Friday, November 23, 2007

A Sinologist Visits Mexico: Some Casual Observations

A Sinologist Visits Mexico: Some Casual Observations

Lothar von Falkenhausen

On a square in Mexico City¡¦s former Chinatown, a clock erected in 1927 commemorates the Chinese Nationalist government¡¦s gratitude for the local Chinese community¡¦s support of Sun Yat-sen¡¦s revolutionary cause. The immediate origins of this community go back to the mid-nineteenth century, when, as elsewhere in the Western hemisphere, Chinese immigrants were brought in to fulfill the country¡¦s labor needs. A reliable estimate of the number of Chinese in Mexico today does not seem to be available; it would probably be difficult to obtain, due partly to a substantial proportion of illegal immigrants (some of whom eventually move on to the United States), and partly because of issues of definition ¡X for many descendants of the early immigrants have blended into the mainstream of Mexican society and no longer identify themselves as Chinese (Hu-DeHart 1998: 256¡V258). Even so, it seems safe to assume that the Chinese in Mexico now number several times the (possibly inaccurate) figure of 10,000 reported for 1967 (ibid., citing He Mingzhong 1967): a recent news story gives the current Chinese population of just the northern border town of Mexicali as 35,000 (Associated Press 2005). Consequently, a Sinologist visiting Mexico may feel a Chinese cultural presence in many places. In spite of Mexicans¡¦ justified pride in their own cuisine, Chinese restaurants are popular; following cues from their peers in the US, many young males adorn their bodies, clothes, and belongings with the emblems of Chinese martial arts (including dragon tattoos and fantasy ¡§Chinese¡¨ characters); and the presence of ¡§Fengshui stores¡¨ even in provincial locations such as Oaxaca is evidence to a popular fascination with the magical potency of the mysterious East.

This fascination, in Mexico, has a long history, and it takes unique and often surprising forms that, in turn, constitute a fascinating facet of Mexican culture. For instance, in the magnificent eighteenth-century church of La Profesa, two blocks west of the Zócalo in downtown Mexico City, a pair of huge Late Qing export-porcelain vases are displayed on both sides of the main altar. Their painted decoration of warrior figures from popular opera strikes one as being more than mildly incongruous with the sanctuary¡¦s dignified (albeit at times slightly morbid) Christian iconography. An esthetically sensitive Sinologist might, furthermore, be tempted to comment disparagingly on the clash between the (by Chinese standards) poor and hideously kitschy execution of the vases and the fine artistic quality of the Mexican-made church furnishings. But such pedantry would miss the point: undoubtedly, those who placed the Chinese vases near the altar of La Profesa valued them not as works of art, but because they stand out. Perhaps, these vases were perceived as embodiments of Mexican connections to far-away places, their placement in the church symbolically appropriating the resources of those exotic locales to the purposes of Roman Catholic worship.

A cup of Kangxi period (early 18th century) excavated from Templo Mayor, Mexico City. Museo del Templo Mayor, Mexico City.

Sinologist Visits Mexico: Some Casual Observations - Full Article

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ley family represents immigrants´ success

The family of Chinese immigrant Juan Ley Fong has become a leader in the nation´s business and baseball communities

El Universal
January 03, 2006

CULIACÁN, Sinaloa - In 1910, a 10-year-old boy named Lee Fong left his home in Guangdong province, China, and stowed away on a boat headed for Mazatlán. When he arrived at the Sinaloa port city, he was taken in by a Chinese man already well-established in Mazatlán who helped him to learn Spanish and adjust to his new surroundings. Lee´s family name became Mexicanized as "Ley," and he adopted a new first name, Juan, to match. Soon, Juan Ley Fong was himself an established figure in the community.

"It was a very difficult situation for a boy of 10 or 11 years," said Álvaro Ley López, one of Ley Fong´s nine grown children. "But he had a fighting spirit. Plus, he was very sociable and had a good way with people."

He also had a way with business, and he soon began a series of mercantile operations that would eventually spawn the Ley supermarket chain. Today, that chain includes 124 outlets stretching across 10 northwestern states, where the trapezoidal red-and-white Ley logo is almost as ubiquitous as the golden arches of McDonald´s in the United States.

Ley Fong´s other passion was baseball, and his efforts in promoting the sport in the nation´s northwest earned him an induction into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Today, the Ley family continues that tradition as owners of two of the nation´s most reputable baseball franchises: the Culiacán Tomateros of the winter-season Pacific League and the Saltillo Saraperos of the summer-season Mexican Baseball League.

The story of Juan Ley Fong is not an uncommon one in Sinaloa, where a wave of Chinese immigrants arriving at the turn of the century managed to establish themselves as leaders of the state´s commercial sector. Their success, however, spawned a wave of resentment and discrimination that would result in attacks, deportations and anti-Chinese legislation. Still, the Sinaloan Chinese persevered, and today, surnames like Pic, Sam, Tang, Qui, Pug and Ley are as much a part of the local community as López, Hernández or Martínez.


The first national census in 1895 counted 1,026 Chinese in Sinaloa. By the time Juan Ley Fong arrived in 1910, the number had jumped to 13,118. Most of the immigrants were railroad or agricultural workers who came to Mexico by way of San Francisco, but as they became acculturated, many moved into the business sector. By 1919, almost a quarter of the registered businesses in the state were owned by Chinese immigrants.

The 1920s and 30s were tough times for Mexico. The economy was left in shambles by a decade-long civil war, and the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent worldwide depression only made matters worse. In states like Sinaloa, some Mexicans began to look at the relative economic success of the Chinese with bitterness and envy.

Soon, anti-Chinese committees began popping up throughout the north to promote an anti-immigrant agenda. In some states they successfully advocated for laws that required all businesses to employ an 80-percent Mexican workforce. In other cases, they won legislation outlawing Mexican-Chinese marriages. At the same time, affiliated street gangs harassed and attacked immigrants with relative impunity.

Responding to nationalistic sentiment, some state and federal governments used the new anti-Chinese legislation and existing immigration law to initiate a series of deportations. When violent disputes between rival Chinese political factions spilled over onto Mexican soil, the perpetrators were deported. Chinese immigrants accused of cultivating poppies and trading in opium were also kicked out of the country. Even violators of the "80 percent" laws or interracial marriage bans could find themselves forcibly loaded onto boats bound for China.

According to León Velásquez, head of Sinaloa´s state historical archive, the underlying motivation for the deportations was a feeling among local businessmen that they were losing control of the state economy to the immigrants.

"It was really just a way of expropriating Chinese-owned businesses," said Álvaro Ley.

In 1931, Chinese immigrant and businessman Agustín Lau was led away by federal troops, supposedly to a ship waiting at Mazatlán to ferry him back to China.

"There is no evidence anywhere that shows that my grandfather, expelled by the government of that era, arrived at the ship," said Ramón Elías Lau Noriega, two-time secretary of Culiacán´s municipal government. "For that reason, we can only assume the worst."


Juan Ley Fong escaped deportation - or worse - by fleeing to the isolated mountain town of Tayoltita, in Durango state, where he found work as a supplier to a U.S. mining company.

He also met and married a local woman, and the couple had 9 children: 6 boys and 3 girls. With no other Chinese in Tayoltita, the children were raised almost completely within Mexican culture.

"My father never learned to speak Spanish perfectly - he always had trouble with the ´r´ sound," said Álvaro Ley. "Still, we only spoke Spanish at home."

In fact, the only Ley child who ever learned to speak Chinese was Sergio Ley López, currently Mexico´s ambassador to China. But he learned the language as a diplomat, and speaks the dominant Mandarin dialect rather than his father´s native Cantonese.

