By 1927 Chiang Kai-shek gains control in China forcing out many Chinese who did not support the Nationalist Movement. Some of these Chinese came to Cuba. Some of them were politically left-leaning and Communist supporters. Some came and joined families already established in Cuba. During this period there was contempt for the newly arrived Chinese, especially in the Spanish-Cuban society. They saw the Chinese as inferior, dirty, gamblers and drug addicts. Many Spanish-Cuban newspapers enforced these sentiments by publishing articles to that effect.
“By 1931 the Chinese population of Cuba had once again grown substantially, reaching nearly 25,000. The greatest flowering of Chinese arts and culture occurred during these interwar years. Music, theater, Cantonese opera, martial arts, Chinese-language newspapers —and the lion dance — all were part of life in Havana and across the island.”
The unique history of Chinese in Cuba: from independence wars to socialist revolution. Presented by Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, to a June 27, 2011, conference in Guangzhou, China, on the history of Chinese in Cuba.
In the 1940s due to restrictions imposed on Chinese immigration being lifted, it was easier for Chinese to come to Cuba. During this time, a renewed interest in Chinese traditions and culture flourished. Carnivals, lion dancing, opera and music were appreciated and popular.
Chinese Opera Singer
“The history of Cuba during World War II begins in 1939. Because of Cuba’s geographical position at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, Havana’s role as the principal trading port in the West Indies, and the country’s natural resources, Cuba was an important participant in the American Theater of World War II, and subsequently one of the greatest beneficiaries of the United States’ Lend-Lease program. Cuba declared war on the Axis powers in December 1941, making it one of the first Latin American countries to enter the conflict, and by the war’s end in 1945 its military had developed a reputation as being the most efficient and cooperative of all the Caribbean nations.”
Cuba During WWII
After the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949 many Chinese migrated to Cuba. The Barrio Chino, Havana’s Chinatown, “underwent significant changes in the composition of the types of businesses, with wealthier merchants maintaining a strong presence.” Many laborers and small shop owners were forced to leave Cuba for the United States and Canada. Several Chinese organizations expanded their buildings and a new home for the Casino Chung Wah was built. 223
Chinese Cubans, A Transnational History, Kathleen López, The University of North Carolina Press, 2013
“The Cuban Revolution did create an increase in relations with China for a short time. Cuban leader Fidel Castro severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1960, recognizing and establishing formal ties with the People’s Republic of China and Mao Zedong.”
Post Revolution images showing ties to China
no information on photograph
Raul Castro and Vilma Espín
Raul speaks with the director of the Chinese artistic group by means of an interpreter. Vilma looks on.
Guevara in China
President of the National Bank of Cuba, Chou En-lai and Ernesto Guevara in Asia
Chairman Mao Tse-tung received José Manuel Valdés Rodríguez who writes for the Cuban El Mundo and is Director of the Film Department of Havana University and a noted film and drama critic. Photo by Hou Po, October 1960.
Regino Pedroso and Chou En-lai
“In 1949 you have more Chinese coming over to Cuba after the Chinese Revolution. And by the 1959 Cuban Revolution among the very first wave of Cuban emigres were a lot of these upper tier, top level Chinese merchants. By the 1960s many did stay, but by 1968, especially, all of the Chinese small business owners are deeply effected because they no longer can keep their business and run it for a profit. Some stayed and worked for the government, others went to the black market, but many did leave Cuba, so you see another exodus of Chinese Cubans, along with other Cubans in the 1960s. And one of the things you see were all the Chinese Cuban restaurants that sprung up in New York and Miami. And as far as the Chinese organizations, the membership rosters drastically dropped, especially after 1968. So each year they are loosing members, people are dying, or people are leaving, so it really becomes difficult for them to sustain. But yet, what we see is they are trying any innovative methods that they can to keep these organizations going. So what they did, with some resistance in the beginning, was to allow second generation Chinese who were mixed to rise to leadership positions, and also to allow women the same opportunities.”
Taken from interview with Kathleen López 2015