Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Carribean Chinese

Wow, my daddy's uncle is as prolific as my daddy! He has just sent us another article that was published in Sing Tao Daily in Hong Kong. How does he find the time???? Maybe I should not spend so much time gnawing on my bones. hmmmm

Anyway, here's something unfamiliar to many readers -- Chinese in the Caribbean, which is simply part of the bigger Chinese diaspora.

Recently Beijing’s leaders have been visiting many African countries but I would like to suggest that we should also cultivate Chinese ties with the countries of the Carribean. This is because 2006 marks the 200th anniversary of the first arrival of Chinese migrants in British Trinidad, from which island the Chinese communities extended their presence to many other countries in that part of the world.

While in New York recently I came across an interesting book which tells the remarkable story, for the first time as far as I know, of the early Chinese migration to the islands of the Carribean. The book reveals a fascinating account of how large numbers of our compatriots travelled to the West Indies and how they then subsequently spread out throughout North America. Their motive was always economic, which remains the main reason for mass migration even today.

It was in the year 1806 that 192 Chinese were first recruited in Macau, Penang and Calcutta by trading agents (the equivalent of today’s employment agencies) to go and work in Trinidad. That fateful first shipload of Chinese took more than two months to complete the long journey and eight of the Chinese sadly died on the arduous journey. Once in Trinidad some of the migrants soon decided to emigrate to other parts of the Carribean.

But it was that humble start in 1806 that led to the subsequent mass migration of Chinese to the West Indies. Within a few years another 18,000 Chinese arrived in the West Indies excluding the 125,000 who migrated to the large island of Cuba. Another 100,000 Chinese chose to find work further south in Peru. Of course these figures pale into insignificance when compared with the 6.5 million Chinese migrants to various parts of southeast Asia during the 19th century.

There were though one or two fascinating factors about the Chinese who made it to the Carribean. For instance, the vast majority were Hakka who usually found work on the sugar plantations. Later on many Hakka moved to find no doubt more exciting employment in gambling dens and brothels of Belize (then known as British Honduras). The island of Jamaica was a late starter with its first 300 Chinese only landing there in the year 1854 but Cuba became the favourite place with some 140,000 arriving during a 30-year period and most of those originated from the Pearl river delta.

As time passed the descendants of the first Carribean Chinese began to look for work further afield. Thus it was that a large segment of Cuba’s Chinese community emigrated to settle in New York and became an important ingredient of that city’s Chinatown. It was those Chinese who introduced Chinese cuisine to New Yorkers. Little did they know that one day Chinese cooking would become a famous household name throughout north America.

It is also interesting to learn that many descendants of the Hakkas working in the West Indies decided to migrate to Toronto. No doubt this was not because they loved Canadian winters but because the employment opportunities were good. In both New York and Toronto those early Chinese arrivals from the Carribean soon started growing families and as they became rich they attracted more family members to join them from China and elsewhere.

So there are very good reasons why the Beijing government should do something to mark an historical moment and commemorate the 200 years that the Chinese have resided in the Carribean.


Harry said...

Hmmm, I wonder whether I have Hakka relatives in the Carribean. I bet the Chinese islanders in the Carribeans worship me for what I have done on this sunny island called Singapore.

moo said...

got chinese welsh too! and they don't know they're chinese, cos when u ask them they'll say they're ethinically welsh. what does that even mean! ha.

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