Did you know that there is a Chinese Neighborhood in La Habana also? The Chinatown of Havana is located in the municipality of Centro Habana, province of Havana City, in Cuba, making up one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in Latin America.
It came to be considered the second most important in the world, after San Francisco in California, United States. Its small grocery stores and restaurants had their origin in the accumulation of money that their owners made during their years as contract workers. The first Chinese-owned businesses were opened in 1858.
We had the pleasure to serve clients from China and descendants of Chinese on tours to Cuba and they have been in awe to find out that there is a chinese neighborhood in the city. One of my clients just wrote to me to say that they were reading a book called Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History by Kathleen López. He did not get a chance to visit this area because a jam pack journey throughout the country and an encounter with his old home that left him devastated but now he wants to go back and explore this part of his heritage.
At the end of the 19th century, Chinese immigration settled in what was the knife of Calle Zanja and Calle de los Dragones where, from 1874, they set up shops and spaces dedicated to various services, such as shops, inns, laundries, etc. Chinatown was the main settlement for immigrants from that nation in the Caribbean. At the beginning of the 20th century, some 10,000 Chinese lived in 10 blocks of the neighborhood, and they began to open small commercial establishments such as inns, laundries, shoe stores and watch repair shops. Wineries were also opened for the sale of food, such as birds and dried fish, pharmacies, silk shops, shops, restaurants, cinemas and theaters for Asian operatic performances. Chinatown also had a chamber of commerce that functioned as a stock exchange.
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and as a result of the massive exodus of Chinese-Cubans to the United States, the number of pure Chinese fell sharply in the neighborhood and, with them, the popularity of its restaurants. Also in those years began confiscations and nationalizations carried out without the consequent compensation. The almost 250,000 Chinese and their descendants who lived there left the place.
Havana is also the only Chinese clay that has its own cemetery (Chinese General Cemetery, in Chinese: 中 华总义 山). This is located in Nuevo Vedado, near the Cristóbal Colón Necropolis. In the 1990s, the commercial premises were restored and the Chinese New Year and the anniversaries of the arrival of the first immigrants began to be celebrated. Currently, only a very small portion of Chinatown is inhabited by Chinese Cubans and their descendants .
The entrance portico to the neighborhood, inaugurated in 1999, was financed by the government of the People's Republic of China with materials brought from that country. It is called "El Pórtico de la Amistad" and is located on Dragones Street. It is a concrete structure of three tons, 16 meters wide and 12 meters high. Its structure of columns and beams is made of reinforced concrete covered with gray granite, and the roof is made of ceramic tiles enameled in a golden color. It is a unique Chinese architectural work in Latin America and one of the largest outside of China.
I have been so many times in El Barrio Chino, eaten at their restaurants and made friends with an incredible chef 👨🍳 that worked there but I was never curious about how this neighborhood started or the history behind it. When you live in Cuba, you are worried about the day to day things to keep you going and only those interested in its history, take the time to dig deep into the diversity of the island.
I hope that you join us on a tour to Cuba soon and that you get to discover all the different neighborhoods, the mixture of cultures and its beauty. Until then, stay safe!
Reference: El Barrio Chino de la Habana
About Sheyla Paz
Sheyla was born and raised in Cuba. Moved to the United States 20 years ago after meeting her husband at her beloved island when she was performing with a band at the Riviera Hotel in Havana. She is a Journalist, Actress, Producer, and Photographer with a passion for travel. Sheyla launched the tour agency to Cuba out of her desire to share her culture, music, dance, and the architecture of her homeland with others. Her agency provides travel arrangements to all Latin countries and Caribbean islands. She has several award wining short films and was recognized as a leading media personality in the Latino community in Tennessee with the award “Beacon of Light” in 2019. Sheyla was one of the few Cuban-American journalists selected to travel to Cuba with President Barack Obama in 2016 as part of the White House Press Corp. Sheyla is an ASTA Verified travel advisor, Signature Travel Network Luxury Certified Travel advisor and several destination specialist in the Caribbean and Latin America. She is also certified in Luxury River Cruises and Ocean cruises.
Follow us on Social Media @YourTourGuidetoCuba
Share the knowledge
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.