Chinese Cuban

Chinese Cuban
Total population
114,240 [1]
Regions with significant populations

Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese


Buddhism, Christianity, others

Related ethnic groups

Chinese Nicaraguan, Chinese Brazilian, Overseas Chinese

A Chinese Cuban (Chinese: 古巴華人, Chinese: 古巴华人; pinyin: Gǔbā húarén Cantonese 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).



Chinese immigration to Cuba started in 1847 when Cantonese 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 Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan during the following decades to replace and / or work alongside African slaves. After completing 8-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.

The Chinese tended to concentrate heavily in urban areas, especially in the Havana Chinatown. Many used the money they accumulated as indentured laborers to open small grocery stores or restaurants. Generations of Chinese-Cubans married into the larger Spanish, mulatto and Afro-Cuban populations. Today almost all Chinese-Cubans have African, Spanish, and Chinese ancestry.Chinese opened businesses such as market gardens and shops. The first Chinese owned businesses were opened in 1858 in Havana in Cuba, a fruit store and cafe. Few Chinese married due to lack of Chinese women. According to the Cuba Commission, two Chinese married Chinese women, two married white women, and a half dozen married mulattoes and Negro women. There was no legal protection for Chinese in Cuba [2] [3] In the 1920s an additional 30,000 Cantonese arrived; immigrations were exclusively male, and there was rapid intermarriage with white especially black, mulatto populations.In 1980 there were more than four thousand Cantonese living and in 2002 only 300 pure chinese were left.

Some Chinese fought in Cuba's Ten Years' War. 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 U.S.-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 U.S.-ruled 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 they migrated to had a unique Chinese culture and a popularity of Chinese Cuban restaurants.

Current distribution

Dragones street, Havana's Chinatown heart.

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.

The Barrio Chino de La Habana today is now not the largest Chinatown in Latin America. Most Chinese Cubans live outside Barrio Chino. Some of the Chinese stayed after the start of Castro's rule. Younger generations are working in a larger variety of jobs. There are many song composers and entering show-business: actors, actresses, singers, and models.

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, 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 (Riverhead Books, June 2008), by Cuban-American author Daína Chaviano. Originally published in Spain as La isla de los amores infinitos (Grijalbo-Random House 2006), it has been sold to 25 languages. The plot covers 150 years of history, beginning in 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. ISBN 0-8130-3240-7. 
  • 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


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