UM School of Architecture student Lok Chan found that her Chinese ancestry was of great interest to many in Cuba.
TThe words followed University of Miami School of Architecture student Lok Chan as she walked the streets of Santiago de Cuba in Cuba’s easternmost province, Oriente.
Her trip was part of an architecture class, but her 11 days on the island became a cultural experience she would never forget.
Everywhere she went Cubans acknowledged her roots by calling her chinita, or little Chinese girl, an endearment popular on the island.
"I knew there were many Chinese in the Caribbean but I did not know there would be such an influence in Cuba," says Chan, who was born in Hong Kong but has been in the United States since she was 11 years old.
“She was quite a sensation,” says Cuban-born Professor Jorge Hernandez, who was the group leader. “People would just single her out.”
Prior to her trip, Chan’s knowledge of Cuba was limited to the colorful pictures of the capital Havana. But she found Santiago, nestled next to the Caribbean Sea, so special: children playing on the streets, families congregating in the plaza, new friends near the church where she and her architecture classmates were working. It was more down-to-earth and homier than she had envisioned.
Toward the end of the trip, the group visited Casa de la Trova, a popular bar with local singers. As the three lady singers on stage crooned their ballads, she noticed tears in her professors’ eyes. Both Hernandez and Carie Penabad, UM professor of architecture, are of Cuban descent and as they listened and sang along to the boleros they recalled their childhoods and upbringings.
“That was the best part of the trip for me,” she says. “Seeing Cuba through my professors’ eyes.”
And then one of the singers came to Chan and told her that she was also of Chinese ancestry.
“You could see she was emotional about it,” says Chan. “And that brought me thoughts of my grandparents who lived in mainland China. I wonder if I would feel that way if I went there, a bit nostalgic.”
- BARBARA GUTIERREZ / UM News