- The Chinese in Mexico 1882–1940 by Robert Chao Romero, and: Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusions in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands by Grace Peña Delgado, and: Chinese Mexicans: Transpacific Migration and the Search for a Homeland 1910–1960 by Julia María Schiavone Camacho
Following Evelyn Hu-DeHart’s pioneering essays and the publication in 2010 of Robert Chao Romero’s The Chinese in Mexico 1882–1940, two more studies on this topic were published in 2012: Grace Peña Delgado’s Making the Chinese Mexican and María Schiavone Camacho’s Chinese Mexicans. While the three books share common findings and a hemispheric approach (at times producing a sort of déjà vu feeling, if one reads them in sequence), they also complement one another nicely to propose collectively a much-needed revised social history of Chinese community in Mexico. In a time span of only three years, the publication of these three books has covered a major lacuna in the history of Mexico and the Mexico-U.S. borderlands, and is proof of the vitality of this relatively new subfield, which studies the history of Asians in the Americas. Fortunately, Humberto Rodríguez Pastor, Lok Siu, Jeffrey Lesser, Juan Pérez de la Riva, Kathleen López, Daniel Masterson, Tsugio Shindo, and others have published important historical studies on the Asian presence in other Latin American and Caribbean countries. The cultural production of these Asian communities in the region has also been increasingly studied in recent years.
Chao Romero’s The Chinese in Mexico, the first English-language monograph on the Chinese presence and heritage in Mexico, opened the dialogue to a revision of the official notion of mestizaje in Mexico. Like the other two books considered in this review, it moves from the public to the private, often citing case studies of Chinese immigrants, such as Pablo Chee, Ricardo Cuan, and Alejandro Chan, whose stories offer a microcosm of their community. They were part of the more than sixty thousand Chinese who migrated to almost every state in Mexico during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although Chinese immigrants were recruited to serve mostly as agricultural contract laborers, they soon moved to commerce, and by the 1920s, they had a monopoly on the grocery and dry goods trade in northern Mexico. In part, this economic success engendered anti-Chinese protests that culminated in racist legislation, boycotts, lootings, and even [End Page 180] massacres, such as the one in Torreón on May 15, 1911, where 303 Chinese immigrants were murdered by revolutionary soldiers.
As Chao Romero explains, the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 in the United States coincided with the efforts of Mexican businessmen and their government to attract Chinese labor. As a result, Chinese immigrants chose Mexico either to find business opportunities in its developing economy or to get smuggled into the United States. As the author points out, “the Chinese were the first ‘undocumented immigrants’ from Mexico, and they created the first organized system of human smuggling from Mexico to the United States” (Romero, p. 3). This sophisticated smuggling business that, during the late nineteenth century had its headquarters in Havana, Cuba, also had international ramifications and collaborators in China, Mexico, and several cities in the United States, including San Francisco, Tucson, San Diego, El Paso, New York, Boston, and New Orleans. The San Francisco fraternal organization Chinese Six Companies was reportedly the chief sponsor of the human trafficking that brought approximately two thousand unauthorized Chinese to the United States...