Camaguey is Cuba’s third largest city and the home to the largest concentration of Cubans with Haitian heritage. Cuba acquired its Haitian flavor in the early 1800’s after some French slave owners fled Haiti’s revolution, bringing more than 27,000 Haitian slaves, coffee and sugar cane production to Cuba for the first time.
Later, some Haitians migrated to Cuba as “brazeros” or hand workers. Many planned to return to their home country, but some were unable to.
Afro-Cuban filmmaker, Gloria Rolando made a tribute to the Haitians who migrated to Cuba in her documentary film, Reshipment. It is a story of Haitian immigrants to Oriente Provence, Cuba in the early 20th century and their forced repatriation after the sugar market crashed.
Rolando explains, “As poor backs and as foreigners, they found themselves in a terrible situation.”
Over time, the Haitian culture developed a strong presence in Cuba. Creole, the second most spoken language in Cuba after Spanish, has roots in the Haitians who came to Cuba. Despite discrimination suffered by the Haitians, the Creole language, voodoo and other musical and dance traditions remain in Cuba’s cultural milieu.
Other efforts to preserve Haitian identity in Cuba have received support of the Cuban government. In 2014, Haiti and Cuba agreed to promote reading in Creole.
According to Cubarte, “Literary authorities from Cuba and Haiti agreed to release a joint edition of new books in Creole, as part of the initiatives to protect the dialect and bring the nations together. The agreement was a topic of interest of the recently concluded Haiti’s International Book Fair, where Cuba was guest of honor, and showed signs of progress even though there is still lots to do to be consolidated. Zuleica Romay, president of the Cuban Book Institute, told Granma different plans are being developed along with Haiti’s National Book Directorate to encourage children to read in Creole.”
In April 2014, Cuba inaugurated its first Creole library at the Fernando Aguado y Rico Polytechnic Centre in Havana.
The library, “is an example of the struggle of a people to maintain its language and culture,” says Alberto Mendez, deputy director of the National Commission of UNESCO in Cuba, who spoke at the inauguration.