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Full Episode: Cuba: The Next Revolution

In Cuba Professor Gates finds out how the culture, religion, politics and music of this island are inextricably linked to the huge amount of slave labor imported to produce its enormously profitable 19th century sugar industry, and how race and racism have fared since Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in 1959.

  • kiana

    For those who keep wondering about the Aboriginal natives of the island , why he didn’t include them in the film, i think he really wanted to just focus on the relations between “blacks” and “whites”…Most natives had been mixed w/ the blacks and whites any how….

  • Raul

    Mrs. C asks why there was no mention of the people that lived on the island before the Spanish got there. Truth is that they made the mistake of eliminating about 50% to 55% of them, and close to 40% died from sickness brought from Europe, such as chicken pox.
    A similar thing happened in Mexico, but it was not as harmful as the indian population lived much deeper than on the island of Cuba.

  • Raul

    Mr. Tony White, Ph.D. says that the first group of people that left the island had either connections or knew others, like family, that could get them jobs.
    I beg to differ, sir, as I was placed in a camp near Miami in 1962 and as my parents were still in Cuba. I stayed in that camp for close to 4 monts and while some think that such a “life” is easy. it actually not, as I never knew if I would ever see my parents again. The majority of those Cubans might have been white, but not all, as you state. Myy first job was not flipping burgers either, but cleaning toilets. I guess I did not have that “connection” you metion?
    On any given day I would say that if you find a Cuban you find someone that will get the job done and he or she is ambitious. Of course they will move up in the world, but keep in mind that that drive is what keeps us going.

  • Mike

    I have visited Cuba and enjoy talking to the people on the streets who live in Cuba. Castro has done a very good job for his people, do not believe the media negative stories, it best to see if for yourself.

  • A Jungers

    I greatly appreciated Dr. Gates’ presentation. We have to realise the difficulties under which he was working, and the amazing job he did despite those. Is it perfect?, No. Racism persists in this country, as it persists in Cuba and part of that is an economic reality. Cuba made major advances that were unthinkable in this country through the 1960s in education and medicine, and there are those who are attempting to turn back the clock even here and now. The Tea Party has a strong strain of the John Birch Society, and a great hold on the American consciousness. It is only as we face the truth of the facts in our history that we can hope to overcome the disparity between Black and White in our hemisphere. Cuba’s two tiered economy has to end, and the basics of health and education have to be equally available to all in this country as it is there. We can and must learn from each other.

