For many black Jamaicans, ‘Chin’ is still the generic name for all Chinese people. It doesn’t seem to matter that Chinese Jamaicans have many other names such as Chang, Chuck, Chung, Fong, Kim, Kong, Lee, Leong, Lim, Lue, Mock, Shim, Tenn, Yap, Yee, Yen and Yeong.
I think it’s completely disrespectful to clap the label ‘Chin’ on all Chinese. And I like to ask perpetrators how they would feel if Chinese people called all of us Miss, Mr and Mrs Black. They usually laugh. A no nutten! Most Africans born in Jamaica were forced to give up our ancestral names. So, perhaps, we have no investment in the foreign names we were arbitrarily assigned.
And many Chinese seem to be quite philosophical about being addressed as ‘Chin’. They just answer to the name. It doesn’t appear to bother them that their fellow citizens stubbornly refuse to learn their true-true names. I wonder if it’s because they don’t take us seriously. Perhaps, it doesn’t matter what we call them. As long as we continue to do business with them!
In 1998, the University of the West Indies Press published a book by the Trinidadian historian, Walton Look Lai, on The Chinese in the West Indies. It covers the period 1806-1995 and pulls together a whole set of fascinating documents.
There’s an 1803 letter from Kenneth McQueen to John Sullivan, undersecretary of state, outlining the arguments to be used in inveigling Chinese to come to the Caribbean as indentured labourers. Racial stereotypes are presented as hard facts.
McQueen proposes: “The most desirable accommodation to a Chinaman is good eating, especially solid animal food, as beef or pork … and a liberal supply of that article is more likely than anything else to reconcile them to their new situation.” As it turns out, ‘solid animal food’ was not enough to keep indentured Chinese labourers on the plantation.
As soon as their five-year contract was up, many abandoned agricultural work. In an account of ‘Chinese entrepreneurs in Jamaica in the 1940s and 1950s’, Look Lai lists the following businesses: “grocery stores, bakeries, aerated water factories, ice cream parlours, restaurants, laundries, Chinese grocery stores, hardware stores, dry-goods stores, bars and taverns, haberdasheries, wholesale groceries, agencies and others”.
REVENGE FOR EMANCIPATION
In Jamaica, the Chinese still control the distribution of imported food. Whoever owns the keys to the grocery store rules the nation. Our British colonisers knew this all too well. I speculate that they enabled the Chinese to take over this sector as an act of revenge for the emancipation of enslaved African-Jamaicans. After all, they did conceive the Chinese as a barrier. An obstacle to black empowerment!
Before Emancipation, blacks controlled local food production and distribution at weekly markets. Plantation owners who wanted to lower operating costs allowed them to cultivate provision grounds to feed themselves. Surplus food was owned by these farmers and they made good money selling it locally and even exporting to other islands.
After Emancipation, instead of allowing blacks to extend our management of the business of food distribution to include the import trade, the British colonisers deliberately allowed the Chinese to clip our wings. Given a chance, black people would have been able to build food empires high and low, generally taking control of this sovereign sector.
On my morning walk a few days ago, I had an informative conversation with a Chinese senior citizen named Mr Chin. Yes, a real Mr Chin. He told me that in the early years of shopkeeping, the profit margin was very low. The British colonisers controlled the import trade. Mr Chin said that on a case of condensed milk, for example, the profit was one tin! But things have certainly changed. The trade in imported food is a highly profitable business.
There’s a new wave of Chinese immigrants in Jamaica who are certainly not indentured labourers. They are our new colonisers. Mr Chin told me that these recent arrivals even have contempt for the earlier Chinese immigrants. The new Chinese claim that the old Chinese are unpatriotic because they did not return to China after indentureship. And these arrogant new Chinese have a sense of entitlement that is alarming.
I recently heard that a long-time resident of Hope Pastures was driving home when he was stopped by the police for a spot check. He was told that the Chinese had been complaining about strange people driving through Hope Pastures. A lot of new Chinese have been buying houses there. I have no issue with that. But to assume that black people are trespassers in their own community is pure impudence.
Even worse, in supposedly independent Jamaica, politicians are selling off the birthright of the people to our new colonisers. If we’re not careful, they will soon own the best of this country. Unscrupulous politicians are now behind the counter. And the new Chinese are the customers. They’re not buying salt fish, mackerel, rice, flour and cornmeal.
They want the Goat Islands and Roaring River and Cockpit Country. And the politicians are ‘trusting’ away our heritage. In the old-time Chinese shops, there would be a spike on which the names and goods of ‘trusters’ would be placed. I don’t suppose our politicians are even keeping any records. It’s a straight sell-out.