Due in large part to the concentration of U.S. mining engineers in Tayoltita, the town was home to a thriving four-team baseball league. When the oldest of the Ley children, Juan Manuel, began to play shortstop for one of the teams, Ley Fong became enthralled with the sport.

After the family returned to Sinaloa in 1954, this time to the capital city of Culiacán, Ley Fong began sponsoring teams in a local, semi-professional league. He went on to help form a series of regional professional leagues that led to the creation of today´s Pacific League. Along with Juan Manuel, Ley Fong founded the Culiacán Tomateros, who, since their debut in 1965, have won nine Pacific League championships along with two titles at the Caribbean Series, an annual tournament between the best teams from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
At the same time that he was launching the Tomateros, Ley Fong was running a bustling general goods store in Culiacán. When he died in 1969, his six sons, led by Juan Manuel, took over the family business.
Supermarkets were beginning to make their appearance in Mexico at this time, a development that had not met with Ley Fong´s approval.

"My father was not very enthusiastic about supermarkets," said Álvaro Ley. "He thought they lacked a personal touch."

But Juan Manuel had a different opinion about supermarkets, and in 1970, the first Ley supermarket opened in Culiacán.


The chain grew slowly and steadily throughout the decade until Juan Manuel, while scouting for ballplayers in the United States, met Peter Magowan, owner of the Safeway supermarket chain and the San Francisco Giants baseball franchise. The two men struck up a friendship, and in 1981 Safeway purchased a 49 percent share of Ley supermarkets. With the infusion of new funds, the chain entered into a period of rapid expansion.

At the same time, the family began developing other business interests. They invested in agriculture, and are now one of the nation´s top tomato exporters. They also bought cattle and swine, opened a chain of bakeries, and created their own line of salsas.

The Leys also expanded their baseball interests when they purchased the Saltillo Saraperos franchise in 1999. They focused on relentlessly promoting and marketing the team - a surprisingly little-used formula in the Mexican Baseball League - and created a ballpark atmosphere that was family-oriented and filled with music, promotions and fireworks.

"Baseball is not just a game played on the field," said Álvaro Ley, who serves as adjunct president of both the Culiacán and Saltillo franchises. "You have to promote it, you have to work hard at creating a fan-friendly environment. That´s what we have tried to do, and now we see that model being repeated with other teams around the league."

For such innovation in promoting and marketing baseball, Juan Manuel Ley, president of the family´s baseball operations, joined his father in the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.


Today, the Ley family is experiencing formidable opposition to its plans for further expansion in both business and baseball.

"The arrival of Wal-Mart has been very difficult," said Álvaro Ley, when asked about the future of the supermarket chain. "Wal-Mart is a huge company that works not so much as a competitor, but as a predator that seeks to eliminate those around it."

As for baseball, the family seeks to continue its promotion and development of the sport in Mexico, but sees a major roadblock in the nation´s two television chains, Televisa and TV Azteca, which both own professional soccer teams and are hesitant to give airtime to competing sports.

Still, Álvaro Ley remains optimistic.

"That´s the way all businesses are," said Álvaro Ley. "Wal-Mart, for example, is a very big business, and so they seem invincible. But it´s not a case of beating Wal-Mart, it´s a matter of taking advantage of the market and finding your place in it."

And that is essentially what thousands of Chinese immigrants accomplished in Sinaloa, where men like Juan Ley Fong endured prejudice and deportations to find a place for future generations of Chinese-Mexicans in the state.

"There´s a normal, natural respect here for what the Chinese immigrants and their descendants have accomplished," said Álvaro Ley.

He recalled the deportations of the 1930s, as well as the World War II era when virtually all Asian people in the Americas faced discrimination. But he said that those days had long passed.

"Now, there are many Chinese-Mexicans here and we don´t feel the slightest bit of racism," he said. "In the generation of our children, it´s a completely normal relationship."

Javier Cabrera Martínez of EL UNIVERSAL contributed to this report.

El Universal article

Friday, May 18, 2007

1421: The Year China Discovered America?

PBS Reviews - 2007

1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA?, airing on PBS Wednesday, July 21, investigates a theory that could turn the conventional view of world history on its head: the startling possibility that a daring Chinese admiral, commanding the largest wooden armada ever built, reached America 71 years before Columbus.

The documentary examines the mystery surrounding China's legendary Zheng He and the spectacular Ming fleet of treasure junks he commanded in the early 15th century. The special provides a history of the known journeys of Zheng He's fleet and an account of new information uncovered by Gavin Menzies, a former British submarine commander who has spent nine years trying to prove that Zheng reached America decades before Columbus. Menzies, author of the best-selling book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, has assembled evidence that he believes substantiates his theory.

The first part of the documentary presents 15th-century China as an emerging super-nation with an armada of treasure junks that dominated the Indian Ocean. At the behest of Chinese emperor Zhu Di, Zheng He sailed this fleet to far-flung outposts throughout the eastern hemisphere, established major ports and extended the commercial reach of "the Middle Kingdom" far beyond its previous bounds. The first segment recounts this story through re-enactments, extensive location filming and innovative computer graphics imaging models of the fleet itself.

1421: THE YEAR CHINA DISCOVERED AMERICA? then investigates the major historical mystery that arises from Menzies' theory: Could this incredible and intrepid fleet have shown the European explorers the way to the west - reaching America's shores decades before Columbus? Menzies seeks to prove his extraordinary theory by retracing the steps he believes the Chinese took from Africa to Europe to the Caribbean and along the eastern coast of the United States. The program examines the evidence behind his theory, then puts it to the test, drawing together historical accounts, archaeology and information from consultations with contemporary historians, archaeologists and scientists. The results are often dramatic and - like Menzies' theory itself - highly controversial.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tramways of Lerdo

The Tramways of Lerdo, Gómez Palacioand Torreón
By Allen Morrison

And, amazingly, tramway development did not stop there! The most unusual tramway in Torreón - perhaps in all Mexico, perhaps in the whole world - was built by the Compañía Bancaria y de Tranvías Wah Yick, founded in 1906 by a Cantonese named Wong Foon Chuck.

Chinese immigrants flocked to Mexico's boom town, opened laundries, restaurants, clothing stores and banks and developed agriculture and real estate on the city's east side. In June 1907 CBTWY announced that it would build an electric railway from Torreón to Matamoros and San Pedro 26 km east of the city. Nothing came of that plan, but in June 1908 CBTWY began laying track for a local tram line, from the cemetery on the city's west side along Av. Morelos to the Chinese settlement on the east [see map]. FELT tried to prevent CBTWY from crossing its tracks, but a thousand Chinese completed the job during the night of 1-2 January 1909.

Unfortunately, news sources dried up after that date. It is not known if CBTWY ever opened its line - or what vehicles it used if it did. Anti-Chinese sentiment festered during the Mexican Revolution and in early 1911 the Madero forces followed the tramway line into the city [Archivo Histórico "Juan Agustín de Espinoza, S.J." at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Torreón]: Between 13 and 15 May 1911, the Revolutionists killed 303 Chinese in Torreón, including most of the officers and employees of the CBTWY.

Tramways of Lerdo Article

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Pre-Columbian Lacquer of West Mexico

The Pre-Columbian Lacquer of West Mexico
by Celia Heil
Evidence of Lacquer Technology Diffusion

Lacquer, known in Mexico as Maque, in China as Ch'í-Ch'í and in Japan as Urushi, was a technology well-known in Michoacán, on the west coast of Mexico, at the time of the Spanish invasion. The process of lacquering was practiced for several centuries by pre-Columbian Amerindians in what today are the States of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Michoacán, and perhaps as far north as Sinaloa. The pre-Columbian Maque technology is mentioned in the Mendocino Codex, by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún in his Historia General de las Cosas de la Nueva España, [General History of the Matters of New Spain] and also by Fray Mendieta in his Crónicas de Nueva España [Chronicles of New Spain].

China is regarded as the original home of lacquer. The Chinese recognized the protective qualities of the sap at least three thousand years ago (Casals, 1961:7). From China it was introduced to Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and India, (Abrams 1984:19; Garner, 1969:16), and it seems, also to west Mexico. The earliest known example of Chinese lacquer dates from the Shang Dynasty, ca. 1523-1028 BC, when the middle kingdoms of China began using lacquer on household utensils, furniture, art objects, and to preserve historic records carved on bones and bamboo (Abrams, 1984:20).

The oldest fragments of lacquered objects found in Japan so far, occur before the Jomon period, ca. 6th to 3rd centuries B.C. Archaeological excavations have produced artifacts and fragments of lacquered objects dating from the Yayoi period ca. 250 BC-250 AD (von Ragué, 1967:4-5). In Japan lacquer producing trees became as important as the Mulberry for silkworms and paper making, and tea producing plants (Hayashi, 1983:360). Formal lacquer production in Japan can be defined to occur during the Kofun period, ca. 3th to 6th century (von Ragué, 1967:5; Casals, 1961:8). With the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century lacquer became the medium to religious decoration.

Uruapan in Michoacán is considered the cradle of maque together with other centers in Chiapas and Guerrero. Maque art flourished there long before European contact. How did the Michoacán people come to know this art? Did they develop it? Was it introduced from Asia? If so, when and how? Maque in Michoacán probably dates from between the 8th and 12th centuries, when a wave of cultural innovations appeared in Michoacán, along with metallurgy and a new ceramic style.

Perhaps it was introduced earlier by the Buddhist monk, Hui Sheng, who in 458 A.D. led a group of monks from the kingdom of Jibin, today called Cachemira, on a voyage to the land of Fusang or Fusangguo, as recorded in the Chinese encyclopedia and other historical documents. Fusang is the Japanese word for a tree and describes the saguaro cactus plant native to Mexico, and guo means "country" or "land." Hui Shen returned to China 41 years later, in 499, and reported his findings to the Xiao kingdom of the Qi state. It was recorded as his personal testimony during the Liang dynasty between 520 and 528 (Vargas, 1990:13-14).

In 1920, the Secretary of the Chinese Legation in Mexico and the artist Gerardo Murillo, better known as Dr. Atl, were convinced that about the year 600 AD, the Chinese reached the west coast of Mexico to where now are the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán, Jalisco, and Nayarit. Dr. Atl published an article titled "The Chinese were the discoverers of our nation" in the newspaper Excelsior, on May 22, 1921. He speculated that merchants introduced the lacquer technology (de Paul León, 1922:56; Zuno,1952:145).

There is a story in Nayarit of a pre-Columbian Asian ship that arrived on their coast and was cordially received by the chief of the Coras. Archaeology in Nayarit has produced artistic tripod ceramic funerary urns in tombs known as tumbas de Tiro y cámara (shaft and chamber tombs); dated ca. 1000 to 200 BC.

The culture known as Ancient Coras (400-900 AD) practiced terraced agriculture, and between 900 to 1200 metallurgy was introduced (Encyclopedia de Mexico, Vol.9:671-672). Indeed, a multitude of evidence indicates that a vast network of Pacific rim merchants traded along the coast of the American continent from Peru to Alaska (Murra, 1991). (Fig.1,2)

Link to full article without graphics
Link to original article with graphics

Monday, March 5, 2007

Chinese Stories - Asian American Film Festival 2001

This short film is probably not to be found anywhere 6 years later - but who knows

Chinese Stories
DIRECTOR: Luciana Kaplan
Mexico 0:32:00 Color Spanish/Chinese

As a Chinese restauranteur apologizes to Lord Buddha for replacing him with the "new boss," the virgin Lupita, so begins this historical, yet personal account of the Chinese diaspora in Mexico. Combining old movie footage with archival photographs, government documents, news headlines and interviews, CHINESE STORIES aptly summates the Chinese immigrant experience in the ambush of colonialism, capitalism and racism. From "Wholesale Chinese" to "Yellow Peril" to present-day difficulties becoming a naturalized Mexican citizen, one is called to rethink the question, "Is this the beginning of the end of a race?"
Anita Chang

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Mexicali's Chinatown: Sharks fin Tacos and Barbecued Chow Mein

Less than 500 metres south of the U.S. border, in front of a rose-stuccoed shopfront signposted 'Mexburger', a technicolour banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe hangs side by side with a red paper lamp bearing Chinese characters. Although nearly three months have elapsed between the Feast Day of Guadalupe and Chinese New Year, here in Mexicali--capital of Baja California, Mexico--the Chinese Mexican family who own the restaurant invoke all the heavenly powers to bring more business into their tiny cafe.

Four elderly Chinese men, two of whom sport the stiff straw cowboy hat common to northern Mexico, kibitz over hamburgers and green tea, speaking a mixture of Cantonese and Spanish. Along with burgers and chow mein, the red-bordered wall menu offers shark-fin tacos--perhaps the ultimate California surfer's revenge.

The only Mexican border town that's also a state capital, Mexicali boasts Baja California's largest population, an officially recognised 850,000. City promoters make much of the fact that the city is considerably less tourism-dependent than slightly larger Tijuana to the west; in Mexicali you won't find any zebra-painted burros on street corners, nor a bar strip designed to entice norteamericanos.

As citizens of the state capital, Mexicalienses see themselves standing a step closer to Mexico City, yet at the same time can claim to be true cachanillas. Like the cachanilla, a sturdy desert plant that flowers in arid, saline soil, Mexicali has flourished at the edge of the harsh Sonoran Desert and bloomed as one of Mexico's most prosperous communities. Mexicali's Chinese are proud to include themselves among cachanillas; many can sing or recite the verse from Antonio Valdez's famous corrido 'El Cachanilla,' which says, 'Mexicali fue mi cuna' ('Mexicali was my cradle').

Mexicali lays claim to perhaps the highest per capita concentration of Chinese residents in Mexico, but the current count of 5,000 of Chinese ancestry hardly compares with Chinese colonies in large U.S. cities like San Francisco or New York. Earlier this century, however, Mexicali was numerically and culturally more Chinese than Mexican.

The first Chinese to arrive in the area at the turn of the century signed on as labourers for the Colorado River Land Company, an American enterprise which designed and built an extensive irrigation system in the fertile Valle de Mexicali. Some immigrants came overland from America, often fleeing officially sanctioned anti-Chinese policies in the U.S., while others sailed directly from China via the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. As in California, thousands of Chinese coolies were lured to the area by the promise of high wages that never materialised.

A 200-meter desert peak near Baja California's Crucero La Trinidad is named El Chinero in memory of a group of 160 Chinese labourers who perished while crossing the San Felipe Desert in search of work in the valley. The desert itself was known for a time as El Desierto de los Chinos, 'Desert of the Chinese.' An unscrupulous boatman landed the group at a fork in the Rio Colorado, telling them Mexicali was only a short distance away; sixty-five kilometres of burning desert lay between them and the goal they never reached.

Many of the Chinese labourers who survived the building of the irrigation system stayed on after its completion, congregating in an area of Mexicali today known as Chinesca ('Chinatown'). Especially during the U.S. Prohibition years, when Americans flocked to Mexican border towns to partake of the alcoholic beverages outlawed at home, Chinese labourers and farmers moved into the city and spent their hard-earned savings to open bars, restaurants, and hotels. Chinesca eventually housed virtually all of the city's casinos and bars, and an underground tunnel system connected bordellos and opium dens with Mexicali's counterpart city on the U.S. side, Calexico. Bootleggers also used this route to supply the U.S. with booze purchased in Mexico. Many, but by no means all, of the Prohibition-era businesses were operated by chinos.

