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.