It was an unexpected sight in a desert city on the northern border of Mexico. One recent Sunday, children were pouring out of a school classroom into a hall hung with fringed lanterns and calling out to one another in Mandarin and Cantonese. Others were preparing decorations in another room for this month’s Chinese New Year celebrations.
Outside, restaurants lining the dusty streets displayed signs in Spanish, English and Chinese.
This is Mexicali, home to the largest Chinese community in Mexico and one of the largest in Latin America. It is the face of a new era in Mexico’s relationship with the emerging superpower across the Pacific Ocean.
“People say that Mexicali was founded by Chinese about a hundred years ago,” said Anna Yu, 39, a language teacher at the school.
Yu came to Mexicali from China about 10 years ago to join family who had settled there. “I heard Mexicali was famous for a community like this,” she said.
Since then, she has married a Mexican, learned Spanish and taught her husband Mandarin.
Yu is one of an estimated 20,000 people of Chinese descent living in Mexicali. The school where she teaches is housed in the Asociación China de Mexicali and exists to teach language, writing and history to younger generations in an effort to keep Chinese culture alive.
Chinese immigration to Mexico is rising rapidly. The 4,743 Chinese who arrived in 2013 made up the second-largest group of immigrants after the 12,000-odd Americans who were granted permanent residency.
Mexico is also seen as a prime destination for Chinese foreign investment, thanks to its abundance of natural resources and proximity to the U.S.