The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 27      July 25, 2011

S. China event discusses Chinese in Cuba
At Guangzhou conference, Pathfinder president
notes example of Cuban Revolution
(feature article)
GUANGZHOU, China—Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press, was the featured speaker at a June 27 conference here on the history of Chinese in Cuba. Waters is the editor of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. The book has been published in Spanish and English by Pathfinder Press and in Chinese by the Intellectual Property Publishing House in Beijing.

In interviews, the book’s authors—Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong—recount what led them, as youth growing up in Cuba in the 1950s, to join the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army, which spearheaded the fight to overthrow the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship. They tell the story of Chinese immigration to Cuba and its place in forging the modern Cuban nation, beginning in the mid-19th century when thousands of Chinese, brought to Cuba as brutally exploited indentured workers, joined the revolutionary wars there to abolish slavery and win independence from Spanish colonial rule.

Nearly 50 people attended the event, hosted by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Guangdong provincial government and the Cuban consulate here. It was held in the building that houses the Overseas Chinese Museum of Guangdong, which documents and illustrates the history of migration around the world of Chinese from this coastal city and the surrounding area, historically known as Canton outside of China.

The other speakers were Félix Raúl Rojas, Cuban consul in Guangzhou, and Lin Lin, deputy director of the provincial Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. Ming Hui Wang, director of the Overseas Museum, welcomed the invited guests.

Also at the meeting were students and teachers from Wuyi University in the city of Jiangmen and from Jinan University in Guangzhou, both in Guangdong province. They were joined by other officials of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, senior museum staff, journalists, and special guests with ties to Chinese emigration to Cuba. The meeting was translated between Spanish, English, and Chinese.

Waters was accompanied by Pathfinder editor Martín Koppel, who was responsible for the Spanish edition of Our History Is Still Being Written, and Linda Harris and Patrick Brown, distributors of the book in Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the Pacific and Asia.

All four had just taken part in a regional conference in Hong Kong of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (see last week’s issue). Hong Kong, which was returned to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British colonial rule, is 100 miles from Guangzhou. Both cities are part of the Greater Pearl River Delta region of southern China.  
Independence fighters
Rojas paid tribute to the tens of thousands of Chinese, most of them from Guangdong province, “who came and mixed their blood with ours, thus forming, together with the Spanish and Africans, the roots of the Cuban nationality.”

He discussed the course adopted by the recent congress of the Cuban Communist Party to make “the economic and social adjustments required by today’s conditions” in order to “improve our socialism by building our society in accordance with our own needs, our own characteristics, and our own experiences.”

The Cuban consul expressed appreciation to Waters and those accompanying her “for their tireless struggle to break down the wall of silence [the U.S. rulers] have tried to build around the Cuban Revolution, a struggle waged within the very heart of the country of those who promote that wall of silence.” (See Rojas’s remarks on facing page.)

Lin Lin extended a warm welcome to Rojas and Waters on behalf of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and the Guangdong Association of Overseas Chinese Studies. He noted that the first group of 206 Chinese indentured workers, brought from Guangdong, arrived in Cuba in 1847. In 1867, he said, the first Chinese association, Kit Yi Tong (Union), was founded in Havana.

He cited the famous statement by Gen. Gonzalo de Quesada, a leader of Cuba’s 1895 independence war, that “there was not a single Chinese Cuban deserter; there was not a single Chinese Cuban traitor.” That quote appears on a monument in downtown Havana in honor of the liberation fighters who were Chinese. A photograph of the monument is featured prominently in the Museum of Overseas Chinese.

“Our research associations in China have limited resources on the history as well as the present conditions of the overseas Chinese in Cuba,” Lin Lin said. “Our History Is Still Being Written is a very valuable record” of that experience, and today’s conference “will give us a better understanding of it.”  
Why Cuba’s example stands out
Rojas introduced Mary-Alice Waters, the book’s editor, noting that she is a member of the Socialist Workers Party National Committee and editor of the Marxist magazine New International. He pointed to the broad interest the book has generated, citing the more than 60 conferences, seminars, and classes Waters has addressed on university campuses and cities around the world.

What is unique about Cuba in contrast with every other country, said Waters, is the elimination of discrimination and virtual disappearance of prejudice against Cubans of Chinese ancestry.

While interest in the culture and arts Chinese immigrants brought with them to Cuba, and pride in this rich history, is increasing across the island today, Waters pointed out that Havana’s world-famous Chinatown, once the largest in Latin America, bears little resemblance to its former self.

“The reason is evident,” she said. “There is no longer any compulsion for Chinese Cubans to live together in a restricted district. They are no longer barred from other areas as they once were, nor do they need safety of numbers to protect themselves from acts of violence, discrimination, and racism. There are also no longer any typically ‘Chinese’ occupations in Cuba today, whether shopkeepers or in laundries or restaurants.”

Today Cubans of Chinese descent are integrated into all areas of social life and at the highest levels of responsibility in government and other arenas.

The explanation, Waters said, lies in 150 years of revolutionary continuity in Cuba. Chinese were massively involved in the 19th century battles for independence and abolition of slavery and all forms of indentured servitude. In the 1930s they took part in the revolutionary upsurge against the Machado dictatorship, she said, noting the prominent role played by China-born José Wong, whose contributions included the founding of the Revolutionary Alliance for the Protection of Chinese Workers and Peasants in Cuba.

