A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba

By Alejandro de la Fuente | Go to book overview

4
EDUCATION AND MOBILITY

The Cuban black has, before him, an unsolved problem that can be
considered the most important of all problems: education.

—Rafael Serra, El Nuevo Criollo (1905)

The same unbalance that exists among whites’ social classes exists … among
the colored.

—Ramón Vasconcelos, La Prensa (1915)

When a black man succeeds in any activity, he suffers even more humiliation
and racial discrimination.

—Juan R. Betancourt, Doctrina Negra (1954)

Access to the professions and white-collar employment depended on several factors. Education, understood as formal schooling, was of course crucial. The republican state was committed to a notion of modernity in which academic merits and formal training were key. On this aspect, both the former members of the Liberation Army and the U.S. occupation government tended to agree. Widespread illiteracy was not compatible with the building of a modern nation. The nature, character, and goals of educational programs and institutions, however, remained contested. Moreover, whereas some white intellectuals, politicians, and employers perceived Afro-Cubans’ lack of education as a manifestation of the “black problem,” blacks themselves explained it as the result of slavery and colonialism.

The meritocracy on which Cuban republican society allegedly rested worked in complex and contradictory ways. On the one hand, merits and preparation were invoked to minimize the participation of Afro-Cubans and poor whites in the administration or in white-collar, private-sector employment. As General Wood stated as early as January 1899, “[T]he better appointments required men of education,” very few of whom where black.1 On the other hand, merits and education served to map a “route” for social ascent and mobility that could be followed by those at the bottom of the social ladder. Furthermore, literacy and at least some elementary education were considered indispensable to “fulfill the duties of citizenship and universal suffrage” for which Cubans had fought so hard.2 Afro-Cubans thus treated schooling as virtually sacred and actively campaigned to improve

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A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures and Tables viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- The First Republic 1902-1933 21
  • 1 - Racial Order or Racial Democracy? Race and the Contending Notions of Cubanidad 23
  • 2 - Electoral Politics 54
  • Part II- Inequality 1900-1950s 97
  • 3 - The Labor Market 99
  • 4 - Education and Mobility 138
  • Part III- The Second Republic 1933-1958 173
  • 5 - A New Cuba? 175
  • 6 - State and Racial Equality 210
  • Part IV- Socialism 1959-1990s 257
  • 7 - Building a Nation for All 259
  • 8 - The Special Period 317
  • Epilogue 335
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 415
  • Index 437
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