Black Reflections from Havana: And We Still Can’t Breathe

by Moriah Ray and Jasmine Hall for Black Millennials

Displaced: force (someone) to leave their home, typically because of war, persecution, or natural disasters.

There is a war being waged on black bodies that is resulting in our persecution and there is nothing natural about this disaster. It is methodological, institutionalized and heavily funded.

As two Black women who have been studying in Cuba for the past two months, we have come to realize that our passports make us American, but our Black experience within the territory is the noose around our neck and the bullet in our back that prevents us from proudly claiming our forced nationality. The daily question of “Where are you from?” has often left us silent and filled with uncertainty.

We are here in the midst of an extremely historic time. People from all over the world are rushing here to smoke cigars, to see Cuba before the “changes” begin and to say they witnessed history. However, we came here with different intentions. Heeding the words of Angela Davis, we came here to partake in the revolutionary act of self-care. To take a moment to breathe, to write, to organize our solutions and love ourselves in a country that has a rich revolutionary history. We ventured here to learn more about Cuba’s strong relationship with the African Diaspora, including our Black American revolutionary leaders of the past and present.

We came here to connect with our Afro-Cuban brothers and sisters whose ancestors, like ours, arrived here as a result of the same shackled journey across the Atlantic. To vibe with them as an empowering reminder that on a global scale, WE are not the minority.

Our arrival to this space has provided temporary protection from a bullet in the back, only to be struck by the newly raised red, white, and blue flag that has been suffocating us for far too long. As John Kerry raised the flag above the embassy, we have struggled to respond as family and friends excitingly ask us “how does it feel to be witnessing history?” Because the only history we feel we are witnessing is the interruption of our breathing space.

As we entered our embassy, which is supposed to serve as our “safe haven,” we found ourselves displaced. As we nervously walked through a series of bulletproof doors and body scanners, the face of a Black man on the wall — our Commander and Chief, provided us with a moment of relief before we entered the main lobby. There we were quickly reminded of the threat that the Black woman poses to the system. Posted on the walls within the edifice, we found nothing more than two black women labeled as TERRORIST, as a result of fighting for our freedom.

One million dollar reward for anyone who could return the women in “traditional African clothing” who was apart of an “extremist terrorist organization,” read the sign for Assata Shakur. My face. Mother Assata’s face, whose words have saved my life on many occasions. Whose written word has become the spoken word that we cry out as we fill the streets in protest. Yet another decade appealing for our freedom.

“It is our duty to fight for freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Unable to call Cuba home and feeling weary at the thought of returning to the place, which has given us a little blue book to see the world, within our own embassy we felt unsafe.
So we ran out of the embassy tears in our eyes, gasping for air, fearful that we will never be free as long as The United States of America is hunting me.

The country in which we were born will never be home as long as it exists on the same conditions that enslaved our ancestors, rewards those who hunt us, and leaves us dead in the street. White Supremacy Narcissism. Because there is nothing supreme about the system that has waged a war, and thrives off of the persecution of black bodies, and claims this disaster to be natural.

This article first appeared at

Photo: Greta Gabaglio/Shutterstock

Jasmine Hall graduated with high Latin honors in International Studies, African and Black Diaspora studies and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies from DePaul University. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc and heavily involved in community organizing through the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

Moriah Ray recently graduated from the University of Maryland College Park with a B.A in Government and Politics and International Development and Conflict Management. She served as the Vice President of the NAACP College Park chapter and worked with organizations such as the Safe and Sound Campaign and Pastor Heber Brown.

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