Wednesday, September 01, 2010


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Chinese immigrants circumvented the American exclusionary policy through the use of Mexico as a surreptitious gateway into the United States. Such is the thesis advanced by Robert Chao Romero in his recent book THE CHINESE IN MEXICO: 1882-1940 published by The University of Arizona Press.

In this book, Romero explains that undocumented immigration to the US has been going on for much longer than previously thought, and provides ample documentation about the Chinese participation in the experiment we may well call "Hotel Mexico". Although the Chinese who emigrated to Mexico did not intend to remain in the country, in actuality many did, and their ways and traditions necessarily informed the surrounding culture. Unfortunately, according to Romero, Mexican popular culture shows little evidence of these exchanges of Chinese-Mexican convivencia.

The Chinese presence in Mexico, he argues, has pretty much been absent from traditional historiography--except for the events of the Torreón Massacre of 1911--and largely ignored by Mexican popular culture. For a group that at one point represented the second largest ethnic minority in the country, such an omission seems a clear case of selective cultural amnesia.

Romero attributes this to both ignorance of the past, which certainly is no excuse--and won't be now that his book is out--and to the same deep racism that propelled events such as the 1911 massacre.

In short, THE CHINESE IN MEXICO offers a concise and convincing exposé of the conditions that facilitated Chinese migration to Mexico as a stepping stone to the US, and represents an important source for the study of the social and cultural history of the Chinese in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century.

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