A Return to Roots
"CuBajans" in Barbados
- Published: December 2021
When thousands of working-class Barbadians left for Cuba in search of better economic opportunities during the early twentieth century, most of them did so with the expectation that they would eventually return to their home. They maintained many of the cultural traditions of their homeland, and they immersed their Cuba-born children in Barbadian culture by exposing them to the type of education which they themselves had received in Barbados and teaching them English to prepare them for life “back home”.
Although many of the migrants were not able to achieve this dream of returning home, some of their children and grandchildren have managed to retrace their ancestors’ journey and find their roots in Barbados. This “reverse migration” is driven as much by economics as by sentiment for the ancestral homeland. The basis of that sentiment has sometimes been called into question, since these “CuBajans” have not always been regarded as true Barbadians by some among the local population.
The CuBajans themselves have a sense of pride in what they have been able to achieve in Cuba, and they count themselves fortunate in having two homelands. With relatives still in Cuba, they maintain links through frequent communication, remittances and travel back to the island. In A Return to Roots: “CuBajans” in Barbados, these migrants tell their own stories through oral testimonies, which Sharon Milagro Marshall frames within the context of Barbadian and Cuban history.
List of Figures...... vii
List of Tables...... ix
PART 1: PROTECTORATE STATUS AND COLONIAL RULE
Introduction: A Bajan Everywhere... 3
1. Pre-1959 Revolution Cuba.... 8
2. Colonial Barbados......... 19
3. Ofelia Nicholls......... 52
4. Frank Philo.......... 59
PART 2: REVOLUTION AND INDEPENDENCE
5. Post-1959 Revolution Cuba... 67
6. Post-Independence Barbados...... 78
7. Nelson Goddard......... 87
8. Gilbert Rowe........ 94
9. Graciela King.......... 103
10. Isabel Deane......... 110
11. Colbert Belgrave....... 116
12. Maria Thomas Ferrier...... 125
13. Yolanda Nelson Springer...... 131
14. Josué Ramírez Nelson.... 140
15. The Yearwoods........ 151
16. Pedro Hope Jústiz..... 160
17. Pablo Atwell........ 169
18. Roberto Trotman Brown..... 174
Selected Bibliography...... 209
MY BOOK TELL MY MOTHER I GONE TO CUBA: Stories of Early Twentieth-Century Migration from Barbados (2016) chronicles the movement of Barbadians – and other British West Indians – to Cuba in an era when the expansion of sugar cane cultivation there created work opportunities for the migrants.
At the official launch of Tell My Mother I Gone to Cuba, Francisco Fernández Peña, then Cuban ambassador to Barbados, said to me that I needed to write a second book about the Cuban-Barbadians1 in Barbados. Since I was dealing with the stress of launching and marketing that first book, I did not pay too much attention to that proposal at the time. But little did I know that the seed had been planted then. It has since grown and evolved, seemingly of its own volition.
This book – A Return to Roots: “CuBajans” in Barbados – captures the narratives of descendants of some of those Barbadian migrants to Cuba – the sons and daughters, grandchildren and great grand children – who have settled in Barbados, closing the circle of migration. As the interviewer, I began this publication project with the idea of maintaining a professional distance from my subjects.