Vilma Espín (1930-2007)
is an important figure in Cuban history and politics, often referred to as ‘Cuba’s
First Lady’. She was a leading revolutionary against the dictatorship against
Fulgencio Batista, as well as a guerilla fighter for the cause.
In addition to her military and political work, she was one of the first
women in Cuba to study chemical engineering. She was President of the
Federation of Cuban Women from 1960 until her death and led the national
delegation in multiple conferences related to women’s rights.
In the case of the Americas, although a few diasporic Chinese returned to the homeland, the vast majority did not, and others remigrated to other points in the hemisphere. For example, among the first Chinese in New York City were remigrants from Havana, following a well-established and well-traveled path across the Caribbean waters from Havana to New York. Chinese coolies on Cuban plantations were sent to Mississippi plantations to fill an acute labor shortage in the 1860s (see Cohen 1984). Despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border interacted freely and frequently, while big Chinese merchant houses in San Francisco and Los Angeles opened and stocked branch stores in Mexico, Cuba, and Peru. Chinese labor contractors in California introduced Chinese workers to open up vast tracts of virgin land in Baja California for large-scale cotton cultivation in the Mexicali Valley.
Chinese huaqiao (immigrants) in the diaspora shared common experiences, whether as huagong, workers, or as huashang, merchants. Throughout the Americas, they entered already multiracial societies that were nevertheless dominated by European ethnicities and a white power structure. The exact nature of their work and social relationships in the workplace, and the exact nature of their businesses and business opportunities varied across time and space…
The use of indentured labor, based on formal contracts, seemed to have been a common practice throughout the Chinese diaspora in the nineteenth century, wherever European plantations thrived. It is known generally as the coolie system in Asia and in the Americas; the Dutch used it on their Southeast Asian plantations, the British employed both Chinese and East Indian coolies on their West Indian (Caribbean) estates after slavery; and of course, the Spaniards in Cuba and the newly independent Peruvians also adopted this system of labor. (Despite widespread use of the term “coolie” to refer to Chinese laborers, no formal indentured labor system involving Chinese existed in the United States.) My own work has examined Chinese indentured labor on the Cuban and Peruvian plantations of the mid to late nineteenth century (HuDeHart 1992).
The contracts were issued in both Chinese and Spanish and in duplicate, one to the coolie to be kept on his person for the duration of his bondage, the other to the contracting agency, which transferred it to the master when he purchased the contract. Printed in clear type in both versions, usually on a fine blue paper, it included the name of the onsite agent as well as the contracting agency in Havana or Lima, sometimes the name of the coolie ship, and was signed by the Spanish consul in China and the local authorities (local Portuguese authorities when the trade was transferred from the uneasy Chinese government in south China to the more amenable Portuguese colonial regime in Macao).
In the Spanish-language contracts, Cubans and Peruvians rarely referred to the Chinese as coolies or workers, but rather euphemistically as colonos asiáticos. On the other hand, and in an apparent inconsistency, those who bought their contracts were referred to as patrón or patrono, and in Peru, sometimes as amo, which is a paternalistic term for “master.” The contracts had the heading Libre Emigración China para la Isla de Cuba (or para el Perú)—Free Chinese Immigration to Cuba (or Peru)—which explains the references in the document to colono and not worker. In the Chinese-language version, the entirely different heading refers to a “Labor Employment Contract” (Gu-kong-he-tong), making no allusion to immigration or colonization, but only to work. Consistent with this construction, those who contracted with the Chinese were known as “employers.” Since the Chinese-language contract was supposedly read by local authorities to the recruited workers, presumably the Chinese knew they were going somewhere to work and not to settle permanently. In fact, to ensure this understanding, very few women were sent to Cuba or Peru.
Evelyn Hu-Dehart, “On Coolies and Shopkeepers The Chinese as Huagong (Laborers) and Huashang (Merchants) in Latin America/Caribbean,” Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas (2005)