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Francisco Miyasaka On Being a Cuban Nisei - Part 3 of 3

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Working at the Cuban Embassy in Tokyo 

At the beginning of the revolution in 1959, he recalls, “I had already finished high school, I went to Havana University to study commercial sciences in mid-1959 and left in May 1961 in my second year. I spoke some Japanese so I was put into the newly created governmental Foreign Trade Bank, which soon became the Ministry of Foreign Trade, where I worked in the Japanese section of its Asian Division.” He was just 22 when assigned to work at the Embassy of Cuba in Tokyo as a commercial attache. He worked there from May 1961 to August 1965.

When the new Cuban ambassador was introduced in Japan for the first time, he recalls the time when he met the emperor. The ambassador took him to present his credentials to the emperor.

“Emperor Hirohito seemed surprised that a Japanese Cuban was a Cuban diplomat.”

“In Japan, nobody on the streets would think that I was Cuban,” he says. “In Cuba, people think that I am Japanese. I even remember going to Mexico and the people at the hotel being surprised that I was speaking Spanish like a Cuban. Nobody thought that I was actually Cuban!”

“I have served as a Spanish-Japanese interpreter even for Castro during negotiations. Even he was surprised! Castro asked, ‘Where did you learn to speak such good Spanish?’ His aide had to tell him that I am Cuban.”

“I am Cuban Japanese!” Francisco says emphatically. “My Cuban friends say that I am Japanese and my Japanese friends tell me I am like an old-time Japanese. What does this mean? The Cuban character is more open, more gay. My Japanese part is the discipline to work hard and morals. I learned this from my father.”

Luckily, while he was working in Japan in the 1960s, his parents were able to visit Japan.

“My father was hired by the government to work as an interpreter in the Cuban Embassy in Tokyo so he was able to go to Nagano to see the relatives too. His parents had already passed away but mother could see her parents. I don’t think that they ever thought about moving back to Japan. I don’t think so… Father said that Japan in the 1960s seemed like a foreign country and it wasn’t so comfortable. Mother, perhaps, yearned to be with her family.”

Francisco Miyasaka during a ceremony to commemorate 100 years of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrant to Cuba in 1898.

On Being Cuban Nikkei…

Miharu: “Cubans like to joke around and be familiar. My father is not so open. Cubans are also touchy feely. He is not that way either.”

Francisco: “My (Issei) father was even more Cuban than me! He liked to dance and party! I like music too but I can’t dance. That was a problem. Miharu’s mother was a superb dancer! Marrying me wasn’t such good luck. I envied my classmates and colleagues who could dance but I couldn’t, regrettably.”

“Today, life is not so bad in Havana. I work for a Japanese company and get a decent salary. I live alone since my wife’s passing, so I have a helper to cook and wash. If I have any problems, I call my son who lives close by.”

“I have been to Canada five times. Japan is too far and expensive. If I go again it would perhaps be to take my daughter, Miharu. I was last there in 1993 and 2001. I would like to see my remaining cousins in Nagano. In the end, though, I would like to die in Cuba.”

Francisco’s first wife was Akemi Fujio with whom he had two sons: Jorge Yukihiro Miyasaka Fujio, 50, and Ernesto Yu Miyasaka Fujio, 45. His second wife was Louciana Chirino Leon. They had two children: Kyoharu Javier Miyasaka Chirino, 35, and Miharu Mabel Miyasaka Chirino, 34.

“I only learned about the Japanese Canadian and American internment situations a few years ago,” Francisco says. “I have read the book (by Frank Moritsugu) about the ghost town teachers. You (Canadian Nikkei) were all cheated: too hard, too cruel!” No there was no Redress in Cuba, he adds, “but I don’t know if people ever asked for it.”

Miharu: “He doesn’t see it as discrimination when people often address him as different from other Cubans, nor does he get upset about it. In Cuba I got used to people constantly expressing their surprise at my name or appearance—‘But you don’t look Cuban. Are you Japanese?’ Like my father, I didn’t think much about it. It was understandable for them to view me as a ‘different’ Cuban. Perhaps I became more sensitive in Canada (especially in Toronto), where I have learned from friends who are Canadian (and non-Canadians) that they have the right to get offended when people ask too much about your background.”

“But, in Cuba, it is normal that people ask you that question,” she adds, “even if I speak with Cuban accent and of course I feel Cuban. We don’t take it personally, and it doesn’t bother my father.”

Francisco: “Not at all,” he says matter of factly.

Miharu: “But you don’t like it when people call you Chinese?”

Francisco: “Being called Chinese is not taken as an offense. In Cuba, there are vastly more Chinese than Japanese. In Spanish, a Chinese woman is ‘China,’ a man ‘Chino,’ Cubans frequently use the words ‘mi China’ or ‘mi Chino’ to mean ‘my darling.’ Today, Chinese Cubans have their own newspapers and community associations. Havana even has a Chinatown.” (According to Wikipedia, there are more than 114,000 Cubans of Chinese descent.)

After the 1959 revolution, Francisco recalls Fidel Castro being influenced by the Japanese work ethic and agricultural practices. Castro used to talk about Japan as a prosperous country of hard workers and being successful despite having few natural resources. “I remember him discussing the possibility of bringing over 10,000 Japanese farmers to drain a large swamp area in the south of Cuba, then to cultivate rice, but that never happened.”

* * * * *

As a writer/teacher who has an abiding interest in how our worldwide Nikkei communities are similar and not, historically and culturally, one does begin to see a pattern in what we share in common, and don’t, and see an evolving global Nikkei sensibility which we should all take pride in.

© 2013 Norm Ibuki

1959 Revolution cuba Cuban Embassy Cuban Nikkei Fidel Castro Francisco Miyakawa identity Issei internment Japanese in Cuba judo karate nikkei nisei World War II