Week 5 – Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Historical Overview

This article, although an introduction, reminds us of two important issues. First, to understand Latin America, we need to look across the Pacific, and not just the Atlantic, as many of us are taught. Second, globalization is a much older phenomenon than many of us are used to.

History, they say does not repeat itself, and although at times it may look that way, there are many similarities as there are differences; globalization is one such phenomenon. Today, we think of globalization as a contemporary issue that began in the 1960s, and took full force in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union. If we look back however, globalization has expanded and retrenched our world twice before beginning in 1565, when the Acapulco-Manila Galleon first linked the globe, then roughly around the 1850s until the outbreak of World War I.

The article sheds light on a centuries old migration that has been omitted, excluded, or forgotten. It introduces Asian migration to the Americas, which like most migrations, ebb and flow throughout different time periods and geographies.  And although the article only surveys Asian migration, it serves as a good prelude to later readings on Japanese and Chinese communities.

It is interesting to see a glimpse of migration during the globalization of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. After the abolition of slavery, which in itself was gradual, there was still a need for cheap labour by different empires and emerging nation-states to work the vast plantations in different parts of the globe. Moreover, the gold rush taking place in the United States, Australia, Canada, Peru, etc. made the acquiring access to labour that much more pressing. The gold rush attracted a number of Chinese to California, which brought the attention of the Spanish Crown in trying to provide workers for the sugar plantations in Cuba (a Spanish colony until 1898). In 1847, what became known as La Trata Amarilla or Yellow Trade began with Cantonese migrants going to Cuba as indentured workers. The Peruvian government took notice, and by 1849, it enacted its own Trata. By 1874, the end of indentured migration to Peru and Cuba, over 225,000 Chinese had crossed the Pacific in ships that became known as ‘floating hells’. Similar events took place throughout Central America and the Caribbean, where African Slaves were traded for Chinese indentured workers. The history of Chinese migration to the Americas is one riddled with conflict, violence, and exclusion; for example, there is not one single country in the entire continent that did not at one time or another enact anti-immigration laws specifically targeting the Chinese.

On another note, it is important, as the authors point out, the history of the Chinese in Latin America “has been largely hidden in plain sight”. As with any history, the majority it is written by those in power, but I don’t think this answers the entire question. In reading many historical accounts on Latin America, the conflicts between colonizers, criollos (the descendants of Spanish colonizers), Afro-communities, and Indigenous populations is for the most part intertwined. At the same time, with the exception of Cuba, where Chinese-Cubans are viewed as part of those who fought for liberation from the Spanish, Chinese communities elsewhere were regarded through a negative lens. I’m still trying to figure this out.

We can also view this article and make some parallels with what is going on today. The majority of Chinese migrants to Peru and Cuba between 1847 and 1874 (the majority that arrived post-1874 were business people from Hong Kong and California) were for the most part recruited as unskilled labour for the sugar plantations in Cuba, and the cotton and sugar plantations, railroad construction, and mining in Peru. Following the end in the indentured worker program, the majority did not have enough funds to return home (many were cheated from their wages), which propagated an internal migration to the urban centres throughout Cuba and Peru. Like today, many worked in areas that locals did not want to, as well as a number started their own businesses with small restaurants in poor neighbourhoods called fondas being the most popular. Anti-Chinese or antichinismo became evident when people throughout he major urban centres began to blame this community for taking jobs away from native ‘Peruvians’, whatever that means. However, it was not until the United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, when other countries in Latin America also began to pass their own versions of this act.

Two reasons, at least in the Peruvian case why the Chinese were viewed in a negative light had to do with the extension of credit and travelling in parts of the country where others did want to such as the Amazon, and setting up shop there. The willingness of Chinese businesses to extend credit and sell things cheaper became a point of contention between locals and the new arrivals. Locals saw this competition as unwanted, and instead of adjusting and competing, they used the scapegoat of ‘job takers’ combined with racism to make the national government enact laws curtailing Chinese migration. The fact that many Chinese moved throughout the country, even to the Amazon, and become successful, also led to their vilification.

What do you think?

Week 4 – Beyond Bounded Communities: Network-Mediated Migration From an Urban Colonia in Mexicali, Mexico

This article is interesting, from my point of view, for a number of reasons: 1. Grounds transnational networks; 2. It explains how cumulative causation does not need to end up in saturation; 3. Personalizes migration.

For the first two weeks, in reading theory, we get an idea of how migration is viewed, how it moves, how it’s researched through a macro lens. Although it is very important to be knowledgeable of large structural patterns, cultural and social proclivities in different geographies, as well as the mobility of millions of people, it is important to begin at what many see as the true backbone of migration, family, kinship, or what we can refer to as primary social networks.