By 1920 Mexicali's chinos outnumbered the mexicanos 10,000 to 700. A group of 5,000 single Chinese males started the Asociacion China, a Mexicali social organisation at least partly devoted to the procurement of Chinese wives from overseas. The association remains active today. In 1927 a series of Tong wars in northern Mexico erupted over control of gambling and prostitution rings. Mexican alarm over the Chinese participation in organised crime led to the government-encouraged Movimiento Anti-Chino in the late 1920s, a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that swept the country and led to the torture and murder of hundreds of Chinese in northern Mexico--a tragic echo of what happened on a larger scale in California in the 1880s. To Mexico's credit, the government never enacted an equivalent to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act, which for a time prevented all persons of Chinese heritage from holding U.S. citizenship.

Mexicali quickly became a refuge for Chinese fleeing the violence on both sides of the border, since in that Chinese-dominated city the clans were strong enough to protect their own. As the anti-Chinese movement faded away, still more Chinese arrived in Mexicali, which became the Mexican headquarters for the Kuomintang, Sun Yat-sen's nationalist Chinese party. During World War II, the nationalists were pushed out of China first by the Japanese and then by the Communists. In a humanitarian change of heart, the Mexican government loosened its immigration policies to allow a large number of Chinese refugees into Mexico in the 1940s.

By the end of the war, Mexicali featured just two cinemas; both of which screened Chinese movies almost exclusively. But as the city recovered from the post-Prohibition recession, a steady influx of Mexicans diluted the local population until the Chinese once again became a minority. Until Mexico severed diplomatic relations with the nationalist Taiwan government in the 1960s, Mexicali harboured a Taiwan consulate, which became a magnet for overseas Chinese travelling between the U.S. and Mexico. The consulate promptly moved across the border to Calexico, later to close when the U.S. in turn withdrew its recognition of Taiwan. Although the Calexico consular office continued operations under the name Coordinating Council for North America, the loss of the Taiwan consulate virtually ended the influx of new Chinese to the area.

Mexicali still boasts more Chinese restaurants per capita than any other city in Mexico, and a smaller Chinesca survives in the downtown area near the border, close to the intersection of Avenida Madero and Calle Melgar. Local Chinese associations struggle to preserve the arts and culture of the homeland through the sponsorship of Chinese festivals, calligraphy clubs, and language classes. But in most aspects, Chinese cultural life has blended with local Mexican and American traditions to create a unique, hybrid culture like that exemplified by the Mexburger Cafe.

At last count well over a hundred Chinese restaurants could be found in Mexicali. Cantonese cooking predominates, but with few exceptions it's not the sort you'd recognise from Canton or Hong Kong--or Vancouver or San Francisco, for that matter. As in many Chinese restaurants outside of Asia, immigrant cooks have adapted their native cuisine to local tastes. Almost every Chinese restaurant in Mexicali, for example, serves each dish with a small bowl of what tastes like generic steak sauce, a distinctly norteno touch. As in the rest of the country, the city's Chinese restaurants are among the most economical places to eat. To satisfy Mexican appetites accustomed to stacks of tortillas, lard-laced beans, heavily seasoned rice and barbecued meats, Mexicali's Chinese restaurants serve huge individual portions that might feed a family of five in China.Some dining rooms represent the ultimate in Chinese restaurant kitsch and are worth visiting for their exterior and interior designs alone. Along Mexicali's broader avenidas huge multi-room palacios with curving green-tiled roofs and red-and-gold lacquered pavilions invoke the imperial architecture of China past. The word 'Dragon' appears in no less than four local restaurant names.

Local chinos stick with the smaller, less ostentatious cafes in congested Chinesca. In addition to Mexburger, China Town (701 Avenida Madero, tel. 54-02-12) makes a good choice if you're touring the district.

Text copyright © Joe Cummings/ CPA 2001.
CPAmedia Article

Sunday, February 25, 2007

As an Asian person, would I be considered a gabacho?

From: ¡Ask a Mexican! The Tucson Weekly

As an Asian person, would I be considered a gabacho? Or do I fall into the yellow bucket labeled chinito, even though I'm not Chinese?

OC Asian

Dear Chino: Like Americans assume all Latinos are Mexican, Mexicans think all Asians are chinos--Chinese. When I used to go out with a Vietnamese woman, my aunts would speak highly of mi chinita bonita--my cute little Chinese ruca. When I'd point out she was actually Vietnamese, mis tías would think about it for a bit and respond, "¡Que chinita bonita!"

But just because a Mexican calls you a chino doesn't necessarily mean we think you're Chinese, OC Asian. "Chino," like so many of our swear words, has multiple negative meanings. In the colonial days, a chino was the offspring of a half-Indian/half-black and an Indian. This association with race also transformed chino into a synonym for "servant" and "curly." The term "barrio chino" (Chinatown) also became a euphemism for a town's red-light district. And a popular schoolyard refrain that all Mexican kiddies eventually chant at their Asian classmates is "Chino, chino, japones: come caca y no me des" ("Chinese, Chinese, Japanese: Eat shit and don't give me any").

So why the Mexican chino-hate? After all, Chinese were the Mexicans of the world before there even was a Mexico, migrating to Latin America a couple of decades after the fall of Tenochtitlán. And our most famous native dress, the billowy, colorful costume worn by baile folklórico dancers known as a china poblana, was supposedly first worn by a 17th-century Mexican-Chinese woman. Bigotry is bigotry, though, and since Mexico's Asian population is still small and overwhelmingly Chinese, we lump Asians into the chino category--it makes the racism easier, you know?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Talk To Highlight `Pershing's Chinese'

Written by Bruce Daniels - ABQnewsSeeker
Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Refugees who helped failed hunt for Pancho Villa allowed in U.S. despite exclusionary laws.

There was no love lost between Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa and the Chinese who lived in northern Mexico in Villa's day.

That's why it's somewhat ironic that a talk on the role the Chinese played in Gen. John J. "Blackjack" Pershing in his Punitive Expedition into Mexico following Villa's raid on Columbus, N.M., will be held this Saturday in Pancho Villa State Park .

Blanca Chinolla, a resident of Mexico of Chinese descent, will speak on the troubled history of the Chinese in northern Mexico, their struggles with survival and their successes, as well as the help they gave Pershing's expedition, at 10 a.m. Saturday at the state park in Columbus, according to the Deming Headlight .

"I know there is little knowledge about the contributions of the Chinese in Mexico and so little written about it," Chinolla said. "And the greatest problem with Chinese-Mexicans is that most of them kept hardly any records."

Chinolla's talk will be drawn from her own research and the recollections of her 90-year-old father, the Headlight said.

It was 90 years ago this month that Pershing's bedraggled column trudged back out of Mexico after a fruitless search for Villa, whose irregulars had attacked Columbus back on March 9, 1916.

While most Mexicans resented Pershing's presence and refused to help, many Chinese in Mexico offered assistance, from supplying cigarettes and candy to the troops to cooking and doing laundry, according to one historical account .

In at least one instance, some Chinese even joined in one fight against the Villistas, earning Villa's wrath and a vow to kill every "Chino" in northern Mexico.

When Pershing's troops -- nearly 10,000 of them, or about one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. Army at the time -- returned to the United States in a column said to measure five miles in length, they had with them a number of Chinese refugees -- 527 by one count, 537 by another -- who had to be granted a special exemption to the exclusionary laws still barring Chinese entry into the United States.

Those laws, passed in 1882, renewed every 10 years or so, were still in effect until finally repealed by Congress in 1943.

But at Pershing's request, the Chinese refugees were permitted to enter the United States -- as long as they agreed to work for the U.S. Army.

Within two months of their arrival in Columbus, the refugees were put on trains for San Antonio, Texas, where they were eventually relocated and put to work by the military, according to the story in today's Headlight.

Villa targeted Chinese shopkeepers and farmers living along the U.S.-Mexico border because he considered them no different from Mexico's landed aristocracy, according to a 2005 review of a book titled "The Chinese Heart of Texas -- The San Antonio Community, 1875-1975" in the online Asian Week .

"Because of the Mexican Revolution, the Chinese were heavily persecuted," wrote the book's author Sam Brown. "General Pershing brought more than 400 of them to San Antonio. The Chinese (in Mexico) saved many lives because they did scouting work for him. They warned him of poisoned wells. They cooked for his troops. When General Pershing died, the largest number of wreaths, flowers and cards came from the Chinese community in Texas."

Chinese people even named their children in memory of Pershing, said Brown, who added, "I know one man who named his son `Blackjack' Wong."

A fuller history of the Chinese experience in northern Mexico is available here, in an online article that originally appeared in the Journal of Arizona History.

For information on the talk, titled "Forgotten Faces: Contributions Made by the Chinese-Mexican Community," call Pancho Villa State Park at (505) 531-2711.

ABQNewsSeeker Archives

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Terrorist hoax exposes little-known Chinese smuggling route

By ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2005
(02-05) 12:12 PST MEXICALI, (AP) --

About two dozen Chinese immigrants take Spanish class five mornings a week before going to work at one of the hundreds of Chinese restaurants scattered throughout the city. The classroom — at the offices of the 86-year-old Chinese Association of Mexicali — is in the heart of a quiet, decaying downtown where Cantonese is heard on narrow sidewalks.

Patricio Gamez says 28 of his 31 neighbors in a graffiti-covered building speak Chinese. "They never have birthday parties, never get drunk, never make noise," the retired wrestler says.

That quiet life was jolted last month when a phony tipster in Mexicali said he smuggled Chinese nationals across the border who were preparing a terrorist attack in Boston. The FBI declared a false alarm, but the episode led the Department of Homeland Security to begin an investigation of networks that sneak Chinese immigrants into the United States.

Mexicali — a sprawling industrial city of about 800,000 people 120 miles east of San Diego — may seem like an unlikely stop for Chinese border crossers. It lies across the brackish Colorado River from Calexico, a California border town of 30,000 people in a sparsely populated agricultural region. Tree-covered mountains rise 4,000 feet to the west; hundreds of miles of desert lie east.

But Mexicali is part of an elaborate smuggling route that starts in China and ends in U.S. coastal cities, where Chinese find work at restaurants, garment shops and other places where they blend in easily, U.S. law enforcement officials say. Calexico is one of the largest points of entry for Chinese immigrant smugglers, along with Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

Chinese have been drawn to Mexicali since around 1900, after the United States halted Chinese immigration and cotton growers began looking for cheap labor. Eduardo Auyon Gerardo, president of the Chinese Association, estimates the city has 35,000 people of Chinese descent today. About two dozen community groups help new arrivals get settled.

The absence of language barriers and the ease of finding work and new acquaintances explains Mexicali's appeal, said Michael Unzueta, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau in San Diego.

The trip from China to the United States typically costs $30,000 to $50,000, U.S. law enforcement officials say. Flights stop in Milan or Paris, then Mexico City, then Tijuana or Mexicali on the U.S. border.

Two recent cases offer a window into how the smuggling networks operate. In June, federal agents were tipped that a Cessna ferrying illegal immigrants was about to leave Imperial Valley Airport, 15 miles north of Mexicali border crossing. They found five Chinese nationals — ranging in age from a 17-year-old girl to a 51-year-old man — after the plane landed at El Monte Airport, near Los Angeles.

In October 2003, federal agents arrested eight people from southern China's Fujian province aboard a 21-foot boat near downtown San Diego. One man headed for New York told federal agents that he was flown from China to Tijuana, via the Netherlands and Mexico City.

A woman said she agreed to pay $67,000 to a Beijing smuggling ring upon arrival in the United States, according to an agent's affidavit in federal court. She flew from China and to Tijuana, via Ecuador and Belize. She was locked in a shed for nine days in Tijuana.

"A lot of it is probably put in place before they even leave China," Unzueta said.

The Border Patrol refuses to say how many Chinese are arrested, but the number is small. Mexicans accounted for 94 percent of the 1.1 million arrests last year, and much of the rest are Central Americans. Mexicans accounted for 99 percent of the 75,000 arrests in the Border Patrol's El Centro sector, which includes Calexico.

But the Chinese gained attention after a Mexicali man warned of a terrorist plot in Boston Jan. 17. A week later, Jose Ernesto Beltran Quinones admitted calling 911 from a cell phone to report the fake threat, Mexico's federal attorney general's office said.

One of 13 Chinese nationals who were briefly sought for questioning about the alleged plot has been in a federal immigration jail in San Diego since Nov. 11 after being arrested in Calexico. Investigators said Mei Xia Dong, 21, paid a human smuggler to enter the United States through Mexico and that she came for economic reasons.

It's easy to understand why a Chinese person might stop in Mexicali en route to the United States. An orange, gold and green pagoda — a gift of its sister city Nanjing — decorates a tiny downtown plaza at one of the city's two border crossings.

Chinatown — called "La Chinesqua" — has been losing its luster to air-conditioned malls but the downtown cluster of one- and two-story buildings still boasts a few dozen Chinese restaurants. Cantonese is spoken at the Monte Alban apartments, four monstrous cinderblock buildings surrounded by a dirt road and abandoned cars. Writing on the gravestones of a downtown cemetery is Chinese.

The Chinese Association's two-story building occupies nearly a half-block of Chinatown. On weekends, 90 children learn Chinese there. During the week, about two dozen new arrivals learn basic Spanish to survive at their jobs, typically at restaurants or shoe repair shops.

Mexicali has more than 300 Chinese restaurants, according to Maricela Gonzalez, a historian at Universidad Autonoma de Baja California. The largest can seat around 2,000 people.

Luis Wong, who teaches Spanish to new Chinese arrivals, says most of his students come to Mexicali because they already have family here. Wong, 80, was once one of them. He left southern China's Guangdong province in 1940 to meet his father, a miner who moved to Mexicali from the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa in the 1930s to escape anti-Chinese sentiment there.

Auyon, a watercolor painter who has been the Chinese Association's volunteer president since 2000, moved from Macao 44 years ago to meet his brother, a Mexicali cop at the time. He helps when municipal authorities close restaurants for health violations or when new arrivals need work permits.

Auyon, 69, said the Mexican government has increasingly been allowing Chinese nationals to work in restaurants.

He brushed aside questions about the terror hoax, saying he hadn't followed the story closely.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Traversing boundaries: Chinese, Mexicans

Here is a paper that you only get a glimpse of and have to pay for the rest. It might be worth the $32 after reviewing the 24 page preview
Traversing boundaries: Chinese, Mexicans, and Chinese Mexicans in the formation of gender, race, and nation in the twentieth-century United States-Mexican borderlands

Julia Maria Schiavone Camacho, University of Texas at El Paso

Date: 2006

» Download the dissertation (PDF format)

» Tell a colleague about it.

» Printing Tips: Select "print as image" in the Acrobat print dialog if you have trouble printing.


