My excitement about entering the largest island in the Caribbean had everything to do with Blackness. I wanted to inhale the roots of Africa in Latinx culture at every corner, and in many ways, I did. Except I inhaled Africa with the everlasting presence of anti- Blackness...something that at this point I am convinced exist in every crevice of this planet. While in Cuba, I traveled to three areas--Habana, Trinidad, and Viñales, and in each region I was identified as mulata.
Within my first day I noticed I had a major point of privilege on this island...duh! Although I had a hard time getting into clubs with my friends, I was aesthetically pleasing to many folks--not necessarily due to beauty standards but due to complexion. I am what most Cubans refer to as mulata. My ancestry is connected to Africa and the Tainos, but I have undeniably European roots. The mix of it all to many folks today, specifically in Cuba, is a source of pride. While I was on Cuban land, I tried to process and deconstruct why the hell it would be a source of pride to anyone; the mixing was accompanied by massacre, rape, bondage, white supremacy. But I could not completely deconstruct it in Cuba without feeling as if I was disrespecting the culture or the customs. So I waited, and I am happy I did because once I was back in the States I noticed that folks are attempting to reclaim the term...here! It strikes me as the oddest thing that some folks are legit identifying as mulata/o; it doesn't sit right with me on so many levels. Negra/o and Morena/o are terms that I have reclaimed because although such terms were used to push forward anti- Blackness, in my culture it has (unfortunately) become a form of "endearment." If you're any shade darker than white, in a Dominican family, you will be called negra/o or morena/o. It's so embedded within us. Fun fact: in many, many, many bachata and merengue songs mention the terms to describe their lovers. It's sick, but it is what it is; I've been nicknamed both since I came out the womb. At this point, I have become used to hearing the word, and at times feeling uncomfortable but never becoming alarmed. Unlike negra/o and morena/o, mulata/o makes me queasy AF. Every time I heard the term in Cuba, my body temperature rose to same as the land under my feet.
The word was placed onto the backs of European and African offspring in order for the white man to do whatever it was he wanted--give his offspring more rights (hardly) or leave it to bondage. Moreover, the actual term comes from the root mule, which is an animal that is half female horse and half male donkey--these animals come to live long and hard ass lives but cannot ever reproduce. That is what white people thought of the creation of many of us in Latin America today, and this is why I cannot fathom how in the hell folks have turned to reclaiming this term.
Problematic Sayings by Cubans towards me:
El color de el mulatta es el odio de el negro, y la envidia de el blanco.
The mulatta color is a source of hate for the negro, and the source of envy for the whites.
- Waiting for a taxi colectivo in front of the Habana Viazul bus stop-
La verdadera mulata. The real mulata.
-Walking around Habana central-
Una mulatta como tu es como un buen Plato de bistec en un hotel. A mulatta like you is like a plate of a fine steak in a hotel.
-Tabacco farmer in Viñales-
La gente mulata y negra son mas divertido/a. The mulatto and Black people are more fun.
-My airbnb host-
Atiende a la mulatota. Attend to the strong mulata.
-Waiter in Trinindad-
Ella es mas fuerte que tu porque es negra. She's stronger than you because she's black.
-Tabacco farmer in Viñales to Spanish woman who asked why he kept calling me mulata-
Entendiste, mulata? Did you understand, mulata?
-Tabacco farmer in Viñales-
A term to describe the racial complexities and beauty of Latinxs and Caribbeans should be issued; however, mulata/o ain't it. If people want to call another set of people something, there should be a consensus, and our European ancestors definitely did not check in with any of us-- I sure am not with it. There's too much pain in the term. Too much internal racism lives in mulata/o. Let's be honest, mulata/o has a number of privileges that those considered negra/o did not. To self- identify as mulata is to give life to the establishment of white supremacy. When I was walking in the streets of Cuba, and folks were praising me for my mulata aesthetics--that is privilege. To them I was Black, I was first American, but I was also very European. The fact that I was mixed with European was what made me worthy of their attention. A lot of y'all need to start acknowledging privilege when it comes up, check yourself, don't give into the term for the sake of feeling as if you're doing it for the culture. And if that's what you choose, because to each is own, then be aware of what you're uplifting; hint: you definitely ain't uplifting the ancestors that gave you the melanin.