Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Obama inspires black Cubans

Published:Monday | March 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Cubans enjoy a weekly rumba dance gathering in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, March 19. President Barack Obama will travel to the communist island March 20. During his three-day trip, the first to the country by a sitting president in nearly 90 years, he will meet with President Raúl Castro at the Palace of the Revolution and attend a baseball exhibition game.
Yolanda Mauri works on her laptop at her home in Havana, Cuba, on Saturday. For Mauri and hundreds of thousands of black Cubans, Barack Obama isn’t just the first US leader to visit their country in nearly nine decades. He personifies hope for better conditions for them.


Yolanda Mauri's ancestors almost certainly came to Cuba in chains, labouring as slaves on an island of French coffee plantations and fields of Spanish sugar cane.

Her parents became their family's first professionals, graduating with engineering degrees after Cuba's 1959 revolution ended segregation. Mauri, 26, has a degree in computer programming but struggles to make a living and still experiences racism. For her and hundreds of thousands of black Cubans, Barack Obama isn't just the first US leader to visit their country in nearly nine decades. He's a black man whose rise to the world's most powerful job is a source of pride and inspiration. Obama's March 20 to 22 visit has raised Cubans' hopes that a new era in relations with the US will bring an end to the embargo and improve life for everyone. For Afro-Cubans in particular, the presidential trip carries a special charge, a hope that an African-American leader's near-universal popularity among Cubans of all races will help end lingering prejudice and inequality.

"He's black, and in some moment of his life he must have realised that as an African-American he had to elevate his performance level because, as a black person, you have to work twice as hard to get the same result as a white," Mauri said. "I identity a lot with him because of that." Afro-Cubans are under-represented in the ranks of Cuba's political and economic elites and make up a disproportionate number of the urban and rural poor.

Some black Cubans are affectionately referring to Obama as 'el negro' (the black guy), and some of the most popular memorabilia for sale ahead of the trip are images of the president and first lady shown talking to each other with distinctively Afro - Cuban Spanish dialogue jokingly superimposed.