This work tracks the spatial movements of Chinese men, Mexican women, and Chinese Mexicans from Sonora, through the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands, to China, and then back to Sonora and various other parts of Mexico. Following the paths people traveled as a result of the cross-race connections they formed and the criminalization of those ties, I argue that the complex connections Chinese and Mexicans formed in Sonora and the social and geopolitical borders they crossed helped shape the culture of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands in the twentieth century. While other scholars have provided much insight into the formation of the anti-Chinese movement in Sonora and its spread to other areas of Mexico, my work focuses on relations among Chinese and Mexicans and the ways many people defied anti-Chinese logic. Utilizing a borderlands gender approach, this project adds to the literature in Borderlands, Mexican, United States, Women's, Chicano/a, and Asian American History.

Chapter 1 explores the broad range of daily, neighborly, cooperative, personal, and economic connections that Chinese and Mexicans formed in Sonora during the early twentieth century. Focusing specifically on economic arrangements and romantic unions among Chinese men and Mexican women, Chapter 2 addresses the profound split between people who forged ties with Chinese and those who organized against them in the state. Chapter 3 examines the ways Chinese men and Chinese Mexican families confronted the mass expulsion of Chinese during 1931-1933, the culmination of the anti-Chinese movement. While the majority of Chinese---and often the families they had formed---left Sonora, some stayed with permission from authorities or by hiding. Chapters 4 and 5 address the experiences of Mexican women and Chinese Mexican families in China and the repatriations of the late 1930s and the early 1960s. Illuminating the little known history of Mexicans and Chinese Mexicans in China and their struggles to return to Mexico, this dissertation expands our notions of the Mexican Diaspora and the increasing presence of Mexico in the global political arena after the 1930s. Chapter 6 explores contemporary Chinese Mexican identity and the historical and cultural memory of Chinese in Sonora.

Subject Area

Chinese Traces in Mexico

Chinese Traces in Mexico
Discovery of an early Chinese temple in Uros, Mexico

Below is a news report from 1900, regarding the discovery of an early Chinese temple in Mexico. Such discoveries have once again become a subject of heated discussions...

Temples In Sonora Said to Uphold Reports of Early Discovery

The report that American officers have unearthed ancient records in Peking showing that the Chinese discovered America 1,500 years ago and erected temples in Mexico has aroused the greatest interest among the scientific men of Monterey and throughout this country, says the Chicago Record. The Chinese temples alluded to are located in the state of Sonora, on the Pacific coast.

The ruins of one of the temples were discovered near the town of Uros, in that state, about two years ago. One of the large stone tablets found in the ruins was covered with carved Chinese characters, which wore partly deciphered by a learned Chinaman who visited the ruins at the request of the Mexican government. This Chinaman made the assertion at the time that the ruins were those of a temple which had been erected many centuries ago by Chinese, but his statement was not received with credence.

It has long been claimed that the Indians of the state of Sonora are descendants of these early Chinese settlers. They possess many traditions and characteristics of the Chinese. If the report of the finding of these records in Peking is verified, an expedition will go from Monterey to explore further the ancient temples of Sonora.

The Massillon Independent, December 13, 1900

Manila Galleon trade on view in Monterey

Manila Galleon trade on view in Monterey
Stephanie Grace Loleng, Jun 01, 2005

MONTEREY, CA — ON A tourist strip near downtown Monterey and Fisherman’s Wharf sits the Maritime Museum. From February and until Labor Day, visitors to the museum will learn about the historic significance of the Manila Galleon trade, a 250-year expedition that facilitated trade and commerce between the East and the West, or to some extent, China and Spain.

The Manila Galleon was the single biggest piece of evidence attesting to the importance of the Philippines to Spain then. Manila became a trading and transshipment port for Spain where men and merchandise could be picked up and transported to Acapulco, Mexico.

Museum guide Tim Thomas said that the artifacts on display at the Maritime Museum were discovered during an archeological dig in Baja, California after a beachcomber found Chinese porcelain dating back to the 16th Century.

“We think this shipwreck was the San Felipe, one of the largest ships on the route. By the time it got to the California coast, everyone was dead,” Thomas explained to the Philippine News.

The San Felipe sailed to the Philippines on June 5, 1575, or four years after the Spaniards took control of Manila. Its route was extremely dangerous. Many people died from scurvy or were killed by pirates who attacked the galleons to steal their merchandise.

The Spanish-owned galleon ships sailed from Acapulco, Mexico to the Philippines – and back – bringing not just food and spices, but also precious materials such as silver coins which were valuable to Chinese traders. On their way back to the Americas, galleon workers would sometimes carry Chinese porcelain to sell in Mexico.

Historian Steve Singer said the ships weighed on average 1,700 to 2,000 tons, and carried 700 to 1,000 people on their way back to Acapulco, one of the major trading points in the Americas. Sometimes, half the people on board died of malnutrition or disease.

Singer wrote that over 40 galleons were lost while carrying some of the richest cargoes on the high seas. Most of these large ships were built in the Philippines, specifically in Cavite shipyards, using hardwoods such as teak and mahogany. Singer said the ships’ planking was built out of lanang, a tough wood that could withstand a cannonball shot.

“Though the Philippines provided some products, it was spices and other items from the Spice Islands, and silk, porcelain, gold, ivory, gemstones, jade, mercury, and other valuables from China which made the Manila galleon trade so lucrative,” Singer wrote. Goods from Indian and Southeast Asia also ended up in Manila.

The artifacts found at the Manila Galleon exhibit showed not only pieces of Chinese porcelain but also large chunks of Filipino beeswax brought to Mexico for Spanish churches. The beeswax would be molded into candles.

The exhibition curator, Edward Von der Porten, described the importance of the trade route for Spain and China.

“The porcelains not only date the cargo to circa 1574-1576 but give us a detailed view of the Chinese-Spanish commercial relations in the earliest years of the Manila galleon trade. We understand how Chinese merchants, rescued from a sinking junk by Spanish sailors in 1571, recognized the opportunities presented by the Spanish presence in Manila, for the Spaniards had silver from the great mines of Peru and Mexico, a commodity essential for the expanding Chinese economy.”

The exhibit has interactive pieces where children can learn about the galleon trade. One in particular is a wall painted map of the trade with game pieces that allow kids to experience what it would be like to be a sailor on one of the galleons.

“Treasures of the Manila Galleons” will be on display at the Maritime Museum of Monterey until Sept. 5, 2005. The museum is located at 5 Custom House Plaza in Monterey, California. For more information, please call (831) 372-2608.

Chinese Chorizo

'Chinese Mexican in America' was son of Tucson pioneers

By Kimberly Matas
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 02.02.2007

To his wife and children, Phillip Wah Don Sr. was a hardworking family man with a silly sense of humor.

Don's sister remembers him as the only brother among nine siblings, the son of Tucson pioneers.

His bingo buddies remember Don as a gregarious character who would do a little jig in the aisles when he won.

And a former employee remembers her boss as a kind man who knew more about making chorizo, a Mexican sausage, than she did.

Don, 85, died Jan. 27, from a pulmonary ailment.

He and his eight sisters were the children of Don Wah, who moved to Tucson from San Francisco in the late 1800s, and China-born Fok Yut.

When he arrived in Tucson, Don Wah worked as a cook for Southern Pacific Railroad. An entrepreneur, he eventually opened six grocery stores. In time, he turned his stores over to his children, and Don acquired El Cortez Market, 2455 N. First Ave.
"We all grew up among the Mexican people," said Don's sister, businesswoman Esther Tang. "All of our customers, primarily, were our Mexican neighbors. I guess we were Chinese Mexicans in America."

"Their family was raised in a unique Chinese-American tradition that combined the Chinese heritage with modern American ways of life," read Don Wah's 1961 Arizona Daily Star obituary. "The entire family was taught to be fluent in Chinese, English and Spanish. The balance between the cultures was demonstrated by the family tradition of having one Chinese meal daily with the remaining meals either American or Mexican."

