Assata Shakur Talking From Exile About Cuba and U.S.A Government

“We had to learn that we’re beau­ti­ful. We had to relearn some­thing force­fully taken from us. We had to learn about Black power. People have power if we unite. We learned the import­ance of com­ing togeth­er and being act­ive. That fueled me.

We knew what a token was then. Today young people don’t see Con­doleezza Rice or Colin Pow­ell as tokens. That’s a prob­lem.

I real­ized that I was con­nec­ted to Africa. I wasn’t just a Colored girl. I was part of a whole world that wanted a bet­ter life. I’m part of a major­ity and not a minor­ity.

My life has been a life of growth. If you’re not grow­ing, you’re not going to under­stand real love. If you’re not reach­ing out to help oth­ers then you’re shrink­ing. My life has been act­ive. I’m not a spec­tat­or. We can’t afford to be spec­tat­ors while our lives deteri­or­ate. We have to truly love our people and work to make that love stronger.”~ Assata Shak­ur

Habana/Cuba 2002, Inter­view­er Nisa Islam Muham­mad

“When I was in the Black Pan­ther Party, they (United States) called us ter­ror­ists. How dare they call us ter­ror­ists when we were being ter­ror­ized? Ter­ror was a con­stant part of my life. I was liv­ing under apartheid in North Car­o­lina. We lived under police ter­ror.

“People have to see what’s really hap­pen­ing. Cuba has nev­er attacked any­body. Cuba has solid­ar­ity with oth­er coun­tries. They send teach­ers and doc­tors to help the people of oth­er coun­tries. It believes in solid­ar­ity.

“To see Cuba called a ter­ror­ist coun­try is an insult to real­ity. If people come to Cuba, they’ll see a real­ity unlike what they’re told in Amer­ica. This coun­try wants to help, not hurt. The U.S. gov­ern­ment has lied to its people. The U.S. gov­ern­ment invents lies like Cuba is a ter­ror­ist coun­try to give a pre­text to des­troy it.

“Ron­ald Reagan con­vinced people that the little coun­try Gren­ada was a threat to the big United States, that allowed the U.S. to go into Gren­ada.

“The people in the U.S. have to struggle again­st a sys­tem of organ­ized lies. When Pres­id­ent Carter was here they said Cuba was involved in bio­tech­no­logy to cre­ate bio­ter­ror­ism, but now they back track and say it isn’t so. They lied and they con­tin­ue to lie about Cuba.

“Look at the struggle with Eli­an (Gonza­les). Look at the ter­ror­ism com­mit­ted by the Miami ter­ror­ists, the Miami Mafia. Those people (Cubans who fled after the revolu­tion) are ex-plant­a­tion own­ers, exploiters of people. They want to make Cuba the same kind of place it was before but that’s not going to hap­pen.”

Her name means “she who struggles,” and that is the life she’s led. From grow­ing up in racist Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., to her act­iv­ism with the Black Pan­thers and the Black Lib­er­a­tion Army (BLA), Ms. Shak­ur has struggled:

“My life wasn’t beau­ti­ful and cre­at­ive before I became polit­ic­ally act­ive. My life was totally changed when I began to struggle.”

But that’s what it means to be Black in the Amer­icas, a life of struggle. Blacks in Cuba and the United States share a his­tory of slavery yet their paths sep­ar­ate in how they view their lives. I asked Sis. Assata what she saw as the dif­fer­ences between Blacks in Cuba and the United States:

“We’ve (Blacks in Amer­ica) for­got­ten where we came from. People in Cuba have not lost their memory. They don’t suf­fer from his­tor­ic­al and cul­tur­al amne­sia. Cuba has less mater­i­al wealth than Amer­ica but are able to do so much with so little because they know where they come from.

“This was a maroon coun­try. The maroons escaped from slavery and star­ted their own com­munity. Every­one needs to identi­fy with their own his­tory. If they know their his­tory, they can con­struct their future.

“The Cubans identi­fy with those who fought again­st slavery. They don’t identi­fy with the slave mas­ter. Those who made the revolu­tion won’t let the people for­get what happened to them. The people here ser­i­ously study his­tory.

