How does society influence or charge the social construction of race? How has my race and identity been challenged in these aspects?
For me these are challenging questions. When I view myself in terms of race I never really considered myself Hispanic, at least not in terms of how it is viewed in America. Growing up my identity was white, or rather Chilean. I was more than my skin tone I had a different view of myself in the world. I wasn’t better than any of my friends I was just not the same race. As I started writing this I thought of all the different issues that I have been exposed to since coming to Minnesota, as well as coming to Gustavus. Being from California my experience has been different than those in Minnesota. Being Hispanic became one of the biggest identity markers for me. Living in a city, where the majority of the population I was exposed to was Hispanic, I never truly realized the disparities of my race. Coming to Minnesota where I was able to truly experience how differently people viewed me because I am visibly Hispanic as well as the assumptions people had made of me because I was Hispanic. My race became a central character in my college career and exposed me to certain groups before others, such as OLAS and the Diversity center.
When in Cuba I noticed differences in how I was approached in comparison to my friends. I would be assumed to speak Spanish but not with ill intent. The reason I say this is how these interactions differed from my experiences with individuals at Gustavus. In Cuba when approached and given an assumed identity, it came from a place of similarity and in a way sense of community. It was someone extending their hand for me to continue and join the conversation. In my interactions at Gustavus, while not all ill intended, many of the interactions came from a place of assumptions. It came from a place of assuming there can only be one identity and one perception of who I was based off my skin and based off my appearance.
Many of my self-reflection and thought processes came from rereading the work of not only Paulo Freire but also looking more into the words of Jose Marti. By looking at the words of such great and influential men I was able to make connections I myself did not realize until I took time to reevaluate my own values and my own way I chose to walk through the world an what impacts I myself want to make.
“No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”
― Paulo Freire
My grandfather instilled that into us at a very young age. Never look down upon others, never look above those that need you, see the world for what it is, with your chin level to the floor. Race was never meant to be a factor to look at in my life. All I knew growing up was I needed to help those that needed help or be a voice for those who didn’t know how to use theirs. I was meant to help empower myself and through that empower others. My race while for me isn’t my whole identity; in many ways it is what people first see of me. When I am viewed I am first seen by my assumptions, then by my voice and ideals. “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ” ― Paulo Freire.
Today Cuba remains as described to me, a racial paradox, as institutional racism has been removed from society, but not from the hearts and actions of some who hang on as if to sacred tradition. There’s the fact of the low representation of blacks in Cuba’s vast travel industry, and as pointed out to us by members of the community, every top Cuban leader during the past 75 years has been white. As we have seen in United states history as well as Cuban history, Power has been correlated with skin color since the advent of colonialism and imperialism by Europeans across the world. “The oppressors do not favor promoting the community as a whole, but rather selected leaders.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. According to the Cuban census figures say black and mixed-heritage people are about 35 percent of the island’s population, but a quick stroll around any Cuban town will provide visual confirmation of just how many Cubans of color deem themselves “white” when the government is asking. That may not be surprising given that race is not a scientific category, but rather an organizing principle of political power, both before and after the revolution.
Throughout the entire experience the most remarkable and hard hitting to me was visiting the house of Paulo Freire. Being given the opportunity to show and share stories around race, ethnicity and overall hardships gave me connections to these people, to their own struggles, to their own hardships. It opened my eyes to the reality of race and identity in Cuba and made me challenge how I view myself in these aspects. Was being the “white” identified individual change or skew who I was in terms of my identity as Hispanic? Was I creating a barrier in myself that would isolate from others, who face the same struggles and hardships as me? Was my work lessened because I was socialized to believe I was white? Race itself is a social construction. Whether it be socialized institutionally, such as in America, or internalized like that in Cuba. The idea that even with the large population accepting that this is their society, we don’t see people of color as figures in everyday life in Cuba.
To insist on the divisions into race, on the differences of race… is to make difficult both public and individual enterprises, which depend for their success on a greater rapprochement between the groups that must live together… Everything that divides men, everything that classifies, separates, or shuts off men is a sin against humanity… Man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than Negro.
– José Martí
I End with this quote because for me it is powerful and from I stemmed more questions. How can we compare the idea of race in America, when race in other countries have different ideals? Keeping in mind race as a social construct how can we observe it in different aspects of identity? Why is race such a difficult topic? Why do we perceive race?
I live my life daily reminding myself, I am more than my color. I am more than what people see. I am more than a status. I am more than anyone can see. I am me. We are more than what can be seen. We are more than just a number or a mark on the census.