Chinese-Mexicans celebrate repatriation to Mexico

Associated Press Modified: November 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm •  Published: November 24, 2012
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"I thought, 'What are these dudes talking about?'" he recalled. "For the first time I felt Mexican and thought, 'I don't belong to this.'"

Large numbers of Chinese began arriving in northern Mexico in the late 1800s, drawn by jobs in railroad construction and cotton. The country represented a haven from the United States, which had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, an 1882 law that banned Chinese immigration.

But from the moment they began to arrive, they faced racism, which was exacerbated during the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution and its aftermath, when the country was trying to build a national identity that celebrated the mixture of Indian and Spanish cultures.

Mexican women who married Chinese men were considered traitors, and in some cases families disowned them. With the Great Depression, large numbers of destitute Mexicans began returning home from the United States and resentment about the financial success of Chinese people grew.

"Even though there was a small number of Chinese people, their economic prowess and their position in the labor force made them a threat," said Fredy Gonzalez, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Yale University who is studying 20th century Chinese migration to Mexico.

In the northern border state of Sonora, anti-Chinese leagues formed and thousands of Chinese were taken to the border with the U.S. and forced to cross. Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act they were immediately detained by U.S. immigration officials and sent to China.

In 1930, Mexico had 18,000 Chinese citizens and Mexicans of Chinese descent. By 1940, there were only 4,800, Gonzalez said.

Today, there are at least 70,000 Chinese citizens and Chinese-Mexicans in the country, according to a report in 2008 by the Foreign Relations Department.

In China, Chiu Trujillo's Mexican mother spoke to her children in Spanish and often sang Mexican ranchera songs so loudly that she could be heard all around the stream where she washed the family's laundry.

Their mother also instilled in her children devotion for the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint.

"We would recite the rosary in Spanish, she would teach us," Chiu, 87, remembered during an interview in his small apartment in Mexico City's rough La Merced neighborhood, its walls decorated with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Jesus Christ, a couple of Chinese calendars and lots of family photographs. "She would tell us, don't forget you are Catholics, don't lose your religion."

Three years after his mother and two siblings returned, Chiu, his pregnant Chinese wife and four children finally were flown to Mexico.

After working at his brother's grocery store in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, he decided to move to Mexico City, where he worked as a cook and eventually opened his own cafeteria.

"I was able to give my sons an education. The boys all graduated from college," Chiu said. "The oldest is an accountant, the second is a chemist, the third is a mathematician, and the young one is a musician."

Chiu said he always felt more Mexican than Chinese.

"I have always thought that wherever you can find tranquility, that's where your home is," he said.

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