La presencia China en el Gran Caribe: Ayer y hoy , by Mukien Adriana Sang Ben (ed.)

In: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids
Kathleen López Rutgers University Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and Department of History New Brunswick NJ U.S.A.

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Mukien Adriana Sang Ben (ed.), La presencia China en el Gran Caribe: Ayer y hoy. Santo Domingo: Centro de Estudios Caribeños [PUCMM], 2022, 982 pp. Open source:

Readers of this collection of essays on the Chinese presence in the Greater Caribbean will encounter Chinese laborers on nineteenth-century Cuban and Panamanian sugar plantations and railroads, the Dragon Mas in early-twentieth-century Trinidadian carnival, Cold War-era technicians from Taiwan in the Dominican Republic, China’s recent investment in Jamaican stadiums, and much more. Mukien Adriana Sang Ben and the Centro de Estudios Caribeños, Pontífica Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) in the Dominican Republic gathered scholars from multiple disciplines to embark on this ambitious volume. Most of the authors are from Latin America and the Caribbean, providing a Global South perspective, and some have professional experience in banking, industry, and journalism. Several contributors are descendants of Chinese migrants who bring a unique perspective to their research. To date, most scholarship on Chinese in Latin America and the Caribbean has focused on historical migrations, social and economic integration, and discrimination. Recent decades have witnessed a boom in publications on China’s contemporary diplomatic and economic presence in the region. Another growing area of interest is Chinese influence in Latin American and Caribbean cultural production. La Presencia China en el Gran Caribe brings together these different strands, while pursuing “less explored themes, innovative methods, and unpublished sources to transcend the classic studies” (p. 14).

The book has two main sections: the history of Chinese migrations to the Caribbean and the geopolitical, cultural, and economic role of China in the region from 1950 to the present. Each includes broad overview chapters and case studies on the Chinese presence in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Colombia, and the United States. The essays can be read independently, providing detailed historical context and a bibliography. However, eliminating repetitive background and encouraging chapters to be in dialogue with each other would have generated a more cohesive read.

The book avoids the pitfall of rigidly defining the geographically, politically, ethnically, and linguistically diverse Caribbean, especially when following the movement of people, goods, money, and ideas. For example, Francisco Scarano traces Chinese migration to the subregion known as the Gulf-Caribbean (Golfo-Caribe), a conceptual frame incorporating the Gulf of Mexico and the islands. He highlights the link between Chinese exclusion in the United States and anti-Chinese racism in northern Mexico.

The essays synthesize the substantial scholarship on Chinese indentured labor and subsequent migrations to Cuba, Peru, Panama, and the British West Indies, but they also introduce new evidence from documentary archives, photos, and newspapers. Four chapters on Chinese in the Dominican Republic analyze historical migrations, their role in Dominican cultural identity, second and later generations, and economic presence. Luis Álvarez López and Sonia Bu-Larancuent draw on interviews with descendants of Chinese to provide a nuanced sketch of Chinese Dominicans, including some who later migrated to the United States. Like work focused on the Dominican Republic, few publications exist on the Chinese presence in Colombia, which Etna Bayona Velásquez approaches from an economic angle from 1950 to the present.

The global Cold War period remains another understudied area in our knowledge of Chinese migrations and relations between China and the Caribbean, one that several authors address. After the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, the United States and other countries recognized the exiled Nationalist government in Taiwan. Until recently, most of the Caribbean lacked formal relations with the People’s Republic of China. Miguel Sang Ben analyzes Chinese migration to the Caribbean from the perspective of this conflict. Today, China seeks to fortify Caribbean relations and woo the few remaining countries in the region that recognize Taiwan.

This strategy entails massive economic investment in ports, highways, mining, oil, tourism, technology, and donations and loans, bolstered by cultural programming and language instruction. Arturo Martínez Moya estimates that the total GDP of Caribbean countries and territories generated by the Chinese increased from US$ 13,469 million in 1960 to US$ 337,165 million in 2000. Given the historic dominance of the United States in the Caribbean, China’s economic advance presents challenges to U.S. policy. China’s increasing presence in the Caribbean has captured media attention, at times resulting in negative commentary. In her concluding essay, Dominican journalist Emilia Pereyra goes beyond the headlines, using questionnaires to analyze perceptions of China and Chinese migrants among opinion leaders.

As an open access digital edition that avoids academic jargon, the book will be of interest to scholars, policymakers, and a broader Spanish-reading audience. It provides a Caribbean-centered perspective on global mobilities and economies and lays the groundwork for future research on China’s presence in the Caribbean, past and present, and its significance for regional management of issues such as development, health pandemics, and environmental impact.

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