The welfare of our elders has always been of utmost concern to our Chinese diaspora communities. They are among the weakest and most vulnerable of our members, and overseas they can be left to fend for themselves. Currently, our Chinese elders in Cuba face a political crisis that has the potential to starve them into their early graves. So desperate and dire are the situation, that I am calling for immediate disaster relief efforts for our people in Cuba. To understand this crisis, we need to explore the historical legacy of the Chinese immigration into Cuba, and the present quagmire set forth by the 45th POTUS’s recent decision to reverse the American and Cuban reconciliation. Today the “Barrio Chino”, stands as one of the last legacies of the Chinese diaspora in Cuba. How much longer it can survive is anyone’s guess…
Our people’s journey into Cuba, began under the strife of 19th century imperialistic encroachment, natural disasters, internal feuding, dynastic decline and political chaos. Many push and pull forces would see our impoverished southern Chinese men tricked, kidnapped or “shanghaied” into perpetual slave like conditions in Cuba. “Floating Coffins” comprised of 15 ships from the Spanish, British and American fleets would carry out this nefarious trade. The Convention (Treaty) of Peking, enacted post second Opium War in 1860, would later set forth the legalized practice of the “coolie” trade. The abuse would become legally acceptable and permissible under international views. Though the British would lead the fight to end the African slave trade among the European powers, signing treaties with Spain in 1817 and 1835, they would later hypocritically make arrangements to fill this cheap labor gap with Chinese and Indian laborers instead. Some captured soldiers from the Taiping rebellion would also be among the masses of Chinese men sold off from ports in Macau, Hong Kong, Wham Poa and Amoy. They were all destined for ports in Southeast Asia, Australia, the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. Chinese “coolies” and Indian “kulis”, would help to fill the labor gap from the end of the trans-Atlantic African slave trade.
After a successful revolt from Haiti, and the proven British importation of Chinese laborers into the West Indies, the very first Chinese “coolie” laborers from Amoy, Fujian, China left for Cuba on June 3rd, 1847. On the very same slave ships that brought Africans to the Americas, our Chinese ancestors would be crammed shoulder to shoulder, and forced to endure the long Pacific crossing. After having survived the voyage being stripped naked and painted with the letter “c” that would show their destination to Cuba, they would then be hastily unloaded, quickly processed, auctioned off and put to work in the sugar fields of the monoculture Cuban economy. Over 30 years, 140,000 Chinese laborers would reach the Cuban shores with 16,000 perishing at sea. Reports from the Chinese commission sent to check on their status in Cuba, documented inhumane working conditions and many human rights violations. Clearly, they were there against their free will and choice.
Unknown to many, the main drive to end slavery in America was because of the cheap labor competition against paid workers, and not as much for altruistic human rights. Popular outrage against cheap labor competition would carry over to Chinese laborers as well. The American public resentment against the industrious, more productive and healthier Chinese laborers cutting into their wages, finally culminated in Abraham Lincoln signing into law in 1862, An Act to prohibit the “Coolie Trade” by American Citizens in American Vessels. This put an end to American ships carrying Chinese laborers, and set forth the decline in the Chinese Cuban population.
Upon arrival, the Chinese in Cuba would be given new names along with their Romanized Chinese surnames. Many would marry African slave women and over time lose their Chinese identities and language. This dilution has steadily shrunk their community in Cuba over time.
Ethnic politics in Cuba are quite controversial. According to our elder Pok Chi Lau, Chinese Cubans are separated into a Chinese nursing home. However, if a Chinese man is married to a Cuban woman, then he can go to the Chinese nursing home, but she will not be able to live with him there. More complicated is the fact, that Cuba does not care for the elders who are too sick to walk or have major illnesses. Those ailments disqualify one from being accepted into a nursing home. They pretty much let those elders die off.
Presently, the situation in Cuba is quite third world. Don’t believe all of the left-wing socialist propaganda toting the remarkable Cuban health care system and infrastructure. It is a lie that was witnessed firsthand by our elder Pok Chi Lau.
One Chinese couple highlights the present-day plight of our Chinese Cuban elders in particular. Their indoor running water consists of a dripping faucet. They can barely get 1 gallon of water in 2 hours! This makes it impossible for them to clean, bathe or care for themselves properly. The only communal bathroom in their building is down the hall, and our elder is so weak that he doesn’t wear any clothes. He barely has the strength to make it to their communal restroom and defecate. This is the pitiful state of some of our Chinese Cuban elders at the moment.
Many of these ageing Chinese Cubans rely upon the altruistic services of one of our pivotal leaders in Cuba, Graciela Lau. She is the chairperson of Cuba’s Long Gong family of clans. Basically, she has helped to take care of the last remnants of the Chinese Cuban community for the last 20 years. She runs a Chinese cafe and the profits from this establishment are the primary financing that is keeping our remaining Chinese Cuban elders alive.
“The new little cafe Tungli is doing well though it’s customers are mostly Cubans who benefit from the tourist trade. I am sure tourism is suffering as plane ticket price has gone up almost 100%.”
– Pok Chi Lau
This is exactly why the 45th POTUS’s recent reversal of travel restrictions to Cuba, directly threatens the ability of Graciela Lau to care for the remaining Chinese Cubans who are mostly elders in great need of support.
Complicating the matter is the restrictive policies of the Cuban government which tend to take any funds donated through banks into Cuba. So, any fundraising that we do and try to wire into Cuba, will be partially stolen or appropriated by the Cuban government. Which is why I am calling forth for donations to be made in America and personally delivered to Graciela Lau and our desperate Chinese people who remain in Cuba.
“A number of bachelors may live too far and too weak to come to Barrio Chino for the free lunches, or to go to a hospital. Pedro Eng, a well recognized Cuban Chinese historian, was a good example. His wife was dying of cancer, but they had no money to get a car / taxi to take her to a hospital. It takes Pedro 90 minutes to get on 2 buses, walk from 20 each way to come to Barrio Chino. His wife passed away last year. I have yet to investigate who else fall into this predicament for free health care.”
– Pok Chi Lau
Our elder Pok Chi Lau, in Kansas, USA, will handle this transfer, and he is a respected member of our community with a long record of altruistic service. Previously, he would donate funds to orphans in Mexico on his fishing trips. He also has done a lot of charity work in China for 20 years. His reputation and history of service are well documented and easily researched. I have full faith and confidence in his ability to safely handle the funds and deliver them to our people in need. A group of 6 volunteers will be heading to Cuba on July 5th, 2017 for an 8-day trip. We don’t know how many trips we can make into Cuba and might have to wire funds in the future. This obviously, can lead to some theft, but we have no alternatives at the present.
Please send all donations to the following:
Pok Chi Lau
2600 W. 27th Terr., Lawrence KS 66047