BY MARY-ALICE WATERS
This new edition of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution appears twelve years after the original was presented at the Havana International Book Fair in February 2006. The demand for a second edition is testimony to the enduring interest engendered by the rich history of revolutionary struggle — and victories — brought to life through the words of Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong.
In the years since Pathfinder Press first published their accounts, in Spanish and an English translation, the book has been the centerpiece of more than a hundred presentations and panel discussions in countries, cities, and universities around the globe — from Santiago de Cuba to Beijing and Guangzhou; from Kuala Lumpur to Caracas; from Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal to San Francisco, New York, Miami, London, Edinburgh, Auckland, and Sydney, to name just a few.
A Chinese translation was published in 2008 by the Intellectual Property Publishing House; a Cuban edition by Editora Política in 2010; and one in Farsi by the Iranian publisher Talaye Porsoo in 2014. A French translation of this new edition is set for 2018.
Three facts above all, unexpected to most readers, have generated this broad interest.
First, many learn with surprise that Cuba was a major destination of the large-scale Chinese emigration in the nineteenth century known historically as the “coolie trade.” Readers are stunned to discover that more than 140,000 bonded laborers were shipped from South China seaports to Cuba between 1847 and 1874 — imported at the demand of wealthy plantation owners to replace dwindling African slave labor in the cane fields of what was then the largest sugar-producing country in the world.
As a percentage of the population, this Chinese immigration was greater than anywhere else in the Americas. In those same years, it was proportionally larger than the influx into the United States of Chinese toilers, who first came to California in search of gold and then to build the most daunting segment of the history-altering transcontinental railroad.
With few exceptions, the indentured workers who survived the sea voyage to Cuba, and then eight years of contracted labor under conditions akin to slavery, never returned to China. They intermarried, became laborers, small farmers, and petty traders. They lived as other Cuban working people did. Today on the streets of Havana and other cities across the island, it is not unusual to be told that the Cuban nation was born with the intertwining of three strands — one Spanish, one African, and one Chinese.
Second, readers are surprised by the massive participation and exemplary contribution of Chinese workers in Cuba’s wars for independence from Spain between 1868 and 1898, wars inextricably interlinked with the struggle to abolish slavery and bonded labor in all forms. As Sío Wong’s account underscores, nothing like it occurred in any other part of the world where large numbers of Chinese workers settled.
Third, and most important, many readers are stunned to learn that in Cuba today, unlike anywhere else on earth, discrimination and even prejudice against Cubans of Chinese descent have virtually ceased to exist. There is no glass ceiling, no sector of society or level of responsibility where only token Chinese Cubans can be found. There are no typically “Chinese jobs.” Wang Lusha speaks eloquently to this question in the foreword to this new edition that follows.
How is this possible? Why is the Chinese community in Cuba different from Peru, Brazil, Argentina, or North America, Sío Wong asks. “The difference,” he answers, “is the triumph of a socialist revolution.” Here “we overturned the property relations that create not only economic but also social inequality between rich and poor. That is what made it possible for the son of Chinese immigrants to become a government representative, or anything else.”
Our History Is Still Being Written is in fact an introduction to that socialist revolution.
How and why young Cubans like the three authors joined the revolutionary struggle to overthrow what working people there simply called “the tyranny” in the 1950s: the US-backed police dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
How and why the triumph of that immense popular struggle — one that cost 20,000 lives — opened the road to the first socialist revolution in the Americas.
How in making that revolution, millions of men and women, young and old, transformed themselves as they fought to lay the foundations of a new economic and social order.
Why the Cuban Revolution remains today the only living example of what a socialist revolution is and what ordinary working people, like those who made it and continue to defend it, can accomplish.
The most important single addition to the second edition of Our History Is Still Being Written is the foreword by Chinese translator Wang Lusha, originally published as an afterword to the 2008 Chinese edition. He explains how he first learned about the three Chinese Cuban generals, and the impact their stories had on his life. Wang gives voice to the surprise and pride of many Chinese around the world, especially young people, who through this book have come to know more of their own history of revolutionary resistance, combat, and victory.
Our thanks go to Linette Chua in Manila for translating the foreword to English, and to José Ignacio Fernández Armas and Kagita Chen Xiulian in Havana for its translation to Spanish.
In this new edition of the book, some translations have been improved. Footnotes have been added to clarify references rendered obscure by the passage of more than a decade, and biographical details in the authors’ notes and glossary have been updated. New photos and illustrations have been added, as well.
Most important, the powerful revolutionary message of Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong, in their own words, remains unchanged.