The Cuban influence in Yucatan – Part II

2nd part

Due to its geographical situation, the exchange between Cuba and the Yucatan has been constant since pre-Hispanic times until our days. It can be said that there were three moments in which a series of migrations from the island to the Peninsula left a deep mark and influence on our state, mainly from political exiles at the time when Cubans tried to become independent from Spain.

With what is known as “the Grito de Yara” by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10, 1868, which began with the “10-year War” of the Cuban people for their independence, the Spanish government began systematic persecution against those who considered that supported or sympathized with the movement—with that, committing all kinds of outrages, sowing terror, killing and imprisoning without mercy for the slightest suspicion, highlighting in this dire task the so-called Spanish volunteers.

Many citizens who had relatives in the battlefield or who had publicly expressed their opinion or simply because they stood out for their progressive ideas saw their lives threatened by the need to emigrate, being Yucatan one of the places chosen for its proximity and therefore more accessible, especially to those with scarce resources. At the beginning of March 1869, the first contingent of emigrants arrived at the port of Sisal, dividing into two groups: one that continued to Campeche and Mérida. 

Although the government was in crisis, since the fight against Maximilian’s Empire was still recent, The Yucatecans, remembering the aid received from Cuba during the War of the Castes, soon took in the emigrants. The government issued a decree on March 12 of that same year, which determined that they should be provided with lodging in the former convent of the Conceptionist Nuns and funds to help them. Soon the Cubans were integrated into the Yucatan society that welcomed them, from intellectuals to teachers, musicians and craftsmen, cooks, and even farmers, they got jobs. They contributed to their work in the development of their new home.

In 1878, the treaty was known as the “Peace of Zanjon,” which ended Cuba’s struggle for independence between the Liberating Army and Spanish forces. It was a time of peace on the island. While in the Yucatan, Cuban immigrants, while sympathetic to local liberal ideals, managed to stay out of conflicts between them and the conservatives, a war that ended with the triumph of the Tuxtepec Plan proclaimed by Porfirio Díaz against the government of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada and which was seconded in the Yucatan by Colonels Francisco Cantón and Teodosio Canto.

As mentioned above, the peace in Cuba attracted back some emigrants who had the hope of recovering their goods and their lost lives; in the case of Yucatan, few returned since they had already integrated into the life and peninsular society. 

During this period, there were several Cubans who, for one reason or another, changed their residence and their businesses to our state, integrating themselves, like their predecessors, into the social, economic, productive, and cultural activities of their new home.

By the year 1895, the situation in Yucatan was prosperous, both economically and politically. The henequen industry took strength, and the prices of the fiber in the American market were reasonable. Yucatan, and especially the city of Merida, suffered a transformation. The state went from being one of the country’s poorest to one of the richest thanks to the henequen boom.

While in Cuba, with the Grito de Baire on February 24, 1895, 35 communities rose in arms simultaneously, starting the second War of independence of Cuba. Of course, this conflict generated new waves of migrations of Cubans, who were seeing their lives and freedom threatened by political persecutions and again was Yucatan one of the chosen destinations, being well received by the Yucatan society and their countrymen who preceded them in other times.

Meanwhile, the Cubans who already resided in these lands had already formed clubs and were very active and aware of the events in their native island, having contact and coordinating with other Cuban exiles in different latitudes of the country and abroad, even collecting funds that they sent to Cuba to support the armed struggle. That conflict ended with the United States intervention and the War with Spain that began on April 25, 1898, and ended on August 12 of that same year. That also ended the struggle for independence of Cuba, and the result of this conflict was the signing of the treaties of Paris, signed December 10, 1898, which resulted in the renunciation of Spain’s interests over Cuba and the session of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States. For its part, the United States continued to occupy Cuba until February 28, 1902.

Meanwhile, the Cubans living in Yucatan fully integrated into society, so many stayed permanently and were the trunk of many families, now Yucatanians. Among the emigrants who remained in Yucatan and formed important families, just to mention a few:

– RAMÓN GAZQUE and his son RAMÓN GAZQUE Y NAVA, musicians and the according to also tenor.


– JOSÉ ANTONIO DE LA PEÑA Y PÉREZ, my ancestor. The adventure that Don José Antonio de la Peña lived is worthy of being told in a separate article. I omit it not to make the present longer. 

– ANTONIO and RODOLFO MENENDEZ DE LA PEÑA, brothers and nephews of the former, both pedagogues, and the latter also dedicated himself to journalism. Don Antonio was also the father of Don Carlos R. Menéndez, founder of Diario de Yucatan.

– CARLOS DE VARONA, financier.

– Brothers EMILIO and AGUSTIN MARQUEZ, bankers

– MARIO LORET DE MOLA, journalist, the column of an important and well-known Yucatecan family, whose descendants have been involved in various branches, such as politics, journalism, industry, and commerce. His grandson Carlos Loret de Mola y Mediz, a critical journalist and governor of the State of Yucatan (1970-1976), and his great-grandson Carlos Loret de Mola Álvarez, an important national journalist.

