Are Cubans Really a Diaspora?

Posted: June 5, 2014 by jennroig in Commentary, English
Tags: , , ,

Cuban flag collageSome days ago I met a friend that I hadn’t seen in a long time. She’s a Somali-Dane living in Denmark. I am a Cuban settled in the USA. Given our backgrounds, it is pure logic that our conversation eventually landed in the subjects of immigration, adaptation, identity, and what it means for her to be a Danish who was born in Somalia and what it means to me to be living in the USA after so many travels and 27 years in Cuba.

We discovered we had slightly different perspectives to the meaning of Diaspora, even though we agree that Somalia and Cuba have both produced quite spread global diasporas. I have been thinking about why I do not want to share the term of diaspora with those who are just expats, which is somehow a more modern way to look at the term.

This is why:

“Diaspora” is defined by the Merriam Webster as “a group of people who live outside the area in which they had lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived”. The first specific reference given points to the “settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile”. If we look the etymology of the word, we realize it is a Greek term originated from “diaspeirein ‘disperse,’ from dia ‘across’ + speirein ‘scatter.’ The term originated in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 28:25) in the phrase esē diaspora en pasais basileias tēs gēs ‘thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth.’”

Were Jews the first nation to become Diaspora? How come that original migration of the first humans leaving Africa to other regions of the world? I’m not even sure what happened first, the dispersion of Jews or the relocation of Trojans who survived the wreck of their city.

Maybe the reason we all think of Jews as “diaspora pioneers” is the connotation of the word, the underlying meaning. The ancient city of Troy was considered a myth for a long time. The reason why those prehistoric humans left Africa is unknown. But there’s plenty of documentation certifying that Jews were forced to leave their homeland and more importantly, they never lost ties with their culture, religion, and original geographic region they called homeland. They could have adapt to new places, learn to speak other languages and even invent some new ones; they married the locals and became such a diverse nation. A nation without a State for so many years. That didn’t happen to Trojans. Virgilio wrote that Romans were the descendants of Aeneas.

Thus, there must be a sense of pain, an intimate nostalgia and the will to preserve tradition and identity to really deserve being considered as a Diaspora. That is why Somali people all around the world represent a Diaspora, and that is why Cubans also have produced a multilayer, nuanced Diaspora that has changed over the years.

Some facts

In 2013, according the CIA World Factbook 2014, Cuba was ranked 186 as for its net migration rate (migrant(s)/1000 population) with a negative 3,61%.

Data from 2013 gathered by the Pew Research Center revealed that “An estimated 2.0 million Hispanics of Cuban origin resided in the United States in 2011”.

Take a look at the map below.

Cubans born with other nationalities in selected countries

Cubans born with other nationalities in selected countries (2014)

The numbers in the map are not accurate, as different government count their foreign born population in different ways.

For instance, those 96.847 Cuban-Americans in the USA are sum of people who naturalized between 2010 – 2013. The actual number might have increased from that Pew’s estimates by now.

On the other extreme is Denmark. The data provided by the Danes is extremely updated and exact. If you want to look for how many Danish citizens came originally from Cuba, at a given time, you’ll find that right now, on June 2014, there are 76 Cuban-Danes living in Denmark. Those with a status of Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) are also included by the statistics -the number is 352 Cubans have managed to go.

This chart represents the number of Cubans with status of Permanent Resident in USA, Spain, Chile, Denmark and Canada, between 2010 and 2014. I could not find the data for every year, so the chart is useful only to give a broad idea of how far in the world Cubans have managed to go.

Summary for Cubans with LPR status in selected countries

Summary for Cubans with LPR status in selected countries

In order to find the Danish data, I got in touch with another Danish friend. She was amazed to find only 352 Cubans living in Denmark. She thought that number would be higher. But I think it’s actually amazing that so many Cubans manage to overcome visa restrictions, lack of financial means, language barriers, and such a cultural difference to settle in Denmark.

Denmark was actually the first place I arrived when I left Cuba back in 2009. I can’t imagine anything more distant.

Numbers for Cubans in the USA and Spain are to be expected. The Spanish ancestry law allowed thousands of Cubans to claim their Spanish citizenship due to the Spanish origins of their ancestors. Also, there are many educational programs and scholarships granted y Spanish institutions that target Latin American students. Cubans do well in that regard thanks to their fairly good level of instruction.

In the USA, the Cuban Adjustment Act and other immigration programs explain the trends.

I can’t imagine so many people can feel happy about taking all those risks and previsions to leave their homeland, forever and ever. I admit not everybody has to feel the same, everybody has to believe “there’s no place like home”, maybe a large part actually truly feel “home can be wherever there’s love and harmony”… But really, such a big number?

I wonder how many Cubans are currently spread around the world. I have met at least a Cuban in every city I’ve been so far. That includes Aarhus in Denmark and Helsinki in Finland. I know some friends of mine that are living in Asia, who know some friends who are Australia and New Zealand.

If Cuba’s current population is above 11 million people, what chunk of that number is the population of Cubans who are living all over the world? How many millions are we today? What is the actual size of our nation?

That is why I claim for us the word Diaspora. That is why I do not agree with more current meanings of the term.

This is the table, for those curious about the numbers:

table 2014Sources:

StatBank Denmark

US Immigration Stats

Departamento de Extranjería y Migración – Chile

Canadian Statistics

Secretaría General de Inmigración y Emigración – Spain


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