The West Indian Presence and Heritage in Cuba
- Published: November 2020
Voluntary migration from Jamaica to Cuba began in 1875 when a small group of Jamaicans went to Cuba to participate in the War of Independence as part of the Cuban Liberation Army. A second wave of migration from Jamaica to Cuba occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when West Indians sought opportunities to work on sugar plantations and in the sugar mills. As the demand for sugar increased worldwide, many West Indians travelled to Cuba between the 1920s and the 1960s, when they started to work on the US naval base in Guantanamo. The chapters of this book speak in different ways to the links, lost and maintained, between West Indian descendants in Cuba and Jamaica. Communities in Guantánamo, Banes, Santiago de Cuba and other areas are testimonies of the interest in maintaining connections and sharing their West Indian historical and cultural heritage. This book bears witness to the tremendous contributions of West Indians to the Cuban nation and to nation building worldwide.
PAULETTE A. RAMSAY
Part 1. West Indian Cultural Retentions in Cuba: Cricket
1. El cricket como elemento cultural e identitario de la cultura anglo-caribeña en Cuba 15
ELIEZER BROOKS VIDEAUX
2. Primer partido oficial de cricket en Cuba después del triunfo de la Revolución 19
GILBERTO RAMÍREZ SMITH, ELIEZER BROOKS VIDEAUX, YANILEISI CALISTRE CUZA
Part 2. West Indian Migrants in Cuba: Social and Legal Issues
3. Inmigración jamaicana en Guantánamo: entre la discriminación racial y las leyes de migración 29
LISANDRO RENÉ DUVERGEL SMITH
4. La inmigración jamaicana en el noreste más oriental cubano: su legado actual 40
EDGAR RITCHIE NAVARRO
5. El pueblo de Costa Rica: inmigración, identidad y memoria histórica 55
VIVIAN LACHEY BOLOY, ALBERTO BIGGERSTAFF FRANCIS, LUIS BENNETT ROBINSON, MIRALVIS HERNÁNDEZ NOGUERA
6. El triunfo revolucionario de 1959 en Cuba: transformación del panorama de los emigrantes jamaicanos y sus familiares en la Isla 62
CARIDAD MARIELA SMITH DE LOS SANTOS
7. La ruta de Marcus Garvey en Cuba 69
OSSAIN CÉSAR MARTÍNEZ MORENO
8. Aportes e influencias de la inmigración anglocaribeña a la cultura cubana en Guantánamo 77
ONIL BIENTZ CONTE
9. Huellas de la migración anglófona en el central “Los Reynaldos” 86
SILVIA MIRIAM MORGAN SCOTT, WILFREDO CARBONELL LIMONTA, WILLY CARBONELL MORGAN
Part 3. Symbols of West Indian Migration to Cuba
10. The Voice of Guaso: Voice of the West Indians in Guantánamo 99
JORGE AUGUSTO DERRICK HENRY
Part 4. Preserving West Indian Heritage in Cuba: The Role of Women
11. Género, migración e integración al espacio urbano en Guantánamo: las inmigrantes jamaicanas de 1910 a 1958 109
MARIURKA MATURELL RUIZ
12. Silence, Struggle and Triumph: Eva Lewis’s Migration Story 121
Part 5. The Role of Memory in Preserving West Indian Heritage in Cuba: Testimonials
13. Tras las huellas de un descendiente, George Astor Andrews 129
JORGE NELSON ANDREWS THOMAS
14. Re-experiencing Life through the Prism of Memory: The Jamaican-Cuban Experience 142
MARGARET RECKORD BERNAL AND ANNA MARÍA HENDRIKS
15. Family and Childhood Memories 152
ELENA MARGARITA GARZÓN GUMBS 16. Apuntes de la vida de emigrantes que hicieron familia en Guantánamo 158
ADISDANIA WALWYN PONS
17. Digging up the Trunk of My West Indian Family-in-Law 166
VILMA CUZA ARCIA
The relationship between the peoples of the Northern Caribbean islands has been going on from pre-Columbian times, that is, from before Spanish conquest of these islands. This movement of peoples was followed by European genocide of the indigenous peoples, enslavement of Africans and the imposition of colonial rule.
Later, Caribbean networks of revolutionaries existed during the Spanish- colonial period in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So that the war of liberation involving José Martí and Antonio Maceo has resonances here, as Jamaica provided refuge for Maceo’s mother, José Martí and many others.
We are therefore beneficiaries of the liberation struggles against slavery, colonialism and imperial domination. For instance, W. Adolphe Roberts (1886–1962), the Jamaican novelist and historian, visited Cuba nineteen times in the early twentieth century. He was enamoured of José Martí and wanted to see a similar sense of sovereignty developed in Jamaica. The Jamaican writer, Herbert George DeLisser, less nationalistic than Roberts, wrote a book in 1910 entitled Jamaica and Cuba which highlighted the close linkages in trade and social relations between the islands.
