Audio Recording of Interview
An atheist refugee from Cuba, Maria discusses her fascination with her Afro-Cuban heritage, her childhood memories, her interest in Cuban religions, and Cuba’s history of colonialism. She discusses the complexity of her identity as a mixed-race person and the differences in how Cubans and Americans see race.
Other interviews of this person can be found below:
Narrator: Marla Gonzalez
Location: Zoom; Florida
Summary: An atheist refugee from Cuba, Maria discusses her fascination with her Afro-Cuban heritage, her childhood memories, her interest in Cuban religions, and Cuba’s history of colonialism. She discusses the complexity of her identity as a mixed-race person and the differences in how Cubans and Americans see race.
Topics: Race, Gender, Tradition, Culture, Disillusionment (with religion), Family, Language, Politics, Education, Cultural adjustment, Generational differences, Commentary on age, Immigration process, Childhood, Pandemic
Section 1: (00:00-12:30)
Childhood: shared memories of playing in the street with other children late into the night, tightknit community in Cuba
Generational differences: relationship with her grandfather who was a teenager at the time of the Cuban Revolution, story he told about finding a journal written by a person fighting with Fidel Castro, fear at the time
Notes that it was much harder for her parents to adjust to the U.S. and how her mother used to cry every day because she wanted to live in Cuba. Language acquisition was also much harder for her parents.
Politics: noted that often older Cuban immigrants to U.S. are Republican because they fear Democrats are communists and will turn the U.S. into Cuba from their childhood. States that she is more liberal but that she finds American liberals are “extremely misinformed” about communism and its effect in Cuba.
Notes that the only positive effect of communism in Cuba was the high literacy rates. Describes dysfunctional but free health care system in Cuba.
Notes the role of Cuba’s government in increasing the suffering of the people and the extreme poverty she witnessed as a child
Cultural Adjustment/Education: describes adjusting to school at the age of 10 in America while not knowing the language.
Language: Feelings of alienation at being separated into the ESOL classes and not being in the “gifted” classes. Once she learned the language, she felt a very easy social transition
Race: describes how classmates were surprised she was Cuban because she was black. Notes that most Cuban immigrants in Florida were white because at first, only the wealthy Cubans could manage to leave the country.
Section 2: (12:30-20:47)
Race: Describes the complexity of her racial identity as a mixed person (her mother was mixed and her father was white) in America when she was only perceived as Black. Notes that Cubans see race on more of a spectrum whereas Americans judge it by how people look and into distinct categories.
Generational Differences: Her mother had a harder time understanding and accepting that in America, she was always perceived as black and should not call herself a “mulato” as she did in Cuba.
Notes that the colorism that existed in her culture in Cuba--where people felt proud if they were light-skinned or white-passing and felt that darker skin was not as beautiful, effects of colonialism
Language: notes that in Spanish, there is many different words for racial identities; whereas in America, it is just black, white, and (to a lesser extent) mixed.
Politics: discussed the Black Lives Matter movement with her parents, and how she tried to convince them that they were rioting for a good reason. Noted that her father agreed that the justice system in America is corrupt and unjust to black people.
Section 3: (20:47-30:52)
Religion/Disillusionment: baptized as a Catholic but her family and her were not religious in any sense. She went to Catholic church masses with her friends for the social aspect and enjoyed them but after reading Richard Dawkins, she realized she was an atheist. Remembers debating with a friend in sixth grade about why God wasn’t real.
Race: interested in Afro-Cuban religions and how they assimilated surface aspects of Catholicism (the saints) but for the purpose of worshipping their own gods. Intersectional approach to studying these religions and the effect of colonialism (Spanish colonizers being Catholic).
Notes that her atheism helps her study religion objectively and finds that Americans do not always view all religions as equal.
Culture: describes strong influence of Catholicism in Cuban culture but also the power dynamic. Is fascinated with Afro-Cuban religions because she sees it as a part of her heritage. Expresses confusion that American people find the animal sacrifices of Afro-Cuban religions bad.
Cultural Adjustment: notes that her adjustment to the States was made easier by the strong community of Cuban immigrants around her in Florida.
Section 4: (30:52-37:38)
Commentary on Age: describes how as she’s gotten older, she wants to know more about her heritage. Does online research into plantations and Afro-Cuban culture in Cuba so that she can pass it onto her future childhood.
Cultural Adjustment: describes her visit back to Cuba to visit family and friends, notices differences between the two countries more sharply.
Family: her mother has visited Cuba several times because her mother (Marla’s grandmother) was sick and then passed away. Her father has not visited due to circumstances.
Pandemic: Covid prevented another visit that her parents and her would have made to Cuba
Section 5: (37:38-42:37)
Language: sees the language as so important in passing on her heritage to her children. Expresses sadness that many Cuban immigrants in Florida do not pass on the language because they want their children to have an easier time assimilating.
Culture: notes that the children and grandchildren of older Cuban immigrants don’t identify with Cuban culture anymore, that they really are American.
Generational Differences: describes her uncle’s experience immigrating to the U.S. in the 80’s and how unlike her, he knew no one in America. Noted her experience was easier because of him helping her.