From that upbringing, it seemed a natural progression when, in the early 1970s, Phillip Don converted part of his grocery store into Don's Chinese/Mexican Deli.
A 1984 Tucson Citizen restaurant review called the combination of cultures a "unique local phenomenon."

The reviewer called Don's red chili burro "a generous and good-tasting example of gustatory portability" and said: "I have yet to come across anything Don's does poorly. Their Mexican food has a good sharp bite to it, which carries a Chinese accent, but nonetheless cannot be faulted by any prevailing local standard of border cookery."

"Phillip was the butcher for his store and people came from all over to buy his special chorizo sausage," said his daughter-in-law, Alison Don.

"It was very famous," said his wife of 61 years, Florence Chan Don. "People from California would come in and want to take some back. It was tasty. ... He found the magic touch."

Former employee Yolanda Reyna cooked for the Mexican side of the deli for 10 years. Don, she said, was a generous family man who gave jobs to her four daughters and her sister-in-law. Don's children also worked at the grocery after school.

Don taught Reyna to make chorizo using wine, his secret ingredient.

"What was so different and unique is he was Chinese, but he knew Mexican food and he knew how to make chorizo and menudo," Reyna said. "He would sample my cooking and give me pointers. I'm ... the Mexican cook and he's helping me with tamales. He taught me a lot about cooking. Every time I make chorizo, I think of him."
Don also lent Reyna money if she ran short before payday, and he was equally generous with others in need, from feeding the homeless to forgiving customers' debts.

"He would sell people groceries on credit and never charge them. He had all these little credit slips he would toss out," said his daughter, Christine Don Given.
Don worked long hours at his store to support his immediate family, plus his siblings and parents. He usually wouldn't get home until 8 or 9 p.m.

In the mid-1980s, after working 12-hour days, seven days a week for more than 50 years, Don sold the store and retired.

After that, the Dons traveled occasionally. They took a family cruise last year for their 60th wedding anniversary.

Don also liked putting on silly faces and telling jokes and was a fan of bingo. He cultivated a group of friends at the hall the family frequented.

"Of course he loved to win, but it didn't matter," daughter Phyllis Don Miller said. "He loved the social atmosphere."

Cathy Downs was one of Don's bingo buddies.

"He was a character," she said. "He was fun to be around."

When Don won, he threw his arms up and jiggled his waist in what she called "his bingo jitter."

Even after Don's pulmonary ailment was diagnosed in November, he maintained his sense of humor.

David Given last saw his father-in-law five days before Don's death.
"He was being spoon-fed soup because he couldn't feed himself anymore, but even then he was kicking his feet, rolling his eyes and making sounds every time he took a spoonful. Even though he was in pain and couldn't even feed himself, he just wanted to make us laugh."

One of his last requests, Christine Given said, was for a shot of tequila. Her father was too weak to sit up to swallow the shot, so a sponge was soaked in tequila and put in his mouth.

"He was a person who never complained, never said a bad word about anybody," she said. "We can only hope we can follow in his footsteps and be a little bit like him."

arizona daily star

A few fotos

From: People's Daily On-line (February 01, 2005) - Mexico City:

From: - China towns in Latin America

From Joe Cummings "Sweet and Sour South of the Border"

Emigrants crossing into Laredo, 1917 -

Mug shots of three Chinese immigrants captured in a sting on smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border in 1911. Back then, border crackdowns focused on Chinese and other foreigners barred from entering the United States -- not on Mexicans and other Latinos. Photo: National Archives, on web at "1965 Immigration Law Changed Face of America" by Jennifer Ludden (National Public Radio)

Bits and Pieces collected

Leaving for a flight from San Francisco to Mexico, I was picked up by a airport shuttle service. My driver, who was Asian, asked:

Where are you flying to?Mexico.

Oh, what city?Puebla.

That's a very nice city.

You have been to Puebla?

Yes. I'm a Mexican. I'm from Chiapas. My parents moved from China to Mexico before I was born.
(John Barreiro, "larpman")

I ran across a picture of a woman soldier serving with a Yaqui Indian unit during the Revolution with the improbable name of Hermilianda Wong Chew which got me spending an hour or so looking for a website -- any website -- on the Chinese in Mexico. But, beyond a short article by Joe Cummins on the Chinese in Mexicali, there isn't much on the Chinese immigration. Considering that the Chinese have been coming to Mexico since at least the 16th century (with the Manila trade) and that Chinese have lived in Mexico City since 1635, there's got to be more... in Spanish, English or Chinese ... somewhere.

So .. until someone writes SOMETHING like S.Lenchek's Mexico-Connect two part series, "Jews in Mexico" or like the Houston Culture Organization's "Irish Presence in Mexico", or even a decent Wikipedia article, I've put together what notes I have, based on suggestions originally offered by Lonely Planet's "Thorn Tree Mexico" forum contributors:


There was a program on PBS a little while ago about an anthropologist who is convinced that Chinese sailors came before Colombus to the New World. Check out this website Then click on "Book" at the top for a more general description.

Discovery of an early Chinese temple in Uros, Mexico

17th-19th century


1635 : The Chinos, a name commonly use to describe any people who came from across the Pacific Ocean, are so numerous that the Spanish barbers in Mexico City petition the Municipal Council to prevent Chino barbers from working in the capital. They are duly banished from the city.

But Spanish shopkeepers also face competition from Chino physicians, tailors, weavers, silversmiths and ironsmiths, shipbuilders, carpenters, merchants and more. Many of these men take Mexican wives but they and their descendents remained Chinos. The seaport of Acapulco where the Manila Galleons landed, becomes known as the ciudad de los Chinos, the 'City of Chinos'.

The trade route from Acapulco to the capital, Mexico City is called El Camino de la China - 'the road of the Spanish Chinos' who later became known as Mexican Chinos.

La China Poblana was more than a typical dress. Spanish merchants from the Philippines during the colonial period brought La China Poblana to the port of Acapulco in the Pacific Ocean. While the versions don't agree, most point to the fact that she was either married or sold to a prominent family of Puebla. Her colorful dress, which would become synonymous with typical femininity and a tradition of folklore and fashion, was designed to match her Oriental features, her exotic beauty and yearning for her homeland, this being India.

Many legends have been attached to the China outfit, including the romantic story about the oriental princess who was sold as a slave in the city of Puebla, who then fell in love with a criollo and created her wedding gown based on the local fashions but decorated with oriental motifs. The truth behind the costume is that once every three months a ship carrying goods from the Philippines known as the "Nao de China" (Ship from China) anchored in Acapulco. The aristocratic ladies purchased a textile known as "castor" to make the skirts for their female servants, called "chinita" or "china". The word is completely disassociated from any oriental background. As the length of this fabric was not enough to reach the floor, an addition of silk was sewn at the top of the skirt to complete the length.

With time and dedication, the women embroidered or applied sequins to highlight the oriental decoration of the fabric. The modern China Poblana's outfit is so covered in sequins that the historic "castor" fabric (Which is only made in Puebla and Mexico City today) can only be seen if you turn the skirt inside out.

To this day, a monument-fountain, dedicated to La China Poblana stands in one of the main avenues of Puebla. Legend says that if you look closely, the sculpture rotates in the mid day sun. The three colors of her dress, green, white and red, were adopted over the centuries to incorporate the colors and insigna of the mexican flag.

