Chinese in Havana’s Guinera Neighborhood

Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES — The times I’ve gone to the Guinera neighborhood, if I didn’t see three or four young Chinese, I didn’t see any.

In the afternoons or weekends, Chinese students return to this place to relax, buy groceries and vie for cabs or buses with the locals. You can see them leaving the neighborhood heading out on the town as they wear the most trendy clothes and hairstyles – all complemented by their “tin tan chin chans” resounding in our ears.

Guinera is one of those areas that were baptized and recognized as marginal even before 1959, and it remains so today.

Located to the southwest of the center of Havana, it has been the home of generations of Cubans – both those Havanans creating new families as well as people migrating from the provinces in search of the “City of Gold”: The Capital.

The reality is that Chinese students are increasing in number there, sharing and enjoying the conditions of this neighborhood in exchange — as they say — for renting spaces for several of them, thereby economizing on their funds while studying in Cuba.

Legend has it that Guinera began as a shanty town, but it has been improving ever since thanks to the efforts of its inhabitants. First they established what were mainly informal (black market) businesses and later many of them became involved in self-employment, in addition to their government jobs.

It’s said that people there still do little more than subsist — apparently depending on each other — including those involved in the black market at its worst.

Plus the houses have a temporary look, being patched together out of wood, corrugated iron, cardboard and other bits of debris. These are shelters that leak when it rains and, being so fragile, are always battered by the elements, though increasingly less and less.

The area has mini garbage dumps and sullage trenches maintained by the residents.

The crimes that take place there are encouraged by both passion and need. In the past the police didn’t even patrol the area, but since the revolution there have been some social advances.

It’s a neighborhood with a bad reputation but an ever-growing population. There are only two or three places that sell products in hard-currency CUCs and just a few buildings that were constructed by the volunteer “microbrigade movement” that peaked in the 1970’s and ‘80s.

As their needs compel them to take refuge in a place like this, seeking cheaper rent or a place closer to their schools — like students anywhere else in the world — I think the Chinese are another contribution to the economy of this quarter. But for Cubans this is still a strange occurrence.

Note: I wanted to take pictures of the most precarious houses, but I was advised not to go with a camera to the place called “El Purguero.”

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.