Cuba’s Largest Overseas Diaspora is the Least Known

Dmitri Prieto

HAVANA TIMES — Much of the data collected during Cuba’s last Population and Housing Census, conducted in 2012, has now been published.

One of the questions in the census was the place of birth of those surveyed. There was a space on the questionnaire where the person’s country of origin could be registered.

The number of people who live in Cuba but were born in other countries (3,386 women and 2,627 men) is quite surprising.

According to the census, 1,444 Cubans residing on the island were born in Spain. This does not exactly constitute a diaspora. Cuba, quite naturally, has historical migratory links to what people here sometimes refer to as the “motherland” and Spaniards emigrated to Cuba in a sustained fashion from the early 16th century until 1961.

There are a significant number of Spanish associations in Cuba, organized on the basis of ethnic or regional criteria, or as autonomous communities, which gather immigrants and their descendants. My Cuban grandfather, for instance, was from Leon, Spain and acquired Cuban citizenship years after moving to the island. He never returned to his country of origin. Many of his former compatriots did the same thing.

The second largest group of people who live in Cuba but were born overseas (some 794 individuals) came to the island from the Russian Federation. This is surprising, not so much because of the number of people but because this diaspora is almost completely unknown. And it is a true diaspora: those of us born in the Eurasian country are devoid of any association acknowledged by Cuban authorities and any socialization among us “immigrants” tends to be sporadic and fragmented. There aren’t many places where we can mingle and get to know one another.

Even Cuba’s most renowned ethnologists make no mention of the contribution this diaspora has made to the “ethnic makeup of the Cuban nation,” while there are numerous studies about Arab, Chinese, Jewish and Korean immigration.

As the place of origin of Cuban residents, Russia is followed by Italy (316), the United States (305), the Ukraine (274), Venezuela (237), Mexico (201) and Haiti (200). Together, the Russian and Ukrainian diasporas account for more than 1,000 people.

The children of those who were born overseas, who came into the world in Cuba, are also numerous. The descendants of such immigrants often fondly retain some aspects of the culture and a number of the traditions of their mothers and fathers. These individuals, however, were not registered as such by the census, as the place of origin of one’s progenitors was not asked.

The 2012 census also did not ask about citizenship, ethnicity or religious practices. The figures on place of origin, therefore, include people who hold Cuban citizenship and others who do not.

The ethnicity of those interviewed may be varied: one’s place of birth does not determine it. Many of these people were simply born abroad and never returned to the land of their birth.

The fact that the post-Soviet diaspora (if you’ll allow me to use this term for the sum total of all the diasporas from the former Soviet Union) is the largest in Cuba demands a more in-depth study and efforts to facilitate the socialization of its members.

Residents that were born outside of Cuba (2012 Census).

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Largest Overseas Diaspora is the Least Known

  • November 24, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    I cannot believe the ignoramuses here debating things that I knew when I was 6 years old. GUYS! WAKE UP! Communism never worked even in the country where it saw daylight, the USSR. Communism never worked in China and it hasn’t worked and will never work in CUBA. Erase that from your minds. Capitalism may not be the best but under capitalism I can choose my boss or I can be a boss myself. I can also choose to work/not work depending on how I feel. And when I have a piece of bread, it is mine and I get to eat it. I don’t have to share it with anyone. You want bread? You work for it. The BIBLE says that. St. Paul said it 2,000 years ago. So stop all the stupid bickering. COMMUNISM doesn’t work. Period!

  • June 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Dear Mr. Goodrich, I was serious but it is obvious that your mind was not clear when you read Dmitri Prieto’s article – or if by chance it was clear then my sympathy. I wrote nothing referring to your beloved US and neither did Dmitri Prieto. There appears to be a compulsion in your mind to drag in your country like a dead cat in everything you contribute and to ignore subject matter. This does you little credit and you should take a pause for reflection or as I have previously advised you, take some Milk of Magnesia to settle the bile in your stomach

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