Chinese Immigrants in Mexico 1931-71

A review of We Won’t Be Bullied Anymore: Chinese-Mexican Relations and the Chinese Community in Mexico, 1931-1971, by Fredy González.

Fredy González’s 2013 dissertation, We Won’t Be Bullied Anymore, deftly traces the twentieth-century history of Chinese immigrants in Mexico from the anti-Chinese campaigns of the early 1930s to Mexico’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1972. While previous studies have focused mostly on the anti-Chinese campaigns in Sonora and Sinaloa in 1931, this dissertation is one of the first studies to examine the Mexican Chinese community through World War II and the Cold War. In addition, We Won’t Be Bullied Anymore takes advantage of Chinese- and Spanish-language sources from China, Taiwan, and Mexico to chronicle the inner workings of the Chinese community in Mexico, which allow González access to the voices of both Chinese diplomats and immigrants (many of whom did not speak Spanish). His research demonstrates the complicated ways in which global, national, and local forces, including historical developments in East Asia, shaped the Chinese experience in Mexico and Mexican history as a whole.

The dissertation begins with the anti-Chinese campaigns of the 1930s. However, instead of focusing on the movements in Sinaloa and Sonora, González turns to the failed Ensenada (Baja California) Campaign of 1934. The Ensenada campaign provides an important historiographical corrective: the success of anti-Chinese movements was not preordained. In Ensenada, Chinese residents organized resistance against their aggressors and, when local governments would not intervene, appealed to Chinese consular officials for protection. As González argues, Mexican Chinese appeals bore fruit only after Mexico City grew concerned about possible United States intervention in the region. In analyzing the myriad factors that led to Mexico City’s suppression of the Ensenada campaign, the robustness of González’s approach is evident: the unique geopolitics of Baja California, US-Mexican relations, Chinese and Mexican diplomacy, and the actions of Mexican Chinese converged in this historical moment.

Chapter 1 concludes with the difficulties faced by Mexican Chinese who returned to East Asia because of anti-Chinese campaigns. Here, González introduces major questions regarding Mexican citizenship (legal and psychic) that drive his dissertation. Nebulous citizenship laws allowed the Mexican government to strip citizenship, and the corresponding right to return to Mexico, from anyone who fled to China. When conditions in East Asia compelled many to try to come back to Mexico, the Mexican government’s requirements posed significant obstacles for all but the most privileged returnees. Even as the social position of Chinese in Mexico improved over time, the perilous legal conditions of Mexican Chinese on both sides of the Pacific in the 1930s continued to weigh heavily on the Mexican Chinese community.

The second chapter explores the Mexican Chinese response to the Japanese invasion of China in the late 1930s. It begins by highlighting the fractious nature of the Chinese community in Mexico following the anti-Chinese campaigns, specifically conflicts between groups loyal to the Guomindang (the ruling Chinese government) and the Zhi Gong Tang, who were skeptical of Chiang Kai-shek’s regime. As González argues, however, these long-standing tensions eased in the wake of the Japanese offensive. With the assistance of Chinese consular officials, Chinese Mexicans rallied to the Allied cause and raised substantial material and financial support for the Chinese war effort. New social organizations, including Chinese-language newspapers, were also established. Using these newspapers, along with the writings of Yu Shouzhi, a young Chinese teacher in Mexico City, González paints a vibrant picture of the wartime Mexican Chinese community.

González also recounts the controversy surrounding the 1942 Mexican government decree that required Mexican Chinese to participate in military training. Military service divided the community; the Zhi Gong Tang, for example, argued that service would raise the status of Chinese in Mexico, while others objected to fighting on behalf of the government that had supported the anti-Chinese campaigns. Although the majority of Chinese ignored the requirements, in two communities in Baja California, local Chinese even organized their own military squads. González reveals how the Chinese community’s varied reactions to military service represented the complicated position of Mexico’s Chinese, while also presaging the conflicts that would later emerge in Chinese Mexican history.

World War II brought China and Mexico together and raised the status of the Chinese in Mexico. González argues that, “From a position of vulnerability, the Chinese community in Mexico experienced a period of stability and tranquility they had not seen since before the Mexican Revolution” (p. 142). Nothing better represented this change than the mass celebrations of Allied victory that accompanied the visit of a Chinese naval fleet in 1946. The celebrations incorporated Mexican Chinese and recognized the community’s contributions to the war effort. By the end of World War II, the Chinese had secured their position in Mexican society. It was the Chinese government’s place that was now threatened.

Any international prestige that the Guomindong earned from the Allied victory quickly disappeared following its defeat to the Communists in the Chinese Civil War. Despite its 1949 exile to Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek’s Republican government continued its claim to represent China internationally. The final three chapters of We Won’t Be Bullied Anymore shift to the Cold War and describe the (now) Republic of China’s (ROC) attempts to maintain the support of Mexican Chinese and the recognition of the Mexican government.

