By Jennifer 8. Lee | June 25, 2007
Nathanial Hoffman of McClatchy discusses the resurgence of Chinese in Cuba, (and with it, a new breath of life for El Barrio Chino, which was once the largest Chinatown in the Western hemisphere (yes, bigger than San Francisco and New York Chinatowns). Massive numbers of Chinese originally arrived in Cuba to work on the sugar cane plantations in the 1840s, and the Cuban Chinese became a critical part of Cuban society, fighting revolutions. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and nationalized their busineses, the ethnic Chinese (like they did in India and Indonesia, when the political winds soured) fled elsewhere. At a certain point there were more Cuban Chinese in New York than Cuba. (the byproduct of which was Cuban Chinese restaurants, like La Caridad in the Upper West Side of Manhattan)
Of course, Cuban Chinese restaurants (which boomed in the 1960s and 1970s), are a dying breed. Why? Because the older generation is retiring and their children are too educated to go into the restaurant business. Unlike American Chinese restaurants, which have been bolstered by the arrival of the Fujianese even as Hong Kong and Taiwan and Cantonese restaurant owners are retiring, there is no new influx of Cuban Chinese.
The main reasons for the boom: as elsewhere, China is flexing is economic diplomatic muscle. While the United States has frozen American business out of Cuba, Chinese enterprise has no such restrictions. China is now Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela. China’s oil company is exploring offshore oil, and Chinese pharmaceuticals are being developed in ventures with Cuban firms (see Michael Moore’s Sicko for an amusing stunt involving 9/11 workers and the Cuban medical system).
The United States, no doubt, is paying close attention to the fact that China is cozying up to a (hostile?) country 90 miles from the shore.
A good book for more information is The Chinese in the Caribbean, edited by Andrew Wilson, which is a collection of essays looking at the Chinese experience in Cuba, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.
As I have not been to Cuba, I am dying for some Cuban Chinese menus, if you have.
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