Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"You Are like Us, You Eat Plátanos": Chinese Dominicans, Race, Ethnicity, and Identity

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"You Are like Us, You Eat Plátanos": Chinese Dominicans, Race, Ethnicity, and Identity

Article excerpt

Lion and dragon dances, alongside local Dominican rhythms, helped celebrate the inauguration of the Barrio Chino, the newly revitalized Chinatown in the capital city Santo Domingo.1 Leading the inaugural was President Leonel Fernández and the first lady Margarita Cedeno. According to Rosa Ng, President of the Flor Para Todos Foundation, which oversees the Chinatown project, the Barrio Chino honors the legacy of the early Chinese immigrants as well as the contributions of today's Chinese Dominicans. Her sentiments are eloquently captured in the Dominican news story below:

The Barrio Chino, in the simplest form is a representation of how the community, though vastly different, has been accepted by Dominicans, and the Barrio Chino is a way for the Chinese community to show its appreciation for the hospitality and friendship Dominicans have showed towards them since 1864. ("Chinese Community")

This study explores the unique and complex position of Chinese Dominicans, who are often regarded as a physically and culturally distinct ethnic group, but have been accepted as Dominicans. Moreover, they have more options for inclusion in their new country, including maintaining a strong Chinese identity or being part of mainstream Dominican society. This preliminary study draws primarily from the voices of Dominican-bom or raised Chinese, who often later go to the United States for education and employment. Their stories are particularly fascinating because upon arriving in the United States, they face yet another incorporation paradigm which questions them as valuable members of society, based upon race, ethnicity, and immigrant status. The experiences of Chinese Dominicans therefore provide interesting comparisons with the adjustment and assimilation of Chinese in the United States.

The Chinese population in the Dominican Republic has grown significantly in recent decades, even though their presence dates back to the mid-1800s (Checo 2). Unlike their immigration to other parts of the Americas, such as Cuba, Peru, Jamaica, Trinidad, and the United States (Hu-DeHart; Look Lai), there was no mass recruitment of Chinese contract workers to the Dominican Republic. Many had arrived from neighboring Caribbean countries such as Jamaica and Cuba (Howard 23; Checo 4), after hearing that the Dominican Republic was less oppressive (Moya Pons, "La historia" 4). Some arrived during the U. S. occupation of the island from 1916-24, and more entered the country after Japan invaded China in 1937 (Checo 5, 7). After World War II, Chinese immigration to the Dominican Republic continued due to the political instability and ideological conflict between the Chinese Communists and the Nationalists (Checo 7, 8). For many Chinese, the Dominican Republic was seen as an intermediary point to the United States, although many remained and eventually became integrated into Dominican society (Sang, "La herencia china" 70; "Chinos" 41-42). Almost all of these earlier Chinese immigrants originated from the province of Guangdong, China. Compared to their Caribbean, Latin America, and U. S. counterparts, their numbers have been relatively small during their first 100 years in the Dominican Republic. By the 1960s, the Chinese population had reached a mere 1,060 persons (Kent 123).

By the 1980s, however, the Chinese had become the fastest growing immigrant group, after Haitians. Unlike their predecessors, many of these new immigrants came from Taiwan and Hong Kong with capital to establish businesses and manufacturing firms (Haggerty 51). Also, the generally poorer Fujianese immigrants arriving from mainland China seem to be following the footsteps of their predecessors. Currently, it is estimated that the Chinese population is at least 15,000 ("People Statistics").2 Despite their significant presence, there is virtually no research in English and only a few documents in Spanish on the experiences of the Chinese in the Dominican Republic.

Race and Ethnic Identity in Dominican Republic

Like the United States, the Dominican Republic has a racial hierarchy which favors white Europeans rather than those of African ancestry (de raza negro). …

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