Identity Construction in Chinese Jamaican Communities

Greetings from Jamaica! This summer I completed almost six weeks of field research in Jamaica

Because of it’s population size, established Chinese Jamaican business sector, and concentration of Chinese cultural associations, most of my fieldwork was conducted in Kingston—the nation’s capital. I first came to Kingston last summer when I conducted my first round of preliminary fieldwork. During that first trip I was able to create some great initial connections with key interlocutors, as well as determine a handful of Chinese serving institutions that I would like to conduct interviews and participant observation in. Through interviews with interlocutors I was also able to identity three distinct sociolinguistic populations: the Hakka and Jamaican patois speaking Jamaican Born Chinese, Cantonese speaking migrants from Hong Kong, and the most recent group—Mandarin speakers from mainland China. For my second this trip I wanted to look more into the differences between these three groups, using the ethnic institutions and cultural associations identified in my first trip as my sites of study. Additionally, I wanted to begin collecting geographic data for the quantitative portions of my project.

Overall I have been able to achieve many of my research goals. While I was not able to attend meetings in all the organizations on my list (some did not meet when I was in town or I was not able to get in contact with organization leaders) I was able to conduct participant observation and interviews with leaders of two of the largest organizations—the Chinese Benevolent Association and the Confucius Institute—as well as connect with an organization that has been on the island for 129 years—the Chee Kung Tong (Chinese Freemason’s Association).

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During my trip a large Jamaican cultural festival, Kingston on the Edge paired with the Chinese Benevolent Association to host a tour of the historic Chinese temple that still stands on Barry street (which used to be Kingston’s Chinatown). Participants were taken on a tour of the three levels of the temple where they were provided with a historical overview of the temple as well as the Chinese Jamaican community. Visitors also had the opportunity to light incense and pay homage to their ancestors in the temple.

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Although organizers originally anticipated thirty or or visitors, in the end they calculated approximately a hundred and fifty people in attendance. The attendees ranged from locals interested in learning more about the historic Chinese community and the Chinatown they had seen growing up in Kingston, to tourists that were frequenting the festivