Cubans preserve Havana's Chinese cemetery heritage

HAVANA, Nov. 20 (Xinhua)   Eduardo Hernandez works as a gardener at Havana’s Chinese cemetery located at the very heart of the country’s capital.

Over the past three years, he has helped preserve the graveyard where generations of Chinese have continued to venerate their ancestors following centuries-old traditions.

Holding the dignity of the diseased in high regard, Hernandez usually starts his day early by landscaping as well as cleaning gravesites and walkways.

“I usually remove weed and dust from gravestones. This place is part of the common history of two sister nations,” the 57-year-old told Xinhua while wiping sweat off his face.

Chinese migrant workers first arrived in Cuba in 1847, starting a new tradition of cultural exchange that has paved the way of the unwavering links between the two countries.

Located in Nuevo Vedado district and established in 1893, the cemetery is not only honored by Chinese descendants but also attracts researchers who want to learn more about the historical site.

Among them is 71-year-old Maria Teresa Montes de Oca Choy, president of Chinese Migration Chair at Cuba’s Fernando Ortiz Society.

“This cemetery is unique on the island and has a very special meaning for Chinese descendants here,” she said. “It is a clear expression of the respect Cuban people feel toward Chinese migrants’ legacy.”

“The beauty and solemnity of this place is impressive,” added Choy.

Declared a national monument by the Cuban government in 1996, the cemetery covers an area of about 8,000 square meters.

Its architectural design is a fusion of Chinese and Western traditions that reflects values and beliefs of Chinese descendants.

Walking along the centennial Chinese cemetery, one can easily read off the names of doctors, teachers and fighters for the independence of Cuba from their gravestones.

Chinese descendants in the Caribbean nation usually decorate graves with flowers and burn incenses to honor the memories of their loved ones.

During Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-sweeping Day, hundreds of Chinese descendants visit the tombs of their family and friends with offerings such as food, drinks and floral arrangements.

Jorge Rios, who works as an undertaker at the graveyard, told Xinhua that although the festival was suspended this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has learned that Chinese people have many ways to pay their respects to the departed during Qingming.

“I have witnessed how much Chinese people and their descendants respect their ancestors,” he said. “I am so proud of being one of the guardians of Havana’s Chinese cemetery.”