Cuba’s First Natural Hair Competition
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Politics and Activism

Cuba’s First Natural Hair Competition

Regaining Steps Towards Liberation

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Cuba’s First Natural Hair Competition
Afro Cuba Web

Afro-Cubans are continuously frowned upon among their own, because of their dark skin and kinky, curly hair. In the public, private and political sphere, blacks in Cuba have yet to obtain complete economic and social liberation. As studied by Esteban Morales from Black Left Unity, d

espite the production of many black professionals, doctors and teachers in the 1980s, Afro-Cubans remain excluded from lucrative sectors.

Raul Castro, the president of Cuba, who has recognized the persistence of racism, has attempted to include more black Cubans within the education systems and the National Assembly, but as found by Roberto Zurbano from The New York Times, “Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn't talked about … the government hasn't allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending as though it didn't exist.” Thus, showing that much has yet to be done. Structural inequality and racial prejudice, that exclude Afro - Cubans " from the benefits of liberalization

", are banned from discussion as a result of the Cuban government not allowing racial progression to be addressed.

Although many believe that the revolution for blacks in Cuba has yet to begin, Susana Delahante has taken one of the first steps. This past June, 31-year-old Susana Pilar Delahante hosted the first natural hair competition in Havana in order to look past the structural inequality and racial prejudice and to embrace black pride.

Susana Delahante Matienzo, Courtesy Uprising Art

As an artist in Havana, Delahante uses video, photography and drawing to explore the oppression that women face globally and personally. In June, Delahante transformed the Havana Cultural Center into the center stage for hundreds of black women to congregate and celebrate their natural beauty in a public domain. She said she wanted “do something that legitimized [her] hair, this undervalued type of hair.”

Despite deeply rooted racism and implemented race-blind policies, this hair show was designed for Afro-Cubans to take a big step towards embracing their black heritage. As stated by Zurbano

, this was a “way of rebuilding pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin often are seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions.”

This Natural Hair Competition had 70 contestants and over 300 audience members. The audience played a key role because they also acted as judges by clapping in favor of their favorite contestant, thus determining a winner by the loudest applause. The two-hour competition had three hair categories: natural, braided, and dreadlocked, and invited all types of Afro-Cubans, from black to mixed women. This event truly “bolster[ed] pride within the Afro- Cuban community,” says one Black Girl Long Hair commentator.

Felicia Solano, 72, overall winner of the Natural hair competition. AP Photo/ Desmond Boylan

One winner was 72-year-old Felicia Solana, who won the natural hair prize with her all white attire that complemented her all white Afro. Another winner was 15-year-old Marbelys Gonzalez, who wore braids decorated with colorful beads and received an award in the braids category. Runner-up contestant Naomi Santana, 25, says this competition allowed her to become closer to Afro-Cuban culture, recognizing that the social recognition of Afro-Cuban culture has been long absent.

Yanely Salgado, 31, displays her hairdo on stage during an Afro hair contest. AP Photo/ Desmond Boylan

This political art show allowed many to openly accept their black roots. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2012 census estimated that 60 percent to 70 percent of Cuban citizens are black or mixed, while only 23 percent identify as biracial and 9.3 percent identify as black. On the other hand, 64 percent of Cubans identify as white. Lingering prejudice holds back many black men and women in Cuba from openly identifying that they are black for fear of mistreatment and judgement. Therefore, it is not unusual that there is not much chatter in Cuba about this groundbreaking event. This hair competition is an eye-opening step towards a social revolution for Afro-Cubans.




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