Robaina's plantation

Thursday 31 October 2019

Chinese Cemetery (Havana)

                     Chinese immigrants were offered tremendous wealth upon their arrival to Cuba but what they got was far from it. The reality they received was a poverty worse than what they left behind in China. Some wanted to return home, many committed suicide when that became impossible. Due to the racism at the time, the Spanish thought of the Chinese as being heretics and didn't want to be buried beside them. At that time the Chinese were buried in the English cemetery which was located in the current G & H streets in Vedado. Talk of having their own cemetery began in 1883, construction began in 1892 near the Necrópolis de Cristóbal Colón (the main Havana cemetery). The Chinese community paid for it themselves and it was finally completed in 1933. It wasn't officially inaugurated until 1947, 100 years after the first Chinese immigrated to Cuba. This cemetery was declared a National Monument in recognition of its importance to Cuba's Chinese heritage. It was the last cemetery of any kind to be built in Havana.
                      It's not usually open to the public and from what I was told, not many visitors come here. I just showed up and was lucky the place wasn't locked up. I acquired the services of the custodian on duty to give me a short tour of the place. It's not nearly as large as the Colon Cemetery near by, it's actually not large at all (only about 9,000 square meters). A curiosity for sure, some of the tombstones dated back almost a century while others, surprisingly, were more current. Lots of room to walk around, very well organized with straight rows of tombstones back to back and a number of mausoleum type buildings for the upper class. A lot of the mausoleums have not been kept up and were in a semi-destroyed condition. Because of the Cemetery running out of space, the Chinese Societies have built large quasi underground spaces like catacombs where many remains can be stored within zinc boxes. This practice began in 1945 and continues today, it's said to contain 2,000 of these zinc boxes.
                    There are no formal tours but I read somewhere that you may be able to get a group tour through the Colon Cemetery. Otherwise, if you're alone or there's just a couple of you, do what I did. Just show up, if it's open, walk in. As a courtesy to help out a Cuban citizen, slip the custodian $5 or more to take you around and give you a aware, he only speaks Spanish and it won't be anything formal but he's a wealth of information regarding the Cemetery and the flora contained within it's space.

Located on Calle 26 e/ 31 y 33 in the Nuevo Vedado District of Havana

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