  • A.V

    Just the way many things take place in life, by chance I run across this page and since it is about my country I felt interested in reading peoples views. Unfortunately, I have not seen professor Gate’s play. It doesn’t seem to be available. So I can’t make any comment about it. However I could add a little to your comments from my point of views. First I should say that I sincerely respect all points of views stated here and feel happy to have you concerned about my country, event if we might not agree upon some things. With that principle in mind and always looking at things with a constructive exchange approach we will get the best result in any communication we might have. Taking also into account that our ideas will always be based on our own experience.
    I am Cuban, I am black. I don’t feel uncomfortable saying it. I know, even in our days there is a differentiation of people based on skin color. But that is an inevitable thing as long as the government an social institutions, sometimes unaware of it ,will be promoting this color differences. Thus planting in the new generation minds a perpetuation seed of racism. We can not say we have not made great progress but still there are vestiges of these differentiation. I am Cuban, I am black, I was saying it because I read in somebody’s comment that it felt odd to say. Black is just the color of my skin and that’s how I think of if. I don’t think of it as the historically exploited, Illiterate and driven to hard labor and looked down African negro. In America or should I say in English speaking countries, this word is despicable in all instances. However, you can find people called mi negro ” Mi negro’ in Spanish, expressing affection. Certainly it will depend on the case and the way the word is uttered. You can find it sometimes use to degrade people. Mostly when people get angry. I doesn’t not have to be a white skin people. It’s the historical image that we have, and we might feel offended it we are called out like that. It is all in our mind. We can not blame ourselves for been born black. We can not blame the present generation for what happened in the past to the Africans leading to this historical legacy. But I do think we can blame ourselves for the way we might handle this topic nowadays and the way it will transfer to the new generation. It is a Psycho-social phenomenon, I think and it should be deal with a such. All men are equal independently of their color so we all should enjoy the same rights. I could not agree more with Jose Marti, Cuba’s national heroe, when he said: There is only one race, the Human race. But this thin is a little bit more complicated than that, and I don’t want to get into that. But just to give you an idea of what I mean, I want you to think of yourself going to another country an be a part of the minority group in it. Then you are a foreigner But what if in our space race we find there are other kind of people who peacefully want to come to our world. Then they alien. do you see what I mean? As I said before, whatever we think Is always based on what we have been able to gather ourselves through out our life and we cling to it as our truth. But this kind of exchanges will teach us, whether our true is just the rule or an exception of the rule. Keeping in mind that other people way of thinking is also based on their own experiences. So we should respect that and try to learn from one another.
    I am Cuban I am Black and I worked as a tour guide myself. So, it is not the case that blacks were no suppose to be guide or that european would not like to be served by a black man. It sounds like a terrible illness. Hahaha! If that would be the case Europeans would not choose cuba as a destination. And I can tell you, without been too pretentious, that they like cuba destination.
    I had experience myself of being stop by the police once, while I was making a city tour. You could not imagine how embarrassed I felt in front of my group. I did feel angry but he was just doing his work, After he checked everything was Ok I could proceed with my work. who knows what he had in his mind when he approached me. One thing I can tell you, It is true that cubans were not allow to make hotel reservation till recently in the spirit of keeping the same rights for everyone, since all cuban could not afford to pay that kind of service. I remember now I read some where something that Ernesto Guevara (El Che) had said in a given situation: If there is not enough coffee for everyone nobody drinks coffee. That’ s the kind of social equality that I think was pursuit in Cuba’s society. Tourism was an industry that gain momentum in Cuba in the 90’s and at the time, since the country had dived into what came to be Known a Special Period, a time when we lack many of the basic domestic products as a whole, among the measures that were taken to protect tourist was keeping Cubans away from the hotel resorts so that tourist would not be disturb. If you’d ask me as cuban how I felt about it. I didn’t like it at all. But I do Know that it did help somehow, to the security of the tourist visiting the country giving the country a reputation as a secure destination. Presently, Cuba revolution has enter a new stage and some of the things that were not allowed before are becoming possible. There are many things to be done. And as I said before, with your critical but constructive exchange of point of view you can help us see more of just view things from an unthought of angle. But it should all be left to the cuban to decide what route they want their society to take. It not only applies for Cuba but for the whole world in general. Thus, we will avoid despicable interventions leading to wars that would ruin rather than construct society. We came to this world to live and construct, not to kill and destroy. Though man’s history could be collected as one, within it there are hundreds of history depending of the area. We can all benefit from each of our accumulated experiences to built what we consider the best for us. Knowing that what might be the best for A society at a given point might not be the best for B society. They might have taken different roads to get to that point. And even in the case the had taken the same road, each of them might have had a special way to get there. So that it might not be ready for what we might be suggesting. That ‘s why we should no impose but propose society models.

    I thank you all for thinking about my country and giving your heartfelt ideas.

    Hope to see one day professor Gate’s Production

  • Lorenzo BUTCH Fernandes

    I always knew that USA had a major role in alot Governments . But to have them get into the cuba, and bringi it’s race issue Bull. Really hurt me to my core. And for Castro to let it keep going. Black and white being cut in two.
    I have grown up hating Cuba for no real valid reason. Now, I have a a whole new view of this country and it’s people. I want to know more about the Black leaders that fought and died for their beliefs, That had so much to do with cuba, and it’s fight for freedom from it’s mad dicatorship.
    Thank you, and thank you for letting me meet and understand Cuba, and knowing Jose Garcia ( a friend )

  • Lena

    I enjoyed watching this documentary.

  • Ochoa

    Very informative history. From the information presented here it seems like majority of Cubans have tried very hard to eliminate racism, but foreign influences have had a lot to do with its persistence. Some measure of equality was gained during their battles for independence from Spain, but this was undermined when the US replaced Spain as a colonial power to run sugar plantations and casinos, catering to rich white people Of course they needed black people to do all the menial labor. During the Bautista era the US supported Bautista and his racist policies.

    After the revolution they again tried to officially eliminate racism when Castro mandated education, literacy and health care for everyone, but the exodus of wealthy Cubans and American money is almost reminiscent of how Haiti was treated by US and France after their revolution. US embargo and Soviet collapse, dependence on European tourists are economic forces which increase racial inequity.

