I wanted to do something that legitimized my hair, this undervalued type of hair.” – Susana Delahante, artist in Havana, Cuba.
According to the Wall Street Journal, estimates from the year 2009 report that the black or mixed race population falls between sixty and seventy percent of Cuba’s citizens. Today, statistics reveal that only 9.3% of Cubans identify as black while the majority 64% identify as white and 23% as biracial. This can be attributed to the occurrence of prejudice within the country which plagues the minds of its citizens, forcing them to identify as white.
This transcended from Cuban ancestors being Spanish colonists and West African slaves. Although large numbers of black Cubans were brought into the upper and middle ranks of government, academia and professional fields, this race still dwells in the worst housing infrastructure, has the worst transportation, not to mention food, as opposed to their white counterparts.
The majority of persons who migrated to other countries during the revolution belonged to the White elites and remittances, which were sent back to the country tend to go to their race, whites. Unfortunately, the Black Cubans have been suffering at the hands of government, especially in terms of economic reforms and new businesses start-ups.
Even in the public eye Black Cubans have been scoffed by their White counterparts to a point where it has become socially unacceptable. Persons of Black descent have been called criminals and the social and racial prejudice that has entered even the schools has been unsightly and disparaging.
Afro-Cubans are outnumbered and as a result, they start following suit in terms of feeling inferior to the white citizens of the country, so much so that they are underrepresented in the media and they undergo body modifications to deem themselves beautiful.
“Racism persists in Cuba; the revolution didn’t question the country’s racist heritage. The mostly white leaders of Cuba’s revolution had failed to realize the deeply rooted nature of Cuban racism and implemented race-blind policies instead of programs like affirmative action specifically designed to help black Cubans move into positions of greater influence.” – Robert Zurbano, a cultural critic at the Casa de las Americas, explained.
In light of this, a thirty year old Afro-Cuban artist, by the name of Susana Delahante, evolved the Havana cultural center into a stage for black hairstyle wearers to showcase their talents in the natural hair community. Thus, the first natural black hair competition was held in Havana, Cuba on June 13, 2015 by Susana Delahante, who wanted to break ground on the controversy between races and blacks being in the minority. She wanted the participants in the competition to have an outlet to which they could “rebuild pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin was seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions.”
Thus, she invited Black and Mix-raced individuals to enter the hair competition and opened three categories in which women would compete – natural, braided and dread-locked hair.
“This competition is about something that has merit and needs to be rewarded.” – Susan Delanhante
Seventy women entered the competition for which Delanhante was grateful for such support of the movement to publicly praise natural hair and racial beauty standards in her country.
“This is a first step in reclaiming this type of hair,” said competitor Ania de Armas, a 22-year-old art history graduate who competed in the natural hair category.
The competition lasted two hours after which seventy-two year old Felicia Solano won the natural-hair prize, and fifteen year old Marbelys Gonzalez won the braids award. Both look stunning as they brought a creative and unique style to the competition and represented the natural hair community well. Solano’s hair was fully white and was complimented by her full white wardrobe, while Gonzalez sported tight braids with brightly colored beads.
Many persons supported the venture which seated an audience of three hundred persons who cheered on the contestants.
Delahante was indeed grateful for the support and thanked everyone for attending. This could really be the start of a social and cultural reform where the Afro-Cubans gain more social recognition. Something which has been long overdue.
By Alexandra Daley