Waters also emphasized the sharp class divisions that grew up among Chinese Cubans, as some became wealthy business owners with substantial international ties while the majority remained workers and small shopkeepers barely scraping by.

Through the stories told by Choy, Chui, and Sío Wong in Our History Is Still Being Written, Waters said, we learn of the involvement of Chinese Cubans in the revolutionary struggle that culminated in the 1959 victory and opened the road to socialist revolution in the Americas. All three shouldered major leadership tasks in Cuba’s internationalist missions in Africa and elsewhere, rising to the rank of general in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and taking on high government responsibilities.  
Cause of U.S. hostility to Cuba
Waters underscored the reasons for Washington’s intractable hostility to Cuba’s revolutionary government reaching back more than 50 years. As the new revolutionary government carried out land reform and other elementary steps to meet the pressing needs of Cuba’s working people, Waters noted, “they came into head-on confrontation with the country’s small ruling class and the U.S. capitalist families who owned and controlled most of the cultivated land, mineral wealth, oil refineries, railroads, utilities, and almost half the sugar production in Cuba.”

Despite Washington’s acts of sabotage, invasion, assassination attempts, embargo, and blockade, Cuban workers and farmers stood their ground, Waters said.

“That steadfast refusal to allow the imperialist rulers to continue dominating them explains the U.S. government’s determination to punish the people of Cuba to this day,” she explained. “Nothing short of crushing that independence and opening the doors once again to capitalist exploitation—which they call ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’—will satisfy them. They must destroy Cuba’s example for the working people of Latin America and the world.”

These are the reasons why today “five Cuban revolutionaries have been vindictively locked up in U.S. prisons for nearly 13 years,” Waters noted. “They are being held hostage to the demand that the Cuban people submit to ‘changes’ deemed acceptable by Washington.”

During the discussion, several audience members took the floor to contribute their experiences. “The history of the Chinese in Cuba you talked about is a source of pride for me,” said Zhang Guoxiong, a professor at Wuyi University. In the part of Guangdong province where he grew up, he added, “we even have a ‘Cuban village’” where many or most families have relatives who migrated to Cuba decades ago.

Zhang asked Waters about the response by Chinese Cubans to events in China in the late 1940s and early ’50s, at the time of the victory of the Chinese revolution over the bourgeois pro-Kuomintang forces. In a similar vein, he asked about the response in Cuba during the 1980s to China’s “opening” to the world.

Until the 1959 victory, “the Chinese community in Cuba was dominated by wealthy Chinese Cuban capitalist families with ties to the Kuomintang,” Waters replied. They were hostile to the advances being made by the people of China. “But the early 1950s was also the period in which the revolutionary storm was brewing in Cuba and the leaders of the coming war to bring down the Batista tyranny were gathering their forces.” In September 1960 Cuba became the first country in Latin America to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize the People’s Republic of China.

In response to Zhang’s second question, Waters noted that the big shift in Cuba-China relations occurred not at the beginning of the 1980s but at the end, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the increasing trade and cultural exchanges between China and Cuba.

Another participant in the meeting, Huang Zhuocai, said his father had emigrated in 1925 to Cuba. As was typical, his father had a wife and family in Cuba as well as in China. Huang told the story of his Cuban half-brother, Dámaso Idalberto Revuelta Díaz, who joined the July 26 Movement. In 1958, at age 19, he died fighting the Batista dictatorship in Sagua la Grande, where today he is honored as a revolutionary martyr. Huang gave Waters a copy of his book Father and Son: The Memoir of a Chinese in Cuba and the Trajectory of his Family Letters.

Lei Baian, a local artist and small businessman, talked about his three trips to Cuba. As part of the day’s activities he donated to the museum items he had brought back from his trips. These included crumbling historical ledgers documenting Chinese emigration to Cuba he had obtained from Chinese associations there. They will be an irreplaceable record for those descendants eager to trace their family histories and connections. The museum’s staff received them with much appreciation.

Following the meeting, a formal lunch for the invited guests was hosted by Lin Lin and the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. Afterward Ming Hui Wang gave the guests a guided tour of the Overseas Chinese Museum, which contains a wealth of photos and other items documenting Chinese migration around the world, including to Cuba.

The displays also depict the extensive investments and charity donations throughout the province from overseas Chinese who have roots in Guangdong. Ming noted that such investments have been encouraged by the Chinese government’s policy of returning expropriated property to overseas Chinese willing to invest in China today and suggested that a similar course would benefit Cuba too.

After the conference, Waters was interviewed by two young reporters covering the event, Fang Yan from Radio Guangdong and Dinad Hou from the local Chinese-language daily New Express.

The wide-ranging questions they asked included: What about the participation of former African slaves in the Cuban independence war? Why is Cuba’s experience important for people in the United States? How can a socialist revolution take place in the United States? As a member of the Socialist Workers Party, how do you see the serious problem of corruption and embezzlement in some socialist countries? Does the “Chinese way of development” show the advantages of a socialist government? Why does Pathfinder offer books at reduced prices for prisoners? Why are many of your books published in Farsi? What does Pathfinder stand for? What experiences changed your own thinking to become a socialist? The reporters kept asking questions until everyone had to leave the hall.

A conference on overseas Chinese from Guangdong province, hosted by Wuyi University, is scheduled for October 2012. At the end of the day’s activities, Zhang Guoxiong expressed the hope that discussion of the history of the Chinese in Cuba will continue at that event.
Related articles:
‘Chinese Cubans joined the cause of freedom’  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home