When we talk about migration, since for the most part, we concentrate on numbers; for example, how many people came in versus left within any given year, we rarely think about the trajectories that people take in order to migrate.  Both ‘cumulative causation’ and ‘saturation’ are good starting points. Working from the proven premise that migration begins with a ‘pioneer’ (usually a male, but as the past 20 years have shown, female migration as pioneers has grown exponentially), who settles in a specific locality, is able to secure employment and a place to live, after some time, this individual is a position to help people within a specific social network migrate. Causal migration, asserts that eventually, the networks within a specific kinship group will reach a point where migration is no longer viable since it would have a reached a point of saturation, where there may no longer be individuals willing to migrate. The author does an excellent job in proving that although cumulative causation does in fact take place, saturation need not occur.

This article brings out the strength of taking an anthropological lens. A thorough qualitative analysis can shed light and pinpoint where macro-studies have made assumptions that may not always be in tune with what is going on in the ground. Cumulative causation as a process is a direct result from the Mexican Migration Project (MMP), which since 1982 has surveyed Mexican communities residing in the United States. This project was later expanded in a Latin American Migration Project (LAMP). Both projects work are excellent examples of quantitative analyses; however, they need to be constantly tested on the ground for it to continue being a source of relevant information.

The author’s research sheds light on how the assumption of saturation does not occur. If we assume that people do not go outside their kinship networks, saturation will take place, but as Wilson shows, people move, they inter-marry, they make other social relations, which in turn expand social networks, which in this case also make them transnational social networks.

Lastly, as mentioned above, for all the millions of migrants around the globe, it all begins at the personal level. The decision to migrate, even with the money, the right papers, and an institution waiting for you and help you in whatever way they can (as many of us have done as international students), it is not a decision taken lightly. In some corners of the political spectrum, there is the idea that there is a need to close-off borders since if thrown open; the entire world would just migrate to PLACE COUNTRY NAME HERE. Migration however, is more than just picking-up and leaving, it begins with a decision, and in order to be successful, help from others that have migrated before.

In case you have time, here is an article on US/Mexico border.


What do you think?

Week 3 – “Quien Sabe?”: Deportation and Temporality Among Transnational Mexicans

Week 3 – “Quien Sabe?”: Deportation and Temporality Among Transnational Mexicans

This article brings to light a very important topic, and although a little difficult to follow at times, I think it presents a reality through a slice of life, based on a long history of migration between the United States and Mexico.

As the author states, migration between the U.S. and Mexico, at least along formal programs goes back to the end of WWII with the introduction of the Bracero program.  This program can be seen in parallel with the guest-worker programs in Germany and Switzerland during the same time period, even though the type of work done was different. Many temporary worker programs continue to exist in one way or another throughout the globe.

Before continuing with the analysis, it’s worth noting the Obama administration oversaw the highest number of deportations, ever. It’s too soon to see what this new administration will do, but it doesn’t look like it will get better. At the same time, it’s worth noting that since the beginning of the ‘great recession’ in 2007-8 until today, net migration (the difference between people coming-in and leaving) between the U.S. and Mexico is at zero. Moreover, if statistics can tell the future, “Asians Now Outpace Mexicans In Terms of Undocumented Growth” (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/asians-now-outpace-mexicans-in-terms-of-undocumented-growth/432603/). Regardless of where in the world migration shifts from and toward, the United States, it seems, will continue to attract a large number of migrants (documented and undocumented).

This article is a result of ethnographic work carried-out by the author, and although she does not go deep into her ethnography, she does explore and analyze how this concept of ‘deportability’, not only affects those directly affected by the removal process (a euphemism for deportation), but also families and communities on both sides of the border.

The very real dualities of un/certainty and im/permanence, although I would say part of all migrants, be them international students, bankers, IT personnel, etc., but having to contend this un/certainty as an undocumented individual, couple, family, or as a mixed-status family creates a daily tension of ‘losing your whole world’ as one of the people interviewed for the study asserted.

The author presented the deportation, or the concept of deportability through a prism in which we expand the view of how a removal affects an individual, but just as important, family and community.

I found this aspect of the article defining since, for the most part, even though families and communities are always affected, most of the time, the focus is placed on the individual ‘removed’ through a prism of criminality.

Walking the fine line between a generational project that is migration and deportation, which voids a person’s future, as the author argues, presents a clear case of how the power of the nation-state is very present in everyday life.

Deportation, or ‘deportability’ also contributes to un/certainty within families, especially those of mixed status (some are U.S. citizens, while others maybe permanent residents, and others yet, undocumented), while at the same time, it creates a fear within communities that could impact future generations since it is possible families could remain as mixed status perpetually.

Since the issue of ‘deportability’ is a real threat, many cities in the U.S. have become what are known as sanctuary cities, where local police are prevented from asking people stopped, or arrested from their immigration status. This however is changing with Trump administration, which has vowed (we’ll see if it happens) to cut-off federal funding sources from cities that do not comply. For example, Texas just passed a law that makes local police check an individual’s immigration status even if not charged with a crime. Time will tell how this plays out.

What do you guys think of the article?