Mellon University. She
organized the events in collaboration with the heritage association.

The fact that the Cuban government let black activists travel was
historic, she said. The men described their humiliation at the Havana
Airport, where they were the only blacks on their flight. Besides being
stared at, they were relieved of cameras, CDs, thumb drives and
information they were going to share at AfricAmericas.

Asked Wednesday by a woman in the audience if they are at risk, Leonardo
Calvo Cardenas, a writer and historian, said, “The risk was there before
we came and it will be there when we go back.”

They have been arrested, followed and threatened. So far, there has been
no physical violence, they said, adding that the government has sewn the
fear of self-subjugation into most people.

Mr. Madrazo, coordinator of the Citizens Committee, said the committee
is “a pressure group, like a lobby. Racism in Cuba is a political
conflict” because of government rhetoric that it doesn’t exist. “Now the
government admits it but does not show evidence of a will to change the
agenda.

“We are grateful for the ability to come here and share a difficult
subject that puts Cuba’s future in danger.”

Two of the men now live in the United States.

Rafel Campoamor Sanchez, who has visited black communities throughout
Latin America, was expelled from Cuba as he was trying to organize The
Click Festival, an event intended to introduce the empowering
possibilities of social media and technology. He is living with his
brother in Texas.

“Of all the countries I have visited,” he said, “Cuba has the most to
overcome” in race relations. “But of 200 million black Latinos, almost
all of them live at the base of the social pyramid.”

Ms. Dworkin, a Cuban native, said black citizens there have access to
education but few are allowed to make the most of it. Besides being
segregated by housing, they are consigned to the worst of it.

The theme of “Crossing Havana” is that blacks live in “the other city”
of Havana.

Juan Antonio Alvarado Ramos, the editor of ISLAS, a quarterly journal
published in Spanish and English, left Cuba in 2000 and lives in
Florida. ISLAS deals with racial issues in Cuba and is giving voice to
more and more intellectuals.

“ISLAS really worries the Cuban government,” Mr. Calvo said. “When the
authorities get nervous, it means good things are happening. If people
with their disquiet could connect, it would become an explosive island.”

He told the crowd Wednesday night, “We feel very stimulated by your
interest.”

“If in the last few years the government has recognized there is racism,
it’s because of internal pressure and platforms like the Citizens
Committee,” said Mr. Alvarado, who is white. “Anti-racism forces are
growing. Just the fact that this event is happening attests to that.”

AfricAmericas events today: noon to 3 p.m., “Crossing Havana” photo
exhibit, Young Men and Women’s African Heritage Association, 1205 Boyle
St., Central North Side; 4 to 5:30 p.m., Afro-Latin workshops, Frick
Fine Arts building, Oakland; 7 to 9:30 p.m., AfricAmericas concert,
Frick Fine Arts auditorium, Oakland.
Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her
blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.
First Published May 11, 2013 12:00 am

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/neighborhoods-city/six-day-event-in-pittsburgh-targets-discrimination-in-cuba-687184/

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