The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940. [González Review]

The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940. [González Review]

H-Net Reviews
February, 2012

Fredy González
Yale University

Robert Chao Romero. The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2010. xii + 254 pp., ISBN 978-0-8165-2772-4.

Moving across the Transnational Commercial Orbit

Robert Chao Romero’s The Chinese in Mexico, the first English-language monograph on the subject, makes an important contribution to the existing literature on the topic of immigration and race in Mexican history. Previous work on the Mexican Chinese has mostly highlighted the 1930s anti-Chinese violence in the northern part of the country. Romero departs from this historiography by focusing instead on the economic links that the Chinese in Mexico maintained with other regions of the Americas as well with home communities in Guangzhou. In addition, he offers a substantive social history of the pre-1940 Chinese community in Mexico. His work argues that the Chinese in Mexico were not passive victims of anti-Chinese violence and instead possessed a greater amount of agency than previously acknowledged. In both the United States and Mexico, the Chinese took concrete steps to resist and adapt to anti-Chinese movements and legislation.

Central to Romero’s work is the transnational commercial orbit, an economic network created by the Chinese on both sides of the Pacific and extended to Mexico after the passage of the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It allowed the Chinese to smuggle and recruit migrant labor, collect capital for investment, and import goods for sale to Chinese businesses, all “in resistance, and adaptation, to the Chinese exclusion laws” (p. 5). The transnational commercial orbit helps explain why, after the Chinese Exclusion Act, Mexico would become an important nexus in the Chinese migrant networks of North America and the Caribbean. One aspect of this was the practice of substitution, in which Chinese workers who landed at U.S. ports of entry and obtained a transit visa en route to Cuba or Mexico switched places with Chinese merchants already based in the United States. By exchanging an undocumented Chinese migrant for a documented one, Chinese workers circumvented immigration restrictions under the Exclusion Act. The practice required coordination between Chinese communities across the Americas. In his discussion, Romero makes a case for the significance of the Chinese community in Mexico to other Asian migrations to the Americas…

Read the entire review here.

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