Black Cubans see pride and inspiration

Updated: 2016-03-23 08:28

By Associated Press in Havana(China Daily)

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

Her parents became their family's first professionals, graduating with engineering degrees after Cuba's 1959 revolution ended segregation.

Mauri, 26, graduated from an elite technical university with a degree in computer programming. Today, she struggles to patch together a living from poorly paid work and freelance jobs like building websites.

For Mauri and many other 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 visit has raised Cubans' hopes that a new era in relations with the US will bring an end to the trade embargo and improve life for everyone on the island.

For Afro-Cubans, the 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 realized 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."

One of Fidel Castro's first acts after forming government was to declare an end to a regimen of segregation that mirrored unequal conditions for blacks in the US.

But nearly 60 years later, Afro-Cubans are underrepresented in the ranks of political and economic elites and make up a disproportionate number of the urban and rural poor. Black Cubans have benefited less than their white counterparts from closer relations with the US. Relatively few hold coveted, lucrative jobs serving foreign visitors.

(China Daily 03/23/2016 page12)