“We have to de-Euro­centrize the his­tory we learn. We have to give the real per­spect­ive of what happened. We have to cre­ate a world to know and remem­ber our own. I had no idea how ignor­ant I was until I came to Cuba. I had no know­ledge of authors, film­makers and artists out­side of Amer­ica. We believe we’re free but we’re not. Our world vis­ion is tain­ted.

“We are oppressed people in the U.S. and don’t even know it. We have few­er oppor­tun­it­ies to be doc­tors and law­yers as tuition increases. Our prob­lem is that we want to belong to a soci­ety that wants to oppress us. We want to be the plant­a­tion own­er. In Cuba, we want to change the plant­a­tion to a col­lect­ive farm.”

The time is 1973 and an incid­ent of what would now be called “racial pro­fil­ing” takes place on the New Jer­sey Turn­pike. Ms. Shak­ur, act­ively involved in the Black Lib­er­a­tion Army (BLA), is trav­el­ing with Malik Zay­ad Shak­ur (no rela­tion) and Sun­di­ata Acoli. State troop­ers stop them, reportedly because of a broken head­light.

A troop­er also explains they were “sus­pi­cious” because they had Ver­mont license plates. The three are made to exit the car with their hands up. All of a sud­den, shots were fired.

That much every­body seems to agree on. What happened next changed the course of his­tory for Assata Shak­ur. Shots were fired and when all was said and done, state troop­er Wern­er Foer­ster and Malik Shak­ur were killed. Ms. Shak­ur and Mr. Acoli were charged with the death of state troop­er Foer­ster.

The tri­al found them both guilty. The ver­dict was no sur­prise. But many ques­tion the racial injustice by the all-White jury and admit­ted per­jury by the trial’s star wit­ness:

“I was shot with my arms in the air. My wounds could not have happened unless my arms were in the air. The bul­let went in under my arm and traveled past my clavicle. It is med­ic­ally impossible for that to hap­pen if my arms were down.

“I was sen­tenced to life plus 30 years by an all-White jury. What I saw in pris­on was wall-to-wall Black flesh in chains. Women caged in cells. But we’re the ter­ror­ists. It just doesn’t make sense.”

In a let­ter to Kofi Owusu dated August 24, 1973 from the Middle­sex County Jail in New Brun­swick, N.J., she describes the life behind bars:

“i (sic) can’t begin to ima­gine how many sis­ters have been locked in this cell (the deten­tion cell) and all the agony they felt and tears they shed. This is the cell where they put the sis­ters who are hav­ing hard times, kick­ing habits or who had been driv­en mad from too much oppres­sion.

“It’s moods like this that make me aware of how glad i am to be a revolu­tion­ary. i know who our enemy is, and i know that me and these swine can­not live peace­fully on the same plan­et. i am a part of a fam­ily of field nig­gas and that is some­thing very pre­cious.

“So many of my sis­ters are so com­pletely unaware of who the real crim­in­als and dogs are. They blame them­selves for being hungry; they hate them­selves for sur­viv­ing the best way they know how, to see so much fear, doubt, hurt, and self hatred is the most pain­ful part of being in this con­cen­tra­tion camp.

“Any­way, in spite of all, i feel a breeze behind my neck, turn­ing to a hur­ricane and when i take a deep breath I can smell freedom.”

She spent six and a half years in pris­on, two of those in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment. Dur­ing that time she gave birth to her daugh­ter Kak­uya.

In 1979, she was lib­er­ated by com­rades in a dar­ing escape that con­tin­ues to infuri­ate the New Jer­sey State Troop­ers. There was a nation-wide search for her. In 1984 she went to Cuba and was united with her daugh­ter:

“When I came to Cuba, I expec­ted every­one to look like Fidel (Castro). But you see everything and every­one is dif­fer­ent. I saw Black, White, Asi­ans all liv­ing and work­ing togeth­er. The Cuban women were so eleg­antly dressed and groomed.

“People would just talk to me in the street. I would won­der why until I real­ized that people are not afraid of each oth­er. People in Amer­ica are afraid to walk the streets; it’s not like that here.

“I real­ized that I had some heal­ing to do. I didn’t know the extent of my wounds until I came to Cuba. I began to heal with my work, rais­ing my daugh­ter and being a part of a cul­ture that appre­ci­ates you.

“Liv­ing in Cuba means being appre­ci­ated by soci­ety, not depre­ci­ated by soci­ety. No mat­ter what we do in Amer­ica, no mat­ter what we earn, we’re still not appre­ci­ated by Amer­ic­an soci­ety.”

Who are the people on the tiny island nation of Cuba only 90 miles from Flor­ida? Who are these people that dare to say “no” to Amer­ica? Who are these 11 mil­lion revolu­tion­ar­ies that res­ist in the face of the most power­ful coun­try in the world:

“Cubans feel like they have power. No mat­ter who they are. They see them­selves as part of a world. We just see ourselves as part of a ’hood. They identi­fy with oppressed people all over the world.

“When the Angolans were fight­ing again­st South Africa, they asked Cuba for help. Sol­diers were sent. They went gladly.

“Cubans have a dif­fer­ent per­spect­ive of out­rage and justice. A White Cuban sol­dier came back from fight­ing and expressed his dis­dain for the Whites that were sup­port­ing apartheid.

“I just looked at him because in my mind he was White like they were but that’s not how he saw him­self. He couldn’t under­stand how the South Afric­ans could sup­port apartheid.

“Any­time you have a coun­try that makes people feel indig­nant about atro­cit­ies, wherever they are, that coun­try has a spe­cial place in my heart. Cuba is try­ing to end exploit­a­tion and atro­cit­ies.”

For nearly 20 years, she has carved out a life for her­self in Cuba. She lives in exile and while many rejoice in her new life, Amer­ica has not for­got­ten her alleged crimes. In 1997, the New Jer­sey State Troop­ers wro­te to the Pope ask­ing for the Pontiff’s help in hav­ing her extra­dited.

In the absence of nor­mal­ized rela­tions with Cuba, there is no bind­ing extra­di­tion treaty between Cuba and the United States.

What is it like to live in exile? What is it like to be away from fam­ily and friends:

“Liv­ing in exile is hard. I miss my fam­ily and friends. I miss the cul­ture, the music, how people talk, and their cre­ativ­ity. I miss the look of recog­ni­tion Black women give each oth­er, the under­stand­ing we express without say­ing a word.

“I adjus­ted by learn­ing to under­stand what was going on in the world. The Cubans helped me to adjust. I learned joys in life by learn­ing oth­er cul­tures. It was a priv­ilege to come here to a rich cul­ture.

“I had a big fear that the Cubans would hate me when I arrived. They are very soph­ist­ic­ated. They were able to sep­ar­ate the people from Amer­ica, like me, from the gov­ern­ment.”

What mes­sage does she have for the youth of our people? What does she want people to know about her life:

“I don’t see myself as that dif­fer­ent from sis­ters who struggle for social justice. In the ’60s it was easi­er to identi­fy racism. There were signs that told you where you belonged. We had to struggle to elim­in­ate apartheid in the South. Now we have to know the oth­er forms that exist today.

“We had to learn that we’re beau­ti­ful. We had to relearn some­thing force­fully taken from us. We had to learn about Black power. People have power if we unite. We learned the import­ance of com­ing togeth­er and being act­ive. That fueled me.

“We knew what a token was then. Today young people don’t see Con­doleezza Rice or Colin Pow­ell as tokens. That’s a prob­lem.

“I real­ized that I was con­nec­ted to Africa. I wasn’t just a Colored girl. I was part of a whole world that wanted a bet­ter life. I’m part of a major­ity and not a minor­ity. My life has been a life of growth. If you’re not grow­ing, you’re not going to under­stand real love. If you’re not reach­ing out to help oth­ers then you’re shrink­ing. My life has been act­ive. I’m not a spec­tat­or.

“We can’t afford to be spec­tat­ors while our lives deteri­or­ate. We have to truly love our people and work to make that love stronger.”

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Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra

Edit­or / Research­er at No Bounds
Gata is a music and arts lov­er, stud­ied anthro­po­logy, art man­age­ment and media pro­duc­tion ded­ic­at­ing most of her time to cre­at­ive pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.
Gata Malandra

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About Gata Malandra

Gata Malandra
Gata is a music and arts lover, studied anthropology, art management and media production dedicating most of her time to creative projects produced by No Bounds.

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