Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Guanabacoa

Guanabacoa is a colonial township in eastern Havana, Cuba, and one of the 15 municipalities of the city. It is famous for its historical Santería and is home to the first African Cabildo in Havana. It was the site of the Battle of Guanabacoa, a skirmish between British and Spanish troops during the Battle of Havana during the Seven Years' War.

Four Major League Baseball players were born in Guanabacoa: Emilio Palmero (1895), Tony Ordeñana (1918), Rene Valdez (1929), and Evelio Hernández (1931). Also, the news reporter Rick Sanchez was born in Guanabacoa in 1958. The fictional Peña family featured in the PBS comedy series ¿Qué Pasa, USA? were natives of Guanabacoa.

It is unknown when the Jewish Community developed in the town of Guanabacoa. In the late 1920s Samuel Epstein, owner of Aetna Knitted Fabrics from New York’s Lower East Side, established Sedanita in rented facilities in Guanabacoa. The company imported $75,000 worth of equipment for the production of underwear, shawls, and scarves; it employed 200 workers. But, Jewish-owned businesses do not constitute a Jewish community. Sedanita moved to San José de las Lajas after it was sold to the Brandon family evidently in the late 1930s.

It is clear that earlier there were other Jewish-owned light manufacturing plants in Guanabacoa as well. In the 1930s these included the factory of Charles Shapiro. From available evidence Shapiro’s business went well. After Sedanita moved out, Shapiro bought the building that the Epstein’s rented, and used it to expand his own knitting and dying company.
By the 1940s there was a Jewish Community in Guanabacoa headquartered in the Centro Israelita at Calle Martí 252. There was also a WIZO branch. Records of the founding of the community are missing.
The Guanabacao community apparently was business-oriented, and basing a community upon businesses is problematic. Even during the 1950s the Jewish community in Guanabacoa was in decline. It was one of the early casualties of emigration after the Castro Revolution.

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