    So many negative influences from outside, almost like racism is re-introduced as one of the Cubans interviewed put it, “like a disease.” Perhaps racism in Cuba will only end when racist attitudes of Americans and Europeans are put to rest.

  • VanShun

    The responses have informed me just as much as this episode…. Thank you!

  • Johny

    I have been to Cuba this year for the first time. My mentor is Cuban. We work in the same place and in the office people consider me the black guy and refuse to accept the fact that he’s black. They call him Hispanic and he corrects them and says all the time “I’m Cuban and Black”. He gets furious when people continue to suggest he is Hispanic not black. He’s about Professor Gate’s complexion. I realized in Cuba why he stands so proudly against any other suggestion then him being black. His entire family are my complexion and I am a dark skinned black Haitian.

    He explained his family are direct descendants of Africa and he’s very proud of this. He fought in Angola for the Cuban army. He has visited Africa many times for the Cuban government and he is a stern believer and defender of the revolution. Cuba has been the best experience of my life. Also my mentor Juan approves this documentary.

  • Mary Jane Perez Cornielle

    EXCELLENT DOCUMENTARY! I am satisfied with its presentation. It validated what I have always said since I was a student in College in 1971, that WHITE CUBANS are extremely RACIST. That is my fear that when the doors are open again, the White Cubans living in Miami, those who I doubt will return, will resume to abolish, free education, and health care to ALL cubans, especially the BLACK, and MULATOS. It would be an ideal situation if all people would just be seen as Cubans, and not divided into racial categories.
    I would like to quote my mother, who is a Mulato; “ITS NOT A SHAME TO BE BLACK, WHAT IS A SHAME, IS WHAT THEY DO TU US, FOR BEING BLACK.” (Patria Ycelsa Cornielle)


    Quite sad to see the current state of Cuba. Of Caribbean ancestry myself, I’ve never forgotten the lives we’ve lived as second- class citizens. Some fair skin immigrants to The Islands actually still teach and instill a misguided philosophy to their children and grand children that all the darker complexion people of the Caribbean were accepted as ‘a condition’ or appendix to any internationally recognizeable charter of independence, when history clearly documented that it was because of OUR solidarity and sincerity that the Caribbean is free and respected. Surely if politicians and scholars unilaterally embraced and promoted a modern humility, all would benefit from the creativity, loving and resourceful nature we have and hold dear.

  • jeanette1

    THANK YOU!!!!!

  • Herifonso

    As an African-American/Puerto Rican I have watch your program with great interest. My mother is Afro-American and my father was Puerto Rican with almost all his family still living on the island. I love and respect all the different blood and genes that went into the creation of whom I am today and have and will never choose one over the other. I have been challenge by those on both sides to make a decision but for me to do that would be like me denying the other side. THAT I could never do. Dr. Gates hits on many issues which strikes a sensitive cord in the Latin American community but it is one long over due to be acknowledge.

  • Elvin

    I know many would argue that this documentary was a bit bias, but we have to remember this is from the point of view of a Black American, I think the series, Black in Latin America, is a great expose of what has happen to the blacks in those countries, we all (Black Folk) have a shared experience in this western hemisphere. America has alot of involvement in the success of Latin America, we have to own up to that responsibiltiy and make some corrective changes to help those countries with out interfering in their domestic problems, but that could be pushing for to much. I’ve learned alot, thanks Mr. Gates, I hope we can continue this series with more work in the Latin communities, and the African communities as well.

  • brandon

    @sharecropper: right on, man. I see you. “How can you have a discussion about Blacks in Cuba without mentioning the support of the Cuban people for the rights of Africans in Angola, Namibia, and South Africa? They were the only nation to send troops in support of African liberation struggles against imperialism, colonialism and apartheid.”

  • Ibu Folosade

    Professor Gates,

    As a practitioner of Cuban Lucumi or Regla de Ocha, I am saddened to see your use of the term, “Santeria” in this documentary. Many community members have rejected this term, which was given by the slave masters to mock the fervor with which slaves practiced their traditional beliefs. Considering the subject of this series – it would have been wise to refer to the name of the practice used amongst believers: Lucumi, which means “friendship” or Regla de Ocha, which means “the Rules of Ocha/Orisha.” Santeria is an outdated term that is offensive and has many negative conotations. Just as Vodouisants reject the spelling “Voodoo” to refer to their beliefs, many progressive Olorishas reject the term “Santeria.”
    However, I do applaud this series and thank you for exploring the subject of what it means to be black in Latin America.

