Congress recently blocked President Barack Obama’s efforts to ease the Cuban embargo, but it now appears the two countries will begin the process of recreating embassies after 55 years. However, the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are far from amicable. Robin Hayes, professor at the New School and director of the award-winning documentary “Black and Cuba,” which focuses on the Afro-Cuban-African-American connection, explained to me what was behind the misguided vote in Congress.
Obama recently declared a resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, which would ease travel restrictions to the small island nation and open pathways to trade. A bipartisan coalition of senators then introduced the Freedom to Travel Act of 2015, which seemed like a step in the right direction. JetBlue then announced direct flights from New York City to Havana beginning this summer. However, an amendment to appropriations (the allocation of money) in our current conservative Congress places restrictions on new Obama trade policy, while another amendment threatens to place similar restrictions on easing travel restrictions.
So what does this means for you, Amsterdam News reader? Said Hayes, “Since Fidel Castro visited Harlem and met with Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa in 1962, there has been a strong relationship between Cuba and the African-American community … Although Cubans are often portrayed in the mainstream media as looking like Cameron Diaz or Pitbull, the reality is that 60 percent of Cubans are Black. The connection between African-Americans and Afro-Cubans is not only political, but also cultural.
“The continued ban on travel and trade with Cuba places a unique burden on African-Americans. This embargo continues to inhibit our ability to forge autonomous exchanges with a Black community just 90 miles from our shores, who are also coping with racial discrimination. The people of Harlem, Ferguson and Detroit should not need a license to connect with Black people internationally.”
“Black and Cuba” explores Afro-Cuban history, the similarities between contemporary Afro-Cuban and African-American struggles with discrimination and the success of human rights activists, including Malcolm X. It is now available on Vimeo on Demand and on DVD via BlackandCuba.org. A syllabus guide for college professors and a high school curriculum guide makes it easy to adopt the film into classrooms.
If you are interested in taking further action, Hayes has a few suggestions. First, participate in the Venceremos Brigade and IFCO/Pastors for Peace, activist who have strong ties to the African-American community. They are currently organizing travel challenges to the U.S. embargo that Harlemites can join.
Second, watch “Black and Cuba” to learn more about the history of African-American and Afro-Cuban connections.
Third, travel to Cuba legally with a licensed provider of educational cultural tours, such as the International Black Latino Society.
Fourth, call your representatives in Congress via at the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) and ask them to support the Sanford-Lee amendment on HR 2577, which will help preserve Obama’s easing of travel restrictions to Cuba.
We can all help bridge connections and relationships with our Black brothers and sisters at home and abroad. Hopefully Hayes’ work will help you get started.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” Follow her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.