Chinos and Paisanos: Chinese Mexican Relations in the Borderlands

Chinos and Paisanos: Chinese Mexican Relations in the Borderlands

Pacific Historical Review
Volume 79, Number 1 (February 2010)
Pages 50–85
DOI: 10.1525/phr.2010.79.1.50

Julian Lim
Cornell University

Using the testimonio of Manuel Lee Mancilla, a Chinese Mexican man born in Mexicali in 1921, this article explores the experiences of the Chinese in northern Mexico in the early 1900s. It examines the conditions under which Chinese immigrants came to and helped build new borderland communities and simultaneously recovers the day-to-day relationships that were negotiated and nurtured there. Meaningful moments of Chinese Mexican cooperation emerged amid intense conflict and despite the anti-Chinese campaigns of the Mexican Revolution and the infamous Sonoran purges of the 1930s. Challenging static notions of ethnic and racial identities and relations, and analyzing the anti-Chinese movements in less monolithic terms, this article examines not only how Chinese and Mexicans weathered revolutionary violence and xenophobia but also the turbulent forces of U.S. capital and labor exploitation on both sides of the border.

In 1920 Manual Lee Chew’s family held a great wedding banquet at the Casa Blanca restaurant, located in the center of Mexicali’s la Chinesca [Chinatown].  All of the Lees, along with their paisanos [countrymen], were there to celebrate. It was a momentous occasion as well, for the bride was one of the first Mexicans to marry a Chinese in Mexicali.  For family friends such as Samuel Lee, it was the perfect event for sharing their good fortune and wishes with the happy couple: Samuel Lee proudly lent his cherished Cadillac to Lee Chew for the wedding.  More that seventy years later, memories about the great celebration and other experiences of Chinese immigrants in the Mexican borderlands…

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