The first ethnic Koreans to arrive in Cuba came from Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula in search of a better life. 1,033 Koreans set sail from Incheon, and arrived in Yucatán in 1905. Upon arrival, instead of the riches they had dreamed of, all they found was the most menial type of labor. They became sugarcane and hemp (henequen) cutters, toiling from sun-up till sundown in the dry and harsh tropical sun. Most of them settled there as field hands. Three hundred of them set sail for Cuba in search for a better life. They arrived at Cuba on May 25, 1921.
The Koreans' arrival coincided with a generally favorable economy in Cuba mostly due to sugar but soon sugar prices dropped drastically and there was no work. Land that had formerly grown sugar was now converted to growing henequen, and employed the Korean farmers as cutters. The Koreans, bringing their henequen-cutting skills from Mexico soon showed their good skills and productivity which allowed some to rise to specialized fieldwork and even become trainers and supervisors.
Most Korean Cubans today speak the Spanish language. A Cuba-Korea culture center was built in 1921 that taught Korean writing and history in an attempt to remind the descendants of their heritage. But lack of funding shuttered the center and now it’s hard to find a descendant of the Korean immigrants who can speak the Korean language.