Chinese Societies

The 13 Chinese-Cuban Associations

After the expiration of the indentured worker status, Chinese workers in the nineteenth century who survived and stayed in Cuba started to organize themselves in all kinds of groups and associations. Their groups and associations were fraternal, regional, professional, family, commercial, or political. Today, at least twelve associations exist with engraved name plaques hanging in front of their offices throughout the Barrio Chino.

They offer various services to members, their relatives, and the community at large. The Casino Chung Wah, for instance, offers clinical services, Chinese language teaching, a shrine for worship, chi kung health exercise classes, a pharmacy for members, a decades-old Chinese language newspaper in (though at the time of this research trip, the only editor was so sick that the newspaper's existence was threatened).

Another association of four families, Asociacion Lung Kong Cuba, keeps a spectacular ancestral worship shrine including a huge array of ritualistic furniture and objects that are even rarely found in Mainland China.

All the familial, seasonal, religious rituals and ceremonies are kept inside this sacred shrine.

Besides offering social gathering, ritualistic, ceremonial facilities for their members, several other societies that are close to the new center of the Barrio Chino on the small street of Calle Cuchillo are operating two prominent enterprises. One is the restaurant business and the other is a health care facility or nursing home. The restaurants run by the societies are not for profit. Their primary goal is provide inexpensive food to the members and also for tourists.

The food there is very homey, tasty, and far less expensive than the other commercial restaurants in the Barrio Chino.

The simple residences for elderly Chinese and their descendants provide the greatly needed food, room, and medical care. Though all the associations run on extremely tight budgets, people who work there seem happy that they are reviving an old Chinese tradition in offering assistance to others.

El Grupo Promotor

Casino Chung Wah

The history of the Casino Chung Wah began essentially onJune 3, 1847 when 207 descendents were contracted by families of the plantations. On May 9, 1893 the Chinese decided to establish Casino Chung Wah. reaady other Chinese associations or "clnicas" from other regions had formed. The need for a meeting place for larger organizations became an issue because of the Registro Nacional, the National Registry. The Spanish Crown which still ruled in Cuba at the time had established a forum for the purpose of documenting records or organizing archives for various reasons. Today, meetings of the societies are held once a month while meetings among delegates of the societies convene four times a year. The Casino is the official Organo or instrument for the Chinese population in Cuba. Today, 2298 associates participate as well as 330 autonomous Chinese people who still preserve pure Chinese blood. The elected officials consist of one president, two vice-presidents, one secretary, and one treasurer. Some members dedicate their time strictly to public relations. The official language for communication is Cantonese which is spoken among the natural born Chinese descendents of natural born Chinese, and participants of two lineages who are mixed provided that the mother is Chinese. The dues are 12 pesos per year.

The Casino employs 13 people, men and women, in 1975 classes of Mandarin study began, in 1983 the clinic opened offering tradition Chinese medicine as well as Western medical practices. In 1989, Tai Chi classes began traditionally on Saturday mornings at 9:00 AM.

The benefits for member include access to the Chinese pharmacy where medicinal herbs can be purchased, access to the Casino clinic, classes in Mandarin, Tai Chi instruction, access to a library of books and videos, as well as participation in cultural celebrations. The Casino intends to expand its Tai Chi program to other parts of the city. The Casino is also associated with other organization such as the Grupo Promotor.

Members also have access to juridical assessors who hear and try some cases. The Casino will also attend to the legal needs of their associates or their requests on behalf of friends.

Women are allowed full participation in the Casino's facility. The president of the Alianza Socialista China is a woman of Chinese descent.

Casino Chung Wah is associated with one newspaper in Chinatown, titled Jwong Wah Po, which is sent to the other Cuban provinces. The newspaper is published in Chinese with one page in Spanish. The newspaper was initially a clandestine operation in 1928 and later became a public service for the Chinese community. No one is required to be a member of the Communist party to enjoy the benefits of the Casino Chung Wah. Instrumental in public relations and with the registry of other organizations in Havana the Casino is able to solicit permission for cultural and academic activities.

In 1920 the antique furniture from the 19th century arrived at the Casino.