Something unexpected happened at King Bar. A drag performer came out during dinner in what, at first glace, appeared to be blackface. There was an almost audible collective gasp by the 40 Americans in our delegation. I know the cars are old here, but had we really stepped this far back in time??
Quickly it became apparent that the drag queen was indeed black herself. My shoulders relaxed a bit. This experienced sparked a conversation among our delegation on cultural indicators and the lense that each participant brings to this type of people-to-people diplomacy. As Americans, especially with the news headlines of recent months, we come to the race discussion with a great deal of sensitivity and fear of offending (well, some of us). In the US, your life expectancy can depend on the color of your skin.
In Cuba, racism exists, but not in the same way or severity that we see in the United States. The black figure with over-exaggerated features is not a cultural indicator of anything malicious. It’s a historical figure in Cuban Theatre that is a part of the culture. It’s a visage we have seen in high and low-brow art all over the city. The Cubans in the audience (black, mulato and white) all seemed to be perfectly entertained and happy with the performance, and this allowed us to relax a bit and adjust our lense.
I realize I sound a bit like some people in America who use “history” as a justification to fly the confederate flag. To an American living in America, that makes sense. But this is Cuba, with an entirely different history and approach to race.
P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures. They are all on my phone and today I'm using my laptop. Look for more in the coming days.