Travel to Pinar del Rio - Video of Pinar del Rio in Cuba
Pinar del Río was one of the last major cities in Cuba founded by the Spanish. The city and province was originally founded as Nueva Filipinas (New Philippines) due to the large influx of Filipinos who had arrived by traveling on the Manila Galleons. They brought with them tamarind (also known as sampaloc), camisa de chinos, and arroz caldo (also known as arroz caldoso)
Known as Chinos Manila among the local population, the Filipinos worked the huge tobacco plantations much as they did in the present provinces of Ilocos Sur, Tarlac, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan and Isabela in their home country. During that time, the Spanish colonizers had a virtual monopoly of the tobacco trade through their company, the Tabacalera.
The world renowned La Flor de Isabela cigars (named after her Royal Majesty Queen Isabella II) were first cultivated in the Philippines in the Hacienda San Fernando, Hacienda Isabel, Hacienda Antonio and the Hacienda Luisita (all of these haciendas were later purchased by the Tabacalera or the Compañia General de Tabacos de Filipinas). After Mexico declared independence (1815), the trade of the Manila Galleons was broken. The Tabacalera shifted the cultivation of these cigars to Cuba since the Philippines was too far to govern without Mexico in between. The Isabela cigars achieved much fame due in part because of the American's appetite for cigars when Havana was a Las Vegas-style playground before the tenure of President Fidel Castro.
Nueva Filipinas was renamed Pinar del Río in 1774 at the same time that the old colonial capital of Guane lost its superiority.
(Previously, the old capital of Guane was named after the Gaane district in the Maluku Islands. During the Spanish times, the area was referred to as Las Islas Moluccas. Gaane in Indonesia is still located in the southern tip of Halmahera island. To this day, the Moluccas island group is the only area in predominantly Muslim Indonesia that has a Christian majority. The Moluccas or Spice Islands is also the scene of ongoing violent communal fighting between Christians and Muslim Jihad groups. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Ternate island was the most important of the Moluccas islands in Indonesia. Ternate island is right off the coast of nearby Halmahera island where the town of Gaane is also located. At that time, Spain, Portugal, England and the Netherlands quarreled over their claim to get hold of the monopoly of the spice trade of the world. In fact, Isabella I of Castile (for whom the city of Isabela, Basilan and Isabela (province), Philippines was named) and her husband Ferdinand II of Aragon coveted the islands so much they sent Christopher Columbus and many conquistadores to find it. In 1655, however, the Spaniards had to withdraw from the Moluccas in order to concentrate their forces in Manila. This was to fortify themselves against the threatened attack of a Chinese warlord, Koxinga. In moving out of the Moluccas, the Spanish missionary who went with the troops took along with him some 200 Moluccas Christians, better known as Márdikas. To this band of 200 Moluccas Indonesian immigrants can be traced the origin of Chabacano or Creole Spanish in the Philippines).
Afterwards, some Filipinos moved to Havana's big Barrio Chino or Chinatown. Others jumped ship to Louisiana. Others sailed back to Sinaloa and Jalisco in Mexico. Those with money went to Spain or back to Manila (and brought with them Escabeche a la Cubana which is a favorite dish to all Filipinos which they almost always serve using fish). The rest intermarried with the Cuban population.
Those who stayed quickly lost their Filipino ties since many among the Filipinos were like the local Cubans. They can speak Spanish, they were Catholic, they have to pay taxes or tributos, and they were treated like slaves by their Spanish masters. (Back in the Philippines, entire provinces were assigned to grow tobacco and nothing more. Those caught stealing a single leaf of tobacco or caught growing the food staple, rice, were hit with sugarcane or sentenced to death by garrote). Nonetheless, their children survive to this day. That is why there are Filipino or Chinese-Filipino sounding surnames in Cuba, such as Tampico, Magalan (from Magalang or to show respect), Batunbacal (from Batungbakal), Maquilin, Sumayao (to dance), Parian, Mabolo, Pilapil, Alimoron (from Alimurung), Nacpil, Gotiaco, Piat, Singson or Singzon, Tuason or Tuazon, Hizon or Hison, Dizon or Dison, Hinojosa or Hinohosa, Gandionco, Quiambao, Salambao, Puyat, Edralin, et al.
Important Cuban-Filipinos include the Azcarraga Fessner family, whose patriarch was Marcelo de Azcarraga y Palmero, the first Prime Minister of Spain with Indian blood, whose mother was a Filipina from the Lizarrabal and Palmero families.
During a 1970s state visit to Cuba, Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos remarked on the similarities of Cuba to the Philippines, including coconuts, tobacco leaves, mountains, carabaos, and food. Both peoples enjoyed cockfighting, playing mah jong, dama and cara y cruz, and eating lechon. Many older Filipinos and Cubans have a sense of bilateral cultural affinity that eclipses that with geographically adjacent nations.