    Ibu Folosade

  • c. johanna ed.

    i was overall disappointed with this series, as i continue to be disappointed with dr. gates’ perspective of blackness.

    white supremacy and elitism continues to be evident in the majority of intellectuals (and the mere fact that the conversations are centered around those with elite education, and not from a broader perspective) he chooses to interview: latin americans of light-skinned tones. these are the people who continue to benefit from this ideal of exceptionalism, without a further examination of the psychological implications of white supremacy/racism. he mentions (and his favoring for this ideology is showcased) that afro-cubans identify first with their nationality, and then their race, whereas african-americans denote the opposite. what he fails to realize is that within this framework, afro-cubans do not want to align themselves with their blackness, because it is not idealized within society. that is evident in how white supremacy manifest itself in daily interactions. so, instead, it is shrouded in the hopes of creating pluralism and diversity amongst the people, a denial of the varied experiences of people based on their skin color.

    dr. gates also showcases his allegiance to male-centered discussions. where is the discussion of contributions of women in the history of latin america? the only other women we see in this documentary episode (other than the intellectuals and the descendant of the great black leader) are within the sexist gaze: the dancing and celebration during the carnivale, their bodies objectified. and i need not say what skin color those women possessed…

    i can’t believe that the much effort involved in this project did not allow for a more critical examination of this issue, but instead, a light-hearted, surface-y affair. and within that critical examination should bring not just hope, and its concomitant complacency, but action towards the eradication of this ideology. why? because people are suffering (especially the self-esteem of people of african descent), on all fronts, and it is unacceptable.

  • Luis

    I have a lot of respect for Professor Gates; however, his documentary is incomplete. He should have interviewed more individuals of different backgrounds (just to mention one of the flaws).

    To Carlos Martin: To answer your point regarding the disparity of the ruling elite. You would have to search back and see that the African/Black/Negro contribution to the revolutionary movement (from the time while Fidel Castro was attending University of Havana to the time in Mexico to back in the Island) was very insignificant. You would also have to search to find that while there are no private schools or Ivy Leagues and we all learned the same through the same school system, the number of blacks that enter our Universities are significantly lower compared to non-blacks. A quick tour at the Universities can prove my point.
    To Mrs C: Unfortunately there are none. They never accepted the occupation by the Europeans and were exterminated.
    A last point, talking about GDP figures from Cuba is as science fiction as any individual saying he/she knows the CIA next move. Those figures are not available even to academics, professors or professional in the Island.
    Great idea but an unfinished product that is missing not just a little piece!

  • S Crawford

    As a historian of Afro-Latin America, Prof. Gates did a very good job laying out the contours of the experience of Africans in Cuba from the late 18th to late 20th centuries. Unlike the previous episode on Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Gates moved viewers to the key issues (Cuba becomes the leading sugar producer after the Haitian Revolution; role of Afro-Cubans in independence struggle; whitening process; suppression and later acceptance of Afro-Cuban music; and finally, the impact of the Cuban Revolution on the Afro-Cuban population) which intellectuals both in the U.S. and Cuba have greatly enhanced our knowledge of these moments.

    Yes, it would have been nicer to get a broader array of voices discussing how Afro-Cubans fared in a post-revolutionary Cuba. However, this episode gave the non-specialist a clear and comprehensive view of Afro-Cuban history without having to read hundreds of books and articles.

    Viewers interested in a different perspective of being black during and after the revolution, see Carlos Moore’s Pichon: Race and Revolution (I am at a lost with the correct title).

    I hope the next two episodes follow more in this vein than in the Haiti & Dominican Republic episode.

  • Pablo(Zulu) Ferrer

    El Racismo Paternalista no deja de ser …” Racismo.” Asimilas los valores de los ” blancos ” y tú alma cambia de color.Paternalistic racism is still… ” Racism ” Assimilate white people’s values and your soul will change its color.

  • Neisi Garcia

    I was born and raised in Cuba and I must say this is very one sided. I understand that for an American person to be able to get in Cuba and develop a documentary and interview professors, he better make sure he is not presenting the Revolution in a negative light…so much for free speech or “Cuba libre y soverana” (sovereign and free Cuba) as we all have to say or better yet pretend under Castro’s regime. True, Cuban racism is different in form than racism in America and Cubans consider themselves Cubans first and proudly. But I must agree with Dr. Carlos Martin the this is hardly a balance portrayal of Cuban racial relations. May be for everyone at the bottom there is more racial equality. Because at that point you are too concerned with making sure you can eat and take care of the most basic needs, so race becomes secondary. But Cuban’s elite is and has been for many years dominated by whites, i.e same white president for over 50 years!! and everyone in line behind him….WHITE. You would need to go much more in depth than this to dissect Cuban race relations…nice try though.

