The memoir by Evelio Grillo, Black Cuban, Black American does not immediately present readers with the racial issues that the title suggests are coming, but instead offers a distinct picture of a small child as he goes from Tampa (Ybor City) to Cuba and then back again after the death of his father. In other words, the entire opening chapter of the text acquaints the reader to the fact that this is someone’s life that is being unveiled, not a series of sentiments about racial differences between Cuba and America and thus makes the issues that come to light later even more dramatic because this is a man, a “character" that we now know and the struggles of living in racist America are now told to us in first person, making it appear as bad as it must have been.
By the time the second chapter of “Black Cuban, Black American" by Evelio Grillo begins, the issue is clearly put forth in the context of this one man’s life as he relates the fact that, “Legal separation of the two races [black Cubans and white Cubans] did not prevail in Cuba as it did in the United States, but discrimination along racial lines and separation along social and economic lines did exist" (Grillo 7). He notes how in America the white Cubans were granted many more opportunities than black Cubans and the rest of the text is dedicated, through the process of memoir, to exploring this relationship as well as the hypocrisy and injustice of this separation.
Much as in the Ybor City presented in this memoir where black Cubans and white Cubans are separate in many ways but still mingle with one another in society (grocery stores, wakes and funerals, etc) the same issue is very much present today and in fact, one could easily argue that little has changed since this time. While segregation is certainly not legal, there is an extreme degree of separation between white Americans and African Americans. Just as in the case with Ybor City, both whites and blacks now see one another regularly; they work together, go to the same stores, and often see one another at community events, there is a still a great amount of division.
Oftentimes (and granted, there are, of course, plenty of exceptions to this) there are neighborhoods that are almost all primarily black and others that are primarily white. This in turn leads to the school districts becomes more one than the other which in turn, creates a situation where the socialization networks remain separated as well. It is, just as in the case of Grillo’s setting, a very separated society. The only difference is that there are now laws governing the right for everyone to have equal access to all resources.
In addition to the issue of racial separation that still exists today, another factor that comes into play in the society of Grillo’s time is the nature of the language barrier. Certainly this is just as much a matter today if not more so with the increasing number of Hispanics in America, several of whom do not posses the full English language skills of natives. This language barrier does, just as it does in Grillo’s memoir, create problems and large hurdles for migrants and without the help of some institutions and an increased acceptance that we are rapidly becoming a bilingual society, we would be excluding many people from the opportunity to live the American dream and get ahead in life.
The several racial, cultural, and language-related issues in the book Black Cuban, Black American bring to mind all the changes that have been made, especially during the Civil Rights era in the United States. On the one hand, it is clear that we have made significant strides to create a more equal environment but on the other hand, when the author discusses many of the racial, ethnic, class, language and other biases that were present during his time, it becomes glaringly obvious that there is still much work to be done. We are still creating the conditions for separation and these are things that laws governing equality alone cannot correct. We must reach a high level of cultural and racial acceptance or we are doomed to repeat the same racist mistakes.