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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Chineseness in Motion: Rethinking the Field in Global Persepctives
3: Tracing the History of Chinese Cubans in Havana through the lens of film and literature
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Centre for China Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
This paper examines the notion of Chineseness among Chinese Cubans in Havana during the 1920s to 1940s through a set of film and literary texts: Cuban Chinese, Caridad Amaran (2009), Far Away in Cuba (2015), and Havana Divas (2019), written or directed respectively by Lau Pok Chi, Louie Kin Shuen, and Louisa Wei. These works serve as a collection of oral history across 80 years, weaving personal lives with national history, and closely linked to the global context. In particular, the focus on Caridad Amaran and Georgina Wong, two Havanan females who actively participated in the local troupe of Cantonese opera during its heyday, corroborates recent scholarly endeavors to reveal the trans-pacific network of Cantonese opera and its incorporation of Hollywood and Latin American elements when adopted in the local theatres.
The representation of Chinese Cubans complicates the notion of Chineseness by looking beyond the predominantly US and Canada based studies and representations of Chinese Americans. In this paper, I first discuss the tropes frequently used in these works to refer to the Chinese Cubans that are deeply embedded in the local cultures of Latin America. I then discuss the authors’ and auteurs’ choices of Caridad Amaran, a Cantonese opera performer without Chinese blood, as the face and voice of the overseas Chinese community. I argue that the image of Caridad Amaran complicates a genealogy-based understanding of Chineseness, but at the same time, strategically appeals to a global Chinese audience by exoticizing overseas Cantonese opera practices.