  • JoAnn deArmas Wallace

    This is a very interesting perspective on Cuba for me. My father immigrated from Cuba in the 1930s and swore there was no black blood in our family. I do genealogy and look forward to finding ALL of my roots including the African. Even as an 11 year old child visiting Cuba, I noticed the separation by color and was disturbed by it.

    I found one aspect of the program jarring however. As an academic and brilliant commentator, Dr. Gates might have found time to have someone teach him the correct pronunciation of Cuban names and places. I hope this will not be true in the rest of the places in Latin America. One does not need to speak unaccented Spanish or Portuguese, but it is a sign of respect to learn how to say names correctly.

  • TJ

    Dr. Gates,

    Don’t stop with the Latin Island… Now go to Hawaii’ and trace the roots of the people that made up these islands. As I was informed by a native, the King who united the islands into what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii’ was a Black man. A Blackman who’s statue is in front of the Royal Palace in Honolulu.

    Like Haiti and Cuba, the U.S. and wealthy white American businessmen overthrew this island nation, sent in the Marine Corps to secure it for them. Also look at General Smedley Butler book, “War is a Racket”! In the book he describe how as a 2 time Medal of Honor winner how the U.S. Government used him and the Marine Corps as hired thugs to take nations like Haiti and Honduras in the interest of these businessmen.

    Something that was never taught here in the states!

  • anthronerd

    @ Mrs. C – As with the other Caribbean islands, the indigenous population in Cuba was annihilated before they began importing enslaved Africans.

  • Raul Ramos y Sanchez

    Dr. Gates has made an admirable attempt to portray the long and complex history of Cuba’s racial identity in less than an hour. Naturally, some elements are missing or compressed.

    One notable omission is an explanation for the absence of any significant indigenous ancestry among Cuba’s population. The main reason for this is the tragic epidemics brought by European diseases following the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Cuba’s natives had no immunities to European diseases such as smallpox, influenza and measles. Within 100 years after the first contact with Europeans, virtually the entire native population of the sparsely populated island had died. As a result, most Cubans are either of European or African ancestry. This stands in contrast to many Latin American nations including the nearest neighbor to the United States, Mexico, where a majority of people are of indigenous descent.

    Another of the episode’s historical abbreviations is attributing the growth of African slavery in Cuba solely to the sugar plantation economy. Even before sugar became the white gold of the Caribbean mined by Spain, France and England with the blood and sweat of African slaves on the archipelago’s islands, Cuba had a shortage of laborers. As noted previously, the massive deaths of the indigenous populations compelled the often-haughty Spanish colonizers to import African slaves for agricultural and domestic labor. So the African influx into Cuban came early, albeit at a much reduced pace.

    Despite these understandable omissions, I believe the essence of Dr. Gates’ reporting is accurate. The nation has never lived up to Jose Marti’s ideal of an egalitarian society “by all and for all.” Nor is Cuba the socialist racial paradise Castro would have you believe. But as a Cuban, I take pride in our diverse heritage and the progress the island has made toward the ideals on which an independent Cuba was founded. Cuba still has a very long way to go before those ideals are met. All the same, there is a lot the United States can learn from this small island when it comes to race relations.

  • Juan Alonso

    Great documentaty.
    @ Carlos Martin: you may not know that people in cuba are put in a dangerous position if they speak of dissent, especially on camera. I’m sure Dr Gates did not want to jeopardize anyone with no way out.

  • Aishley

    @My husband and I watched this episode on 4/26/11. What we did not understand was why no mention was made of native people, only black and white, the black being former African slaves and the white being descendants of the Spanish conquerors. Were there no native people on the island of Cuba before the arrival of the Spaniards and what happened to them?

    The native people were eradicated mostly by disease brought to the island by the Spanish.

  • kim

    @Evelyn…My experience has been that very few African-descended people want to be thought of as African-Americans (those of us who were socialized and live in the US), so they say, “American, who is black.” It’s sad.

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