– FERNANDO URZAIZ Y ARRITOLA, financier, accountant, and poet

– EDUARDO URZAIZ RODRÍGUEZ, son of the above and obstetrician and psychiatrist, teacher, writer, and cartoonist. His work in the Yucatan was immense in the branches he worked in, which also deserves an article dedicated to his work. He is the author of several books and novels, which served as a source for this article.

– FERNANDO URZAIZ Y RODRIGUEZ, financier and son and brother respectively of the above.

– MENALIO MARÍN CORDOVÍ, merchant and banker, who was my great-great-grandfather and, according to my mother, founded one of the first baseball teams in the port of Progreso.

The list would be endless, so I only mention a few. In any case, the Cubans joined and formed important families that are now Yucatecan.

This emigration left its influence on Yucatecan society and our customs. I will try to mention some of them.

Dr. Eduardo Urzaiz Rodríguez mentions in his book “LA EMIGRACIÓN CUBANA EN YUCATÁN” that most of the Cubans who emigrated to Yucatán were of European origin. Only a few of them of African descent. That is why their integration did not affect the ethnic type of the Yucatecans, and neither did it modify their hard prosody. Still, on the contrary, it was the Cubans who assimilated it. If anything, the word Guagua, about passenger buses, is one of the terms used by the Yucatecans of yesteryear who emigrated from the island.

The famous Yucatecan Trova is influenced by the Colombian bambuco, but also by the Cuban bolero and guaracha, with Cirilo Baqueiro Preve (Chan Cil), Ricardo Palmerín and Guty Cárdenas among its first composers and performers.

It is indisputable that the Yucatecans are fond of the so-called King of Sports, Baseball. This sport came to us from Cuba. It was Francisco Urzaiz Rodriguez, who formed the first novena with the name “Club Merida.” During the history of this sport in our entity, excellent Cuban players have strengthened the local teams. Today, the fans of this sports rival Soccer still linger in the Yucatecan’s taste for Baseball, mainly in the state’s interior.

According to Dr. Urzaiz himself, the famous Yucatecan regional theater has its origin in the Cuban bufos, especially Salas and Arquímedes Pous, which made unforgettable seasons in the city of Merida.

The consulted author continues narrating that the custom of drinking coffee between hours and making gatherings around the tables was a custom brought by the Cuban immigrants, pointing out that in Merida’s city, they drank as good coffee as the best in Havana.

In our gastronomy, you can see the influence of the Cuban cuisine, stews like the baked piglet, the ajiaco, the “ropa vieja,” the steak of casserole or steak with potatoes, the guava paste, among others, with its variations and adaptations, conform today an essential part of our coarse culinary culture. 

My uncle Don Armando Casares commented that some families’ custom of accompanying some regional stews with rice, like the three-meat stew, for example, comes from Cuba. Just as an example, the bean with pork, in my family is inconceivable without the accompaniment of black rice, that is, cooked with the black bean broth of the stew which gives it that color; some use it with white rice, but in its purest and most traditional Yucatecan form, it is consumed without rice.

The first Yucatecan who sold panuchos and tacos of cochinita pibil in Mexico City was an “assimilated” Yucatecan. That is a Cuban immigrant of African descent with the surname Pedroso.

In a celebration on the occasion of Mexico’s independence on September 16, 1872, among those present was the Cuban poet Don Alfredo Torroella, who was exiled from the island because of his independence ideas and who, in an emotional impulse, took the Mexican flag and occupied the stage by reciting an inspired poetic composition that began like this:
“On this fateful day,
in which the sun of glory reverberates,
Let me wave your flag,
for I cannot wave mine.”

On May 20, 1901, when the Cuban flag was raised for the first time in Cuba, in Merida, the Cuban immigrants held an extraordinary meeting to celebrate the event. Among those present was Licenciado Antonio Cisneros Cámara, my great-great-grandfather, lawyer, poet, and playwright, who was also a sympathizer of the Cuban cause; those present overflowed with speeches and patriotic lyrics. When Mr. Cisneros was invited to speak, he improvised with remarkable fluency the next text:
“Cuba no longer throws a die.
It did not abuse its victory,
For there is plenty for our glory
When we see our flag floating.
That’s why America
Say hello to your noble sister,
The suffered one, the spartan one.
The free, the independent, The Cuban Republic.

There are numerous anecdotes that Dr. Eduardo Urzaiz, under the pseudonym of Claudio Meex, left in his work many stories and drawings. These compiled anecdotes are in a book named “ANÉCDOTAS YUCATECAS.” In this work, many of the Cubans who were living in Yucatan are included.

The immigration of Cubans to the Yucatan continues to this day. However, it is the same for political reasons, especially since the Castro brothers’ regime. Although Miami is the favorite of the islanders, a good number of Antilleans continue to arrive in our lands.

Read the first part here: 

For The Yucatán Times
Miguel Fernández-Montilla Cervera

Miguel Fernández-Montilla Cervera is a Yucatecan lawyer, specialist in labor law, and an enthusiast of Yucatan’s history. He has hosted the program “El buho de la noche” (The Night Owl) which deals with historical issues and anecdotes of the Yucatan.