Project Description

La Habana, Cuba: A fading community


Until recently, the Chinese of Cuba constituted the third largest ethnic group in Cuba, after Cubans of African and European descent. The first wave of Chinese indentured labourers or coolies to arrive on Cuba was in 1847 – 2 years before the first wave of Chinese landed in Peru, and 7 years before Panama and Jamaica. When the coolie trade ended some forty years later, migration to Cuba slowed but continued into the 20th century. Freed from their contracts, the Chinese labourers opened small businesses and restaurants in various towns across the island, and in the capital, these came to be concentrated in what would later become Chinatown.

The Barrio Chino in downtown Habana is famous for being decrepit and slightly disappointing to tourists and locals alike. There used to be a running joke that there are no Chinese people in Chinatown. Now, the joke is that it has been repopulated by mainland Chinese tourists, sampling Cuban-Chinese specialities in the restaurants.

The truth is, and contrary to popular belief, there are Chinese people in Chinatown… if one knows where to look.

There are exactly one hundred and thirteen Chinese in all of Cuba – and most of them are over 70 years of age. Some came straight from China in the 30s, 40s and 50s, fleeing the internal unrest and steady rise of communism. Others are second, third, or fourth generation Chinese. On a regular day, they can be found in the Lung Kong or Min Chih Tang associations-turned community centres for a game of mahjong and a hearty lunch. They are the last ones standing in a community that gradually trickled out of the country in search of sunnier shores, namely Florida, New York, and Canada in the 1960s. Once again, they were fleeing socialism – this time led by Fidel Castro. Those that left were often successful shop owners whose businesses had been seized by the government.

The Chinese community of Cuba is a dying one – but since many early migrants intermarried with local Cuban women, many Cubans today are unaware of their heritage. As the country opens up and increases trade with China, Cuban-Chinese around the world may find a newfound interest in their roots.

Recent posts

The Somme, France: Britain’s Forgotten Army

, , ,

The Somme, France: Britain's Forgotten Army Every year on Remembrance Sunday, crowds gather at London’s Whitehall for a commemorative service in honor of the servicemen and women who died in WWI. This year, a [...]

Cuba, Latin America and Africa: Revolutionaries and Deserters (3)


Cuba, Latin America and Africa: Revolutionaries and deserters (3)  More recently, international media attention has turned to Chinese Cuban involvement in Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution of 1958-59. Following years of repression under Fulgencia Batista’s corrupt military [...]

Matanzas, Santiago, Havana, Cuba: Herbalists and Doctors (2)

Matanzas, Santiago, Havana, Cuba: Herbalists and Doctors (2)      “No te salva ni el medico chino” goes a Cuban saying – meaning “Not even the Chinese doctor can save you”, when your chances [...]

Camaguey, Oriente, Cuba: Heroes of the Independence (1)

Camaguey, Oriente, Cuba: Heroes of the Independence (1)   Considering the history of discrimination and prejudice towards Chinese immigrants throughout the Americas, the Chinese of Cuba seem to enjoy a surprisingly good reputation. In [...]

Mariel, Cuba: America’s oldest Chinese cemetery

Mariel, Cuba: America’s oldest Chinese cemetery Could this coastal town be home to America’s oldest Chinese cemetery? In June 2012, archaeologists made a stunning discovery in Mariel, a small town located some 40 km west [...]

Kingston, Jamaica: Out of Many, One People


Kingston, Jamaica: Out of Many, One People   During a short stint at a surfing retreat on the south coast of Jamaica, I meet a Jamaican Chinese lady called May. She is visiting the surf camp [...]

Lima, Peru: The New Age of Tusan (2)


Lima, Peru: The New Age of Tusan (2)   Fast-forward a hundred or so years, and the situation couldn’t be more different. About an hour’s drive from the centre of Lima, driving east along [...]

Lima, Peru: Tusan and Half-Bloods (1)


Lima, Peru: Tusan and Half-bloods (1)   More than 100,000 coolies arrived in Peru between 1849 and 1874, and almost all of them were men. As indentured labourers, they suffered harsh conditions in the [...]

If you liked this, you will also like…