Attention has been paid recently to the Windrush generation in Britain and the crises faced by West Indians resulting from inhumane treatment by the British government.
But it is equally important to pay attention to our communities and diasporas in Cuba, for they are part of our Jamaican and Caribbean family. In Guantánamo and elsewhere in Cuba there are multiple family and cultural histories which delineate forgotten histories which need to be recovered. These West Indian diasporas in Cuba and Latin and Central America have become marginalized as the current focus is on those in Britain and North America.
These diasporas began in the early twentieth century when African descendants in the Caribbean were drawn into the labour pool of American investments in Cuba and involved in the building of railways and modern sugar plantations. The sugar mills had the most advanced technology of the time. Thousands of West Indian workers were also drawn into working for the United Fruit Company, which dominated banana production in Central America and the Caribbean. Others were also recruited into the labour pool of the largest infrastructural development of the early twentieth century – the Panama Canal.
Annette Insanally’s edited text, Regional Footprints: The Travels and Travails of Early Caribbean Migrants (2006), attempts to break this marginalization. One of the tasks of a conference such as this is getting to know each other, nurturing the neglected area of Caribbean relations, developing exchanges and encouraging scholarship and other initiatives.
WHAT DOES “WEST INDIAN” MEAN?
Some years ago, I visited a West Indian community in Havana and an elderly lady who hailed from St Thomas asked me if they “still brukkin rock stone a roadside”. She was referencing the times when this practice was part of road construction. Our conversation stirred memories of old-time Jamaica. Reading the recent book by Sharon Milagro Marshall, Tell My Mother I Gone to Cuba: Stories of Early Twentieth Century Migration from Barbados (2016), I was struck by how a “West Indian” identity was preserved. To be West Indian meant that you spoke West Indian English, developed schools to ensure your children were educated in English, attended a Protestant church, played cricket, identified as British and felt superior to Latins. There was also a sense that “revolutions” and political instability were inherent in the Latin way of governance, whereas the British Empire had generated some modicum of legislative and executive order that characterized the English-speaking Caribbean. Finally, there was respect and affection for the British king or queen. I anxiously await those who have lived the West Indian experience in Guantánamo to share their experience of what being a West Indian has meant for their identity in a Latin context.
But we need to recognize a greater fluidity in the interchange of cultural and political influences. Clinton Hutton depicts his father, Alphonso Hutton, as returning from Camaguey to Hanover, Jamaica, with a militant nationalism drawing on the military leadership of Antonio Maceo, the black general. Hutton notes that his father stood up to racism in Cuba, drawing on his strong sense of pre-colonial African history. Political values were therefore influenced by Cuba’s legacy of racism as well as its anti-colonial history.
In addition, Cuba has been influential in the area of music. Clinton Hutton has pointed out the impact of Latin music on the English-speaking Caribbean. A number of outstanding Jamaican musicians, born in Cuba, were influenced by Cuban music. Among them were the singer Laurel Aitken, and Tommy McCook and Roland Alphanso of the Skatalites fame. But Jamaica has also influenced Cuba through reggae music and the iconography of Bob Marley and Rastafari. Accompanying reggae is a Jamaican version of blackness and the Jamaican language. These factors have had an impact on Cuban culture.
THE COLD WAR
My knowledge of Cuba started in high school under my Spanish teacher, who was studying Cuban literature. His name was Winston Davis. This was in the 1960s and Davis had had his passport seized after a visit to Cuba. These were the days of the Cold War when the Jamaican government had the police target individuals who visited Cuba. A number of Jamaican academics and activists had their passports seized. Among them were the economists George Beckford and Leroy Taylor. Walter Rodney also visited as a student and this is partly why his case file received so much attention in 1968. Hopefully, we now live in different times when both parties in the Jamaican parliament have come out against the 19 October 1960 US embargo on Cuba that has now lasted almost six decades.
The year 1972 was a turning-point for Cuban-Caribbean relations as Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago opened diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s government. However, the price exacted for Jamaica’s recognition of Angolan independence in 1975 and Manley’s support for Cuba’s military involvement in the Angolan war was the destabilization of the Jamaican economy. Many Cubans of West Indian descent fought in those battles. These persons should also be the subject of memoirs and studies. On my first visit to Cuba in 1978, I interviewed an old West Indian in Havana who told me that if he had been young, he would have gone to fight in Angola. Those battles resulted in the defeat of the South African forces.
We hope that CARICOM will not shift its position on opposing the US boycott of Cuba because of pressure from the current US administration. As evidence of the good Cuba-Caribbean relations, my colleague Professor Jessica Byron recently documented and analysed intra-Caribbean cooperation, including Cuba’s considerable role. And in a recent speech, Ambassador Ines Fernandez documented Cuba’s support in the areas of health and trade. Indeed, in the Northern Caribbean we are poised between two great markets – North America and South America. There are immense opportunities for trade.
I wish you success with your deliberations.