For a Cuban professor, her Chinese ancestry is her very essence
By Damian Estrada  ·  2022-06-24  ·   Source: NO.26 JUNE 30, 2022
Montes de Oca Choy accompanied by a Chinese-Spanish translator on a section of the Great Wall in 2014 (COURTESY PHOTO)

"I am a granddaughter, through the maternal line, of Chinese grandparents who arrived in Cuba in the first decade of the 20th century. This basically means I grew up with a very Chinese-style education, surrounded by customs and traditions that took root in me and shaped my personality," is how Professor Montes de Oca Choy begins her interview, indicating her family tree carries a lot of personal significance.

The Chinese-Cuban interviewee, who has been a university teacher for 50 years and has taught specialized courses and hosted conferences in countries such as China, the United States, Mongolia, and across Latin America, has long been promoting Asian culture in every corner of the world she visits.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for a modern Chinese-built floating dry dock delivered to Cuba in Havana on October 30, 2019 (XINHUA)

Pride is non-negotiable 

"The pride of being Chinese has always been strong," Montes de Oca Choy said. Among other positions, she serves as consultant professor of general history of Asia at the University of Havana, Cuba, a job that she combines with her status as president of the Chair of Studies on Immigration and Chinese Presence in Cuba.

With great joy, she states that "my maternal family, a total of nine children, were all medical professionals, married to half-Chinese women. This way, the influence in terms of lifestyle was obvious."

She has dedicated herself to teaching Asian history since the 1970s. An uninterrupted profession that fills her with joy, and which she considers her "greatest contribution, inextricably linked to my career development."

Montes de Oca Choy's longstanding devotion to her career implies, in her own words, "having brought knowledge of ancient Chinese history and culture to hundreds of students who went on to complete bachelor degrees in history and journalism." 

She was, however, quick to point out that having written textbooks and analytical works marked merely a minor contribution to the larger distribution of Cuban academic thought in this field.

Holding the presidency of the aforementioned Chair of Studies on Immigration and Chinese Presence in Cuba since its foundation is an additional element of pride on her resume.

Working with young Chinese has been a privilege for Montes de Oca Choy. A real exercise in "give and take" when it comes to learning. "An unparalleled experience in terms of the potential abilities and willpower of these young people," she said. Students fly into Cuba from all over the world to benefit from the professor's wisdom and teachings.

The path to growth 

After many years of exploring and getting in touch with her Chinese roots, Montes de Oca Choy finally had the opportunity to travel to the land of Confucius, constituting one more conquest for this warrior of ideas and wisdom. 

"Everything about China impressed me. It was my dream as a young child and teenager to visit the country; it was my greatest goal and greatest challenge," she said.

Knowing China, in situ, further increased her admiration for her ancestors, as well as her understanding of their world.

China as a country, for this professor, signified the vigorous tenacity of a population that surpasses itself at every moment. She described it as the ultimate crossroads between tradition and modernity. 

"I could visit China a thousand times more and always return home with a sense of amazement, a sense of having discovered something new, something different. The country and its population vibrate," she added.

The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, held on February 4-20, left no one unmoved, and Montes de Oca Choy was no exception.

"Beijing 2022 demonstrated how China should be approached with respect, with the admiration of those who learn from it. A country and a population as great as, or even greater than, the Olympics. The world once again witnessed China's magnitude in all respects," she explained, adding she closely follows every event related to this nation she considers her genesis, her cradle.

On the practice of sustainable and lasting development, too, the professor had nothing but kind words to say. "China is a beacon, an example to follow for future generations; no praise can fully commend the undertakings of that great nation on its way to becoming a global power in record time," she added.

As a member of the Board of Directors of the Casino Chung Wah, the main center of the Chinese community in Cuba, the professor had one more thought to add:

"We live in difficult times when the future of humanity is at stake. China's position in the face of this trying situation has been clear and precise. The message is one of peace. The future of the Chinese nation only holds dignity, success and growth."

(Print Edition Title: Rooted in and rooting for China) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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