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As the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Cuba thaws, along with the appearance of President Barack Obama and the First Family’s presence in the island nation, Cuba’s rich Black history should be acknowledged.

While there exists a divide in how Cubans identify racially, there has been a steady presence of Black culture in the country. One of the more notable movements that promoted the inclusion of Black culture in the Cuban landscape was Afrocubanismo. The movement began early in the 20th Century after white scholars began to recognize Cuban’s strong connection to West Africa.

One of the more prominent scholars to examine the connection was Fernando Ortiz, a white intellectual who documented Afrocubanismo. This helped Afro-Cuban writers and scholars such as Nicolas Guillien and Alberto Arredondo to emerge from Havana. Many observers feel the increased awareness of Cuba’s Black culture is similar to America’s Harlem Renaissance period of the 2o’s which exposed Black arts and culture to a wider audience.

Afrocubanismo faded as Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution got underway in the ’50’s. The revolution ignited a new appreciation of Cuba’s African roots. Formerly marginalized Afro-Cubans enjoyed new freedoms under Castro’s first decade in power that the previous white power structure never allowed. This included more education, jobs and land to help Afro-Cubans support themselves.

Castro was also vocal about ending racial discrimination in the workplace, and was quoted saying he viewed such discrimination as the worst kind. Under his rule, widespread anti-discrimination laws were enacted, and Castro’s government worked to narrow the earning gap between white Cubans and Afro-Cubans via a literacy campaign.

In recent times, Afro-Cubans still enjoy their right to free education and welfare, but many found that more prominent jobs continued to go to white Cubans. Today, just 9 percent of the population consider themselves Black while 26 percent of the population considers themselves mulatto or mestizo. Less than 65 percent of Cubans reported their race as white in the last census numbers taken in 2012.

Many Afro-Cubans are vocal and proud of their Black ancestry and have influenced music, art and entertainment in several capacities. Actresses Rosario Dawson and Gina Torres, the late legendary singer Celia Cruz, Major League Baseball superstar Yasiel Puig, celebrated boxer Kid Chocolate and actor Laz Alonzo are among a handful of well-known Afro-Cuban celebrities.

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