The forgotten history of Chinese immigrants in this Mexican border town

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, United States on 2017-04-02 15:27Z by Steven

The forgotten history of Chinese immigrants in this Mexican border town


Nidhi Prakash

Erendira Mancias/FUSION

MEXICALI, MexicoMexicali has all the obvious signs of being a border town: roads pointing the way to the United States, car after car lined up at crossing points from early morning through the blistering hot day and well into the night—currency exchange places dog-earing every corner.

But there’s something about this place that sets it apart in the borderlands. You might notice it first in the Chinese restaurants dotting the streets, in the elaborate pagoda that sits at the border with Calexico, or in the doorways downtown with subtle, sometimes faded, Chinese lettering.

This dusty northern Mexican city of around 690,000 was largely developed by an often-overlooked community of Chinese immigrants, whose roots here trace back to the late 1800s. Tens of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Canton (now Guangzhou), arrived to the area between the mid–1800s and the 1940s, crossing by ship from southern China, often first to San Francisco, sometimes to other Mexican cities like Ensenada and Guadalajara, before choosing Mexicali. Many stayed for generations after and helped build this city into what’s become.

The Chinese-Mexican community here remains very much a part of Mexicali—especially downtown, a historic center of the city’s rich history. There’s a stretch of several blocks called La Chinesca which, after decades of semi-abandonment and disrepair, is seeing the beginnings of a revival as newer generations reconnect, and for some, discover for the first time, their lasting impact on Mexicali culture…

…Junior Chen, 36, is a quiet, business-like man at first, who talks animatedly when we get to the subject of his plans for downtown Mexicali, where he was born and raised. He said he’s been working on projects to try to reactivate the city center since he was 16 years old. But starting a historical tour of La Chinesca, and thinking more about his Chinese heritage (his great-grandfather came to Mexico from Canton some time in the mid–1800s) has been more recent for him.

“I have some Chinese roots, I’m mestizaje [mixed]. I’m always sincere with people who know me. To be honest I never had an interest in Chinese culture before. I never wanted to get involved in the Chinese Association. But my mother always wanted to be connected to the community, to have Chinese friends,” he told me. “But what I’m trying to say is that for me I started to get involved with all this and it changed me.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Racial Alterity in the Mestizo Nation

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2011-11-22 21:42Z by Steven

Racial Alterity in the Mestizo Nation

Journal of Asian American Studies
Volume 14, Number 3 (October 2011)
pages 331-359

Jason Oliver Chang, Assistant Professor of History and Asian American Studies
University of Connecticut

The eviction of Chinese cotton farmers from Mexicali, Baja California serves as a focal point to explore the racial boundaries of dominant discourses of Mexican national identity. By examining the politics of agrarian reform, the article illustrates how the racial alterity of Chinese immigrants to national ideals served to consolidate diverse Mexican peoples as liberal mestizo racial subjects. Racial alterity is further explored by tracing the lives of Mexican women who married Chinese men and their multi-ethnic children. Anti-Chinese politics and conscription of mestizo subjects were central themes in the Mexicanization of Baja California.

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Chinos and Paisanos: Chinese Mexican Relations in the Borderlands

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2011-01-01 22:47Z by Steven

Chinos and Paisanos: Chinese Mexican Relations in the Borderlands

Pacific Historical Review
Volume 79, Number 1 (February 2010)
Pages 50–85
DOI: 10.1525/phr.2010.79.1.50

Julian Lim
Cornell University

Using the testimonio of Manuel Lee Mancilla, a Chinese Mexican man born in Mexicali in 1921, this article explores the experiences of the Chinese in northern Mexico in the early 1900s. It examines the conditions under which Chinese immigrants came to and helped build new borderland communities and simultaneously recovers the day-to-day relationships that were negotiated and nurtured there. Meaningful moments of Chinese Mexican cooperation emerged amid intense conflict and despite the anti-Chinese campaigns of the Mexican Revolution and the infamous Sonoran purges of the 1930s. Challenging static notions of ethnic and racial identities and relations, and analyzing the anti-Chinese movements in less monolithic terms, this article examines not only how Chinese and Mexicans weathered revolutionary violence and xenophobia but also the turbulent forces of U.S. capital and labor exploitation on both sides of the border.

In 1920 Manual Lee Chew’s family held a great wedding banquet at the Casa Blanca restaurant, located in the center of Mexicali’s la Chinesca [Chinatown].  All of the Lees, along with their paisanos [countrymen], were there to celebrate. It was a momentous occasion as well, for the bride was one of the first Mexicans to marry a Chinese in Mexicali.  For family friends such as Samuel Lee, it was the perfect event for sharing their good fortune and wishes with the happy couple: Samuel Lee proudly lent his cherished Cadillac to Lee Chew for the wedding.  More that seventy years later, memories about the great celebration and other experiences of Chinese immigrants in the Mexican borderlands…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,