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.