(notes by SPARKS)

19th Century

After 1882 (when the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act), Mexico became a better destination for Chinese than the U.S. -- and, in the U.S., Chinese workers were discouraged or forbidden to bring their wives and children. Coincidentally, these was the period of time when Porfirio Diaz was trying to find people to settle in the north... a good deal for the Chinese.I don't have the documentation for this, but it always fascinated me, the Mexico Southern Railroad (Ulysses S. Grant, President and CEO) hired Chinese workers away from the Southern Pacific, the incentives being not only the chance to send for their families, but that these laborers would be paid as skilled foreign workers, not as general labor. (my notes)

Immigrants to a Developing Society: The Chinese in Northern Mexico, 1875-1932

Here's an article from El Universal (originally appeared in the Miami Herald) earlier this year about the history of the Ley (Lee) family. The six sons of patriarch, Lee Fong, started the Sinaloa-based Ley supermarket chain, which has since spread to all corners of northwest Mexico where it's battling interlopers WalMart and Soriana for dominance: Ley family represents immigrants' success.

From Rolly Brook :

TORREON RAILWAY: There were a lot of Chinese who worked building the railroads in Mexico. A large group of them with their families settled at the just completed railroad junction that became Torreón. They exercised considerable economic influence in the early years of Torreón until the revolution. There is a particularly horrid story of the near total extermination of this Chinese community by lead elements of Villa's army. When Villa arrive and saw what was happening, to his credit, he put a stop to the massacre, but not before 300+ had been killed. The Chinese community never recovered. I have misplace the referencesd to this story, but I'm looking for it. Torreon Tram .

The story of the Torreón Chinese Massacre is described by Wm. K. Meyers, Forge of Progress, Crucible of Revolt, U of New Mexico Press, 1994.





While touring some haciendas in the state of Yucatan, I saw one hacienda that had Chinese style drawings painted as borders in the now-very-dilapidated wall paper. When I asked about it, the local watchman who agreed to show us around said that in the past it was common to have Chinese workers do decorative work like that in haciendas. After asking around some more about it I was told that there was heavy Chinese immigration into Mexico at the same time there was heavy Chinese immigration into the US - which I guess was approx mid-19th century, and would foot to others' info about the RR building.

Borderlands, Chinese in El Paso (Texas) : Chinese Immigrants Helped Build Railroad in El Paso

Overseas Chinese forum (message thread on the Chinese in Mexico)

Overseas Chinese Forum

This from the Overseas Chinese Forum -- posted back in 2002 by Fred Woo:

At one point, there were over 100,000 Chinese (mostly men) who migrated to Mexico and found work. Many of them had founded families with Mexican women. Later, many of them were sent back to China in a round of deportations. Many also remained or found their way back. The Mexican singer, Ana Gabriel is of 1/4th Chinese background (her grandfather was Chinese).

My own grandfather had married a Mexican woman in Los Angeles and we lost contact with her and the step-relatives after my grandfather died.

I know there also must be some Chinese of partial Mexican heritage who were forcibly deported back to China in the 1930s. Some have said that there are "barrios" (Mexican ghettos) of such descendants still living in certain villages of Guangdong. Is that true? Where do most of them live? Have they not been fully integrated into Chinese society by now?

But, anyways, I found an article posted by one of these Chinese-Mexican descendants:


My grandmother, Cruz Arredondo, met my grandfather, Antonio Yee, in Sinaloa, Culiacan, when he immigrated to Mexico from China to look for work in the mines, in 1928. He opened a small store with the help of the growing Chinese community already in Mexico. They married and had 3 sons, Poncho, Jacinto and Antonio.

Abuelita Crucita, y mis tres Tios, went with my grandfather when he was sent back to China by the Mexican Government in 1932. President Calles at that time did many corrupt things, one of which was to conduct a massive movement to deport Chinese immigrants back to China. Many families were rounded up, uprooted, put on buses and trains to Arizona, U.S., before they were taken to a boat headed towards China.

Of the Chinese who came to find work in Mexico and a better way of life, the majority were young men, many of whom married and established families with Mexican women. Given the choice to go with their husbands or stay and raise their children alone, many women, like Abuelita Crucita, chose to go.

Although, Abuelita Crucita also suffered in China. They went to his hometown where he had a home, wife and children already. Both families lived there together. Abuelita Crucita was also a stubborn woman and would not allow herself to be second in this situation, but she was still miserable.

My Tios felt discriminated there, because they were different to their classmates, and did not speak Chinese well at first. They soon learned over the 6 years they lived there, until 1937 when the President of Mexico, Lazaro Cardenas, made it possible for my grandmother and her sons to come back to Mexico, along with the other Mexicans in China, who wished to return to Mexico.

A newspaper columnist wrote an article one day announcing that anyone who told their story of how they got there and who was president at the time they came, would be given passage to Mexico. Abuelita Crucita saw her chance to go back home.

President Cardenas then arranged for a boat to leave from Shanghai before war between Japan and China disrupted. Abuelita Crucita, who was 7 months pregnant with my mother, packed up her 3 sons and snuck away in the night. She knew my grandfather would not let her go otherwise.

The boat trip lasted two months. Abuelita Crucita was constantly sick. She thought she would deliver her baby on the boat, but she made it to Mexico and traveled back to Mexico, where she gave birth to my mother.


Information posted by Conchita Villalba Yee.
Anyone with a similar experience or with any comments
please send email to:

Paul Yih of San Paulo, Brazil added this:

I have loved your story -- and I think this story of yours should be chronologically dated for the future history about China and and about their immigrant workers and their plight in the past. I think your story will be of tremendous value to not only Chinese but to the Mexicans as well.

If I may add a bit of history, often times, not the most pleasant -- but I think you and I or in t his forum can create such an interesting thread as many will follow sooner or later -- for the sake where we can now document the many events past and present -- which can only lead to a good future. I for one will come to Mexico to research more.

As we all know, as in the many story of the Western stories, be that of cowboy or Indians as in Hollywood -- be that of the well know apache like Geronimo in Arizona and his many skirmishes with the US Calvary.

But in and near Tucson and in Nogales, also there is Nogales right next to the American Nogales. As Tucson, the last city of that famous Santa Fe railroad ended.. along with that, many of hte Chinese railroad builders had also stopped there . If one goes to the city or Marana ---well, a name was given to the Jews -- right ? Maranos e maranas .. Some of the largest land owners in the region were also Chinese.

Many Chinese had also ventured accross to the Mexican side, as in your story, in those days, only men were allowed to come to the US to build railroad and to do grunt work. Mexico had followed the same laws then as the US -- no Chinese were allowed to have their spouses or ---female Chinese -- for simple racial reasons -- US and Mexicos did not want more non Whites to be born in their country --- because then, they will have to grant them citizenship ...

Maybe you and us all can also do the research, where in the early 1900 or late 1800s - the Chinese had grown to become very affluent in the city of Nogales, or in that contado of Sonora ---- But the miltary and the politicos in that region had their envy of the rise of the Chinese where a massacre had taken place in that area. I do not have the exact date where I am still partially investgating and doing my best to document that one episode in that region and I wish I can find more Mexican students, university researchers to elaborate more on that famous burning and killing and lynching of the Chinese in Nogales.

I also would like to see more and more documentation of those Mexicans who were in China and more specifically, I would like to know of the village in Guangdong, as we can trace them of those ethnic components of the Chinese -- I wonder if they were from Toisan -- of which there are great interest to have an overseas Chinese museum in that region, agian to document all the past history of joy, glory as well as pain and agony -- be that of the Chinese, be that of the suffering Mexicanos or their half and half children --- As we all aware of the duo comedians as in Chich and Chong -- Chong is part Chinese ..and there will be more for us to show and I wish there will be a greater link now between China and Mejico ..

Keep up with more posting in here -- as a registry of your abuelita --

Vaya con dios y felice navidad a su familia

Pablo (de Brasil) :)
Related Posts with Thumbnails
This blog is a continuation of one started by the proprietor of The Mex Files. With not enough time he offered to pass it along and here we are. If anyone has info to contribute, please leave it in the form of a comment

Kume Asian Food Online