Monday, February 12, 2007

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)


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