chapter  4
20 Pages

On the Margins: The Emergence of a Haitian Diasporic Enclave in Eastern Cuba


In the inaugural speech opening the twenty-fourth annual Festival of Caribbean Culture in Santiago de Cuba, Joel James, the late director of Casa del Caribe, evokes the long-standing relationship, solidarity and historical links between Haiti and Cuba.2 From the advent of the protracted struggles against Spanish colonialism through to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Haitians have been a part of Cuba’s long journey towards self-actualization and they continue to exist as a defi ant symbol of freedom and an ally in the fi ght against U.S. imperialism. The Haitian presence is also recognized in the existence of century-old cultural institutions, experienced as part of the rich spiritual tapestry, and entangled in the revolutionary and cultural history of Cuba, and more specifi cally, the eastern provinces or Oriente.3 Whereas such accolades are now proudly pronounced by some Cuban offi cials and heard by both local and international audiences, this has not always been the case. For

the most part, the presence of Haitians and their descendants has been demonized, undervalued or obscured within the historical narratives and discursive constructions of cubanidad (Cubanness).