This article examines Chinese-Afro-Cuban interaction in mid-nineteenth-century Cuba. Tens of thousands of Chinese indentured laborers arrived on the island during this period and labored next to and much like African slaves. Thousands of Chinese gained their freedom, but they too experienced oppression similar to that of free people of color. Although Chinese and Afro-Cubans had similar experiences of exploitation and marginalization, it is clear that they developed an equivocal relationship in which disunity (including violence) was just as common, if not more common, than unity. This article contends that the dual nature of this relationship was rooted in the contradictory nature of Chinese indentured labor itself. On the one hand, cultural differences and the ambivalent racialization of Chinese produced division and hostility because it encouraged both groups to assert difference and attempt to actualize superiority over the other. On the other hand, similar experiences of oppression could produce collaboration and solidarity in terms of family, business, and resistance. Examining this ambivalent relationship reveals the centrality of Asians to the durability and weakness of slavery and forced labor, racial hierarchy, and colonialism in Cuba during the second half of the nineteenth century.
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