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Chinese Cuban

Chinese Cuban
Total population
114,240 [1]
Regions with significant populations
Cuban Spanish · Mandarin · Cantonese
Mahayana Buddhism · Roman Catholicism
Related ethnic groups
Chinese Peruvian, Chinese Nicaraguan, Chinese Brazilian, Overseas Chinese

A Chinese Cuban (simplified Chinese: 古巴华人; traditional Chinese: 古巴華人; pinyin: Gǔbā Huárén; Jyutping: Gu2 Baa1 Waa4 jan4; Spanish: chino-cubano) is a Cuban of Chinese ancestry who was born in or has immigrated to Cuba. They are part of the ethnic Chinese diaspora (or Overseas Chinese).


  • History 1
  • Current distribution 2
  • In literature 3
  • Prominent Chinese Cubans 4
  • Further reading 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


The paifang at the entrance of Havana's Chinatown.

Chinese immigration to Cuba started in 1847 when Chinese (Cantonese and Hakka) contract workers were brought to work in the sugar fields, bringing the religion of Buddhism with them. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan during the following decades to replace and / or work alongside African slaves. After completing eight-year contracts or otherwise obtaining their freedom, some Chinese immigrants settled permanently in Cuba, although most longed for repatriation to their homeland. Havana's Chinatown (known as Barrio Chino de La Habana) is one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in Latin America. Some 5,000 immigrants from the U.S. came to Cuba during the late 19th century to escape the discrimination present at the time. A small wave of Chinese immigrants also arrived during the early 20th century to escape the political chaos in China.

About 120,000 Chinese coolies (all males) entered Cuba under contract for eight years, most were not married, but Hung Hui (1975:80) cited frequent sexual activity between black women and Chinese coolies. According to Osberg (1965:69), the free Chinese practiced buying slave women and freeing them expressly for marriage. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Chinese men engaged in sexual activity with white Cuban women and black Cuban women, and from such relations many children were born.[2] In the 1920s, an additional 30,000 Chinese arrived; the immigrants were exclusively male. In 1980, 4000 Chinese lived there, but by 2002, only 300 pure Chinese were left.[3]

Two thousand Chinese, consisting of Cantonese and Hakkas, fought with the rebels in Cuba's Ten Years' War. A monument in Havana honours the Cuban Chinese who fell in the war, on which is inscribed: "There was not one Cuban Chinese deserter, not one Cuban Chinese traitor."[4]

Chinese Cubans, including some Chinese-Americans from California, joined the Spanish-American War in 1898 to achieve independence from Spain, but a few Chinese, who were loyal to Spain, left Cuba and went to Spain. Racial acceptance and assimilation would come much later.

When the new revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, the economic and political situation changed. Many Chinese grocery store owners, having had their properties expropriated by the new government, left Cuba. Most of these settled in the United States, particularly nearby Florida, where they and their US-born children are called Chinese-Americans or Cuban-Americans of Chinese descent, while a relatively few to nearby Dominican Republic and other Latin American countries, and also to US territory of Puerto Rico, where they are called Chinese Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Puerto Ricans of Chinese descent, or Cuban-Americans of Chinese descent. Chinese refugees to United States include people whose ancestors came to Cuba 10 years before the Cuban Revolution and those from the United States. These Chinese American refugees, whose ancestors had come from California, were happy to be back in the United States. As a result of this exodus, the number of pure Chinese dropped sharply in Havana’s Barrio Chino. The places to which they migrated had a unique Chinese culture and a popularity of Chinese Cuban restaurants.

Current distribution

Cuchillo street, the heart of Havana's Chinatown

The Chinese Cubans fought in the Cuban war of independence on the side of those seeking independence from Spain. A memorial consisting of a broken column memorializes Chinese participation in the war of independence at the corners of L and Linea in Havana. While many fled, some Chinese stayed after the start of Fidel Castro's rule in 1961. Younger generations are working in a wider variety of jobs than the previous generation. Many are entering show-business as song composers, actors, actresses, singers, and models.

The Barrio Chino de La Habana is no longer among the largest Chinatown in Latin America. Most Chinese Cubans live outside Barrio Chino.

Several community groups, especially Chinatown Promotional Group (Spanish: Grupo Promotor del Barrio Chino), worked to revive Barrio Chino and the faded Chinese culture. Chinese Language and Arts School (Escuela de la Lengua y Artes China) opened in 1993 and has grown since then, helping Chinese Cubans to strengthen their knowledge of the Chinese language. Today, Chinese Cubans tend to speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, and a mixture of Chinese and Spanish, in addition to Spanish and English. They also promoted small businesses, like beauty parlors, mechanical shops, restaurants, and small groceries, provided to them to create a view of Barrio Chino. Havana’s Barrio Chino also experienced buildings of Chinese architecture and museum with backgrounds about China. As a result, the Chinese Cuban community has gained visibility.

In literature

  • The influence of the Chinese migration to Cuba is thoroughly reflected in the novel The Island of Eternal Love [5] by Cuban-American author Daína Chaviano. Originally published in Spain as La isla de los amores infinitos, [6] it has been translated into 25 languages. The plot covers 150 years, from the 1840s through the 1990s.
  • A Cuban-Chinese family engaged in international intrigue appears in William Gibson's Spook Country (2007).

Prominent Chinese Cubans

Further reading

  • López-Calvo, Ignacio (June 2008). Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture. University Press of Florida.  
  • López-Calvo, Ignacio. “Chinesism and the commodification of Chinese Cuban culture.” Alternative Orientalisms in Latin America and Beyond. Ed. Ignacio López-Calvo. Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. 95-112

See also


  1. ^ CIA World Factbook. Cuba. 2008. May 15, 2008. .
  2. ^ (For a British Caribbean model of Chinese cultural retention through procreation with black women, see Patterson, 322-31)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Westad, Odd Aren (2012) Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. (New York: Basic Books), pp.227-8. ISBN 978-0465019335
  5. ^ (Riverhead Books, June 2008),
  6. ^ (Grijalbo-Random House 2006),
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