China

The Chinese-Trinidadians

As a person of East Asian/Chinese background, you’d think it’d be easy to fit in in Taiwan where over 95% of the people are ethnic Chinese. But actually not at all. I grew up in the West and being a non-native Mandarin speaker who barely reads Chinese, there’s obviously a big gap, culturally and linguistically, with my “fellow” Taiwan people. But this isn’t the only gap I face. It’s because while there’re a lot of people of Taiwan background who were born and grew up in the US or Canada or England, I didn’t grow up in North America. I grew up in a small island country called Trinidad and Tobago. It’s got a small population- about 1.3 million- and I was part of a small community within this small population. The Chinese community in Trinidad, despite its proud history of over 150 years, is less than 1.2 percent (<15,000), maybe even less (the CIA doesn’t even count us as a distinct group). And even funnier, I’m part of a minority within this minority as unlike the vast majority of Trinidadian-Chinese, my family is not directly from mainland China. Hailing mostly from Guangdong, Hakkas number the most, followed by Cantonese, and those from smaller Guangdong cities like Taishan and Zhongsan. Obviously growing up, from social interactions like lunches and association gatherings, we knew a lot of mainland Chinese and it’s a strong reason why unlike many people in Taiwan, I don’t and can’t regard mainland Chinese with blanket mistrust and disgust.

I’ve long wanted to write a little about this community I’m from, but what spurred me is recent events in Trinidad that have cast a not-so-good light on Chinese. Two incidents of serious crimes involving Chinese-Trinidadians have led to a strong media focus on the Chinese, with a subsequent police sweep for illegal immigrants and businesses to bear. The focus is more on recent immigrants who, from what I’ve heard and read, have swept across parts of Trinidad opening up a lot of businesses. Many previous Chinese immigrants also opened businesses with the “Chinese shop” and further back, the “Chinese laundry” being the main symbols of the Chinese presence in Trinidadian society. The Chinese restaurant is of course, also widespread and much beloved as well. I don’t want to be cliched, but I got to be when I say that most Chinese businesspeople work their asses off and make a solid and humble contribution to the nation. Furthermore you’ll find many  2nd, 3rd and even higher generation Chinese-Trinidadians in the ranks of doctors, accountants and other kinds of highly-skilled professionals, as well as artists and politicians. I can’t say that absolutely no local Chinese are involved in crimes, but unfortunately recent pieces from Trinidadian media such as the Guardian on the Chinese have a very sensationalistic and alarmist slant – The Chinese are overrunning us! The Triads are everywhere!* And even court magistrates are getting in on this act as you can see in this article. “From Cedros to San Fernando there are more Chinese restaurants than doubles vendors, which is scary.” Is that so scary, Magistrate Chankar? Yes, I suppose Chinese people are really scary. My response to all this, besides a typical Trinidadian steups, is please, journalists, find some hard facts and do some balanced reporting.

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5 thoughts on “The Chinese-Trinidadians

  1. I understand how u feel. i am from trinidad myself, with partial chinese ancestry. i live in the US now and even here I feel like a minority because people just don’t understand our country and they think we speak badly or that we are jamaican because of an accent. i came here as a child, and as much as i have americanized myself, it is not the same because i come home to my family and its as if i never left trinidad.

    i have actually been trying to find information on my own family tree, but being that i do not speak or understand chinese i have not gotten much information. I also have been hearing about th epossible triads and the problems it causing the chinese in trinidad..it reminds me of the muslim terrorists in the US. people will alwayus find a way to separate one another and prove one is better than the other. it is so unfortunate but we can only hope for the best 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, discrimination is always around everywhere and the most we can do is highlight it and try not to practice it ourselves.
      The Triads issue is not exactly completely false, but it’s been blown up by the Trinidadian media along with the increased immigration.

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  2. Hey Mr Yip, your friend Candace here, i thoroughly enjoyed your points of view on your articles you have well written before us. I too am from Chinese decent and have recently been searching family roots back to china and have found that my great great grand father was from Sam Shui Guangdong Province in China. But can’t seem to get much details from there. My Great Great Grand father name was HoHow, who came as an indentured labourer and was from a well off family of farmers. No one can doubt the chinese influence on our little country Trinidad and Tobago and what the chinese has brought to the table. They are hard working dedicated people and alot of other races will do well to benefit from their humbleness as well.

    I too have fallen into the category, where American’s don’t understand us and think I a from Jamaica, or Barbados or any other tourist destination island and they often know nothing about Trinidad, but very few do which was a delight.

    Crime will never cease and as the years goes on it becomes more rampant, unless you can change a man then you can change alot. The hard part about it is that the Government does nothing about it because their officials are just as corrupted. So all we can do is pray.

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  3. I’m Trini, but not Chinese..but the hyper over the new recent immigrants is overblown. They don’t harm anyone and the taxes they generate with their stores help the economy. Better than a lot of Trinis who are lazy, poor work ethic, entitled, wanting fast money, involved in gangs and drugs. Each new wave of immigration to a country they’re always the scapegoats. My issue is just the language barrier, i don’t know how to communicate with them which can be a bit annoying at times; and the fact i’m worried about their eating habits. But other than that, they don’t harm anyone. I think it would take a generation or two with their children growing up in trinidad who learn the language things should be ok. I’m shocked at Trinidadians thinking Chinese culture is ‘new’ to trinidad!

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    1. Thanks for your comment on my old post. I think Chinese immigrants are often hardworking as well. Just as previous generations of Chinese immigrants have integrated, so hopefully will these new ones. Indeed, Chinese culture isn’t new to Trinidad because Chinese have been in Trinidad for over 150 years!

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