Synopses & Reviews
María de los Reyes Castillo Bueno (1902–1997), a black woman known as “Reyita,” recounts her life in Cuba over the span of ninety years. Reyita’s voice is at once dignified, warm, defiant, strong, poetic, principled, and intelligent. Her story—as told to and recorded by her daughter Daisy Castillo—begins in Africa with her own grandmother’s abduction by slave-traders and continues through a century of experiences with prejudice, struggle, and change in Cuba for Reyita and her numerous family members.
Sensitive to and deeply knowledgeable of the systemic causes and consequences of poverty, Reyita’s testimony considers the impact of slavery on succeeding generations, her mother’s internalized racism, and Cuba’s residual discrimination. The humiliation and poverty inflicted on the black Cuban community as well as her decision to marry a white man to ensure a higher standard of living form the basis of other chapters. Reyita actively participated in the life of the community—often caring for the children of prostitutes along with her own eight children and giving herbal medicine and “spiritualist” guidance to ill or troubled neighbors. She describes her growing resistance, over five decades of marriage, to her husband’s sexism and negativity. Strong-willed and frank about her sexuality as well as her religious and political convictions, Reyita recounts joining the revolutionary movement in the face of her husband’s stern objections, a decision that added significant political purpose to her life. At book’s end, Reyita radiates gratification that her 118 descendants have many different hues of skin, enjoy a variety of professions, and—“most importantly”—are free of racial prejudice.
“I am Reyita, a regular, ordinary person. A natural person, respectful, helpful, decent, affectionate, and very independent. For my mother, it was an embarrassment, that I—of her four daughters—was the only black one. I always felt the difference between us, because she didn’t have as much affection for me as she did for my sisters. . . . I was the victim of terrible discrimination from my mother. And if you add that to the situation in Cuba, you can understand why I never wanted a black husband. I had good reason, you know. I didn’t want to have children as black as me, so that no one would look down on them, no one would harass and humiliate them. Oh, God only knows! I didn’t want my children to suffer what I’d had to suffer.”—from Reyita
“This joyous, amusing, and self-reflective blending of personal, family, and community life is a splendid example of the testimonio genre which Cuban authors have pioneered. Like Miguel Barnet’s classic Autobiography of a Runaway Slave this book is obligatory reading for those of us interested in life histories, racism, subaltern studies, and Latin American history.”—Barry Carr, La Trobe University
Assisted by her daughter, Daisy Rubiera Castillo, the author recounts her life as a black woman struggling with prejudice and change in Cuba over the span of 90 years. Known as "Reyita", Maria de Los Reyes Castillo Bueno starts her story with the abduction of her grandmother by slave traders and shares her own experiences as a mother, laborer, and revolutionary.
Oral history of an elderly black woman recounting the story of her nine decades in Cuba.
About the Author
María de los Reyes Castillo Bueno (1902–1997) was a mother, laborer, and activist living in Cuba during the twentieth century.
Daisy Rubiera Castillo, the author’s daughter, is founder of the Fernando Ortiz African Cultural Centre in Santiago de Cuba. In addition to the Spanish edition of Reyita, published in 1997, she is the author of Black Women in Cuba: From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Centuries.