Nestled alongside Havana’s old town, surrounded by colonial buildings and swept by the exhaust trails of passing 1950s American convertibles, stands a large arch with an ornate roof. It is the entrance gate to Havana’s Chinatown, once the biggest in Latin America, whose residents are now dreaming of recovering its past glory.
Here, taxi drivers joke that it is the only Chinatown in the world without any Chinese, a testament to the assimilation of a migrant community that first arrived in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century.
“Since its creation, it was an open Chinese neighborhood that produced this mix between the Chinese and the country’s original population,” said Teresa Maria Li, director of the local House of Traditional Chinese Arts.
Li comes from a family with a Chinese grandfather and a Spanish grandmother.
“First of all, I feel Cuban, but deep inside I have the Chinese gene and I defend it vigorously, with a sense of belonging,” she said.
After lunch at the Lung Kong old people’s association, pensioners sit around a table playing mahjong.
These are some of the last remaining Cuban residents who are 100 percent Chinese. Their descendants have embraced the local culture and are more Cuban than Chinese.
The first wave of Cantonese migration arrived in 1847 to work as “coolies,” agricultural workers who replaced African slaves in the sugar plantations.
However, the next wave had money and were fleeing discrimination and an economic crisis in California.
They built a thriving neighborhood with hundreds of thousands of people, as well as restaurants and theaters — Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier christened it the “Yellow City.”
However, the migratory flow dried up with Cuba’s 1959 communist revolution. Those fleeing Mao Zedong (毛澤東) were met by Fidel Castro — they did not hang around.
“Calculating the number of descendants is impossible. There are first to fifth-generation Chinese. Those fully Chinese ... there are 121 in the whole island,” University of Havana Asian history professor Maria Teresa Montes de Oca Choy said.
The influx of rich Chinese migrants from California provided a boost to Cuba’s GDP, but in 1959 Castro’s “nationalization law affected all Chinese. Small businesses had considerable Chinese capital,” Montes de Oca Choy said.
However, following the fall of the Soviet Union and after Cuba spiraled into an economic crisis in the 1990s, some old Chinese restaurants reopened, although like most of the city they remain run down.
With Havana celebrating its 500th anniversary, authorities have committed to restoring many parts of the city, including Chinatown.
As well as resurfacing the roads and improving street lighting, there are to be traditional Chinese cultural activities too.
On Manrique Street, about 30 children learn wushu (武術) — traditional Chinese martial arts.
Next door, in what was once a Chinese cinema, nandao (南刀, broadsword) brandishing wushu master Roberto Vargas Lee teaches adults.
The grandson of Chinese citizens, he studied martial arts in China in the 1990s. His wife is from Shanghai and his mother was part of the former Cantonese Opera in Havana.
“Some people tell me I don’t look very Chinese, others ask me when I arrived from China. It’s like the Tao says: Everyone can look at the same thing, but see it differently,” Vargas said.
While Chinese-Cubans are just as spontaneous as the rest of the population, they are less likely to leave open their door for unexpected visitors.
“It’s true that there are certain cultural differences, but we’ve adapted to that,” said Carlos Alay Jo, a 60-year-old restaurant owner born in Cuba to a family from Guangzhou, China.
“We reflect a lot about things, we’re more reserved. There’s a mix,” he added, quoting his father, who taught martial arts to several top-ranking officers in the Cuban army.
Nearby, at a printer, the next edition of the bilingual newspaper Kwong Wah Po (光華報), which began as a monthly 80 years ago, was being prepared.
Until recently it was printed on an 1849 US press — one of the oldest in the world — that was even equipped with Chinese characters.
However, times have changed and the latest edition is to be printed with modern methods, while there are no longer any fully Chinese members of the editorial team.
With so few fully Chinese people left in Cuba, professor Montes de Oca Choy said that renovating a “Chinatown without Chinese people” could be a fallacy, but she insisted that the locals “feel proud of having had a Chinatown and would love to have one again.”
POOR INTERNAL CONTROLS: Insurance Bureau Director-General Shih Chiung-hwa said the company is expected to get back on track while its chairman is suspended The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) yesterday fined Shin Kong Life Insurance Co (新光人壽) NT$27.6 million (US$939,415) for a reckless investment that endangered its solvency, and suspended its chairman Eugene Wu (吳東進) for poor supervision. The penalty is the second-highest in a single case after Nan Shan Life Insurance Co (南山人壽) was fined NT$30 million in September last year and its chairman Du Ying-tzyong (杜英宗) suspended for two years, the commission said. In three rounds of special and regular examinations conducted since last year, the commission found that Shin Kong Life had given too much power to an asset and liability management committee
Nano-X Imaging Ltd, a start-up founded by Israeli investor Ran Poliakine, is joining forces with South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc to build a machine that could disrupt a century-old X-ray industry. Valued at about US$2 billion after listing on the NASDAQ last month, Nano-X is seeking to transform a multibillion-dollar industry that has essentially relied on the same technology since Nobel Prize in Physics winner Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays in the late 19th century. Nano-X’s device uses semiconductors instead of metal filaments to generate X-rays. The backing of SK Hynix, the world’s second-largest maker of memory chips, is a boost for
Continental AG, which makes control units for Daimler AG cars, cannot pursue antitrust claims against a group of patent owners, including Qualcomm Inc, which are seeking royalties on telecommunications technology, a federal judge in Texas ruled. Avanci LLC, a licensing pool formed by Qualcomm, Nokia Oyj, Sharp Corp and other owners of patents on technology standards, is not breaching antitrust laws when it negotiates license agreements with automakers rather than the component makers, Barbara Lynn, chief district judge for the Northern District of Texas, said in dismissing the suit in a decision posted on Friday. The licensing group charges US$15 per vehicle
Sony Corp has cut its estimated Play Station 5 (PS5) production for this fiscal year by 4 million units, down to about 11 million, following production issues with its custom-designed system-on-chip (SOC) for the new console, people familiar with the matter said. The Tokyo-based electronics giant in July boosted orders with suppliers in anticipation of heightened demand for gaming in the holiday season and beyond, as people spend more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the company has come up against manufacturing issues, such as production yields as low as 50 percent for its SOC, which have cut into