In Chapter 3, González focuses on the ROC’s diplomatic efforts after its move to Taiwan. Forced to cut back its diplomatic presence worldwide, Taipei closed all of its Mexican consulates in 1950, though it left open its embassy in Mexico City. With a skeleton staff, ROC officials could not meet their diplomatic responsibilities, including assisting Mexican Chinese. Nonetheless, Mexican Chinese, still believing that a Chinese diplomatic presence was necessary in the face of potential anti-Chinese sentiment, appealed for the reestablishment of local consulates. Soon afterward, fearing that Chinese in Mexico could soon support the People’s Republic of China, ROC diplomats began viewing the Chinese community as a resource in their fight to continue representing China internationally. The chapter closes with the successful quest of Chinese in Mexicali, Baja California, to persuade Taipei to reopen its consulate in 1958. González highlights that the successful reopening of the Mexicali consulate was “due not only to the fact that the Mexicali Chinese had remained loyal to the Nationalist government, but had also worked closely with the local government towards the economic development of the state” (p. 195). This symbiotic relationship, in which both the ROC and Mexican Chinese gained from close ties, would continue over the next two decades.

Chapter 4 examines the public diplomacy of He Fengshan, the Republic of China’s ambassador to Mexico from 1958 to 1965. Ambassador He worked tirelessly with Mexican Chinese to ensure their continued support of the Republican cause and used public events to improve the visibility of Chinese in Mexico. Through these events, ROC officials highlighted the Mexicanness of the Chinese community in order to achieve their political goals. For example, González shows that He organized the now annual Chinese pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe, one of Mexico City’s most prominent Catholic sites, to present Taipei as a defender of religion, in contrast to its rivals in Beijing.

The public rivalry between the two Chinas boiled over at the PRC’s Economic and Commercial Exposition, held in Mexico City in December of 1963. Aimed at demonstrating the economic progress that the Communist Chinese government had made on the mainland, the exposition threatened the ROC’s status in Mexico. When diplomatic efforts –including appeals for the US to intervene on Taipei’s behalf – failed to stop the trade fair, Ambassador He organized the Chinese community to publicly protest the exposition. Together, they presented the Mexican Chinese as victims of the Communist regime. González convincingly argues that He’s actions dulled the exposition’s success and played a role in Mexico’s continued recognition of Taipei. In analyzing the controversy surrounding the exposition, González demonstrates how Cold War concerns in Latin America extended to the region’s relationship with East Asia.

The fifth and final chapter analyzes the final years of the Republic of China’s diplomatic relationship with Mexico, paying particular attention to the hardships faced by Mexican Chinese whose loyalty to Taipei was questioned. Referencing the work of Greg Grandin and Gil Joseph, González demonstrates how the Cold War politicized the everyday lives of Chinese in Mexico. For the ardent supporters of the ROC, even visiting family in mainland China was an endorsement of Mao’s regime. Here, González presents two cases of Mexican Chinese suspected of supporting Beijing and the claims they made to defend themselves. Although such suspicions were largely unfounded, the chapter reveals that these allegations ruined public reputations.

Lastly, Chapter 5 assesses the reemergence of tensions between political organizations in the Chinese Mexican community following the ROC’s 1965 decision to replace Ambassador He. Specifically, González assesses ROC attempts to alleviate conflicts between local chapters of the Guomindang and the Min Zhi Dang, an organization more critical of Taipei, through the establishment of a singular, pan-Mexican overseas Chinese association. Yet, while the new association convinced ROC diplomats of Mexican Chinese loyalty to Taipei, they were ultimately unable to stop the global embrace of the PRC. González’s epilogue brings to a close Mexico’s diplomatic relations with the ROC. With country after country formally recognizing the PRC as China’s legitimate government, Mexico followed suit in 1971. The Mexican Chinese community, too, eventually accepted the PRC. Nonetheless, González argues that important continuities exist between the era of ROC recognition and today’s Chinese community in Mexico. Many of the traditions within Chinese Mexican culture, including the pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe, are actually remnants of the history that González has so ably written.

We Won’t Be Bullied Anymore skillfully navigates different levels of analysis and weaves together diverse actors to provide a complete picture of the Chinese community and its place in Mexico. González’s work is particularly important in the context of a Latin American Cold War historiography that has largely omitted immigrant experiences, especially non-European ones. In short, it is the ability to connect these different levels of analysis – global and local, group and individual – while also taking advantage of new historical sources that makes this dissertation such an exciting contribution to the scholarly literature.

Andre Kobayashi Deckrow
Doctoral Candidate, History-East Asia
Columbia University
akd2120@columbia.edu

Primary Sources

Academia Historica Xindian, Taipei
Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City
Archivo Histórico Genaro Estrada, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Mexico City
Institute of Modern History, Academica Sinica, Taipei
Qiao Sheng Yue Kan (periodical), Mexico City

Dissertation Information

Yale University. 2013. 318 pp. Primary Advisor: Gilbert Joseph.

Photo: Chinese Mexican pilgrims march to the Basilica de Guadalupe, Mexico’s holiest shrine. Courtesy of Pilar Chen Chi.

 

 

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