Lisa Lee

Lisa Lee

Photo by Omairy Lorenzo

Returning to Havana’s Chinatown      

Faded Chinese letters adorn the facades of buildings in Havana’s Chinatown.  On the streets below, Cubans dressed in faux Chinese costumes compete to entice customers into restaurants dazzlingly decorated with red lanterns and gold trimmings.  Yet strangely, no Chinese people are to be seen. Like the rest of Cuba, Havana’s Chinatown has gone through massive upheaval in the last century.  Once home to one of the largest Chinese populations in the Western hemisphere, Cuba now has only about 110 native-born Chinese people. Yet although the Chinese population has dwindled to almost nothing, Chinese culture is thriving in Havana’s “Chinatown without Chinese.” Chinatown is a tourist hotspot.  Many stores and bakeries still retain Chinese-derived names left over from previous owners, though most sell mainly Cuban products and desserts, like flan or tres leches.  Some of the “Chinese” restaurants actually serve Italian food. “After all the Chinese people left, the Cuban government kept the exteriors and filled the restaurants they left behind with Cuban people,” said Pedro Eng, an octogenarian Chinese Cuban.  “The Cubans learned to make some version of Chinese food using the ingredients they had, or they made whatever else they wanted.” Photo by Omairy Lorenzo...

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