The Chinese in Latin America, A Preliminary Geographical Survey with Special Reference to Cuba and Jamaica
Chang, Ching Chieh
McBryde, F. Webster
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The present study concerns itself with the geographical origin, distribution, routes of migration and ports of embarkation of the Chinese in Latin America. It also purports to bring out the similarities and dissimilarities in their demographic composition, economic activities and some other aspects in different Latin American countries. The term "Latin America" is used to include all the European possessions in the area, and the term "Chinese" is used to include all those of Chinese parentage, but not those born to Chinese who intermarried with individuals of other races. Chinese immigration to Latin America on a large scale did not begin until the eighteen forties. Between 1847 and 1874, known as the coolie trade period, about one quarter of a million Chinese migrated to Latin America as "contract laborers". The great majority of them were "forced" immigrants, because they were kidnapped or decoyed by the coolie recruiters and did not migrate voluntarily. After 1874, Chinese immigration entered a new era. All the immigrants came voluntarily. But the good time of free Chinese immigration did not last very long. In or before the first quarter of the 20th century, most of the Latin American countries adopted laws to prohibit the entrance of Chinese. The Chinese immigrants were primarily from nine hsiens (or counties) in Kwangtung province immediately behind the port of Macao. Only those in Jamaica were not from this area, but exclusively from three hsiens in the same province north of Hongkong. At the present time, there are about 77 thousand Chinese in Latin America, and their distribution is highly localized. The localization of the geographical origin and the geographical distribution can be explained only in terms of the special type of Chinese emigration in general and the early history of the Chinese migration to Latin America in particular. Moreover, the Chinese are mainly concentrated in large cities. This is the result of their occupation. Almost all of them are engaged in commerce, and particularly in the grocery trade. Therefore, in places where their number is large, they are very influential in the grocery business. The Chinese population in almost all Latin American countries is characterized by two demographical anomalies: the great excess of males and the abnormally large number of old and middle-aged people. This is owing to the fact that, within the past one hundred years, the number of females among the immigrants has always been extremely small, and a large portion of the population still consists of immigrants who came in or before the nineteen twenties. Generally speaking, there has been no segregation against the Chinese along racial lines. Nevertheless, social contacts between Chinese and natives remain on a business basis and are purely ·functional. Racial consciousness still plays an important role among the Chinese, native-born as well as immigrants. Among the immigrants, it is also because most of them retain their Chinese nationality and want to go back to China eventually. Thus, in Latin America, the Chinese are not only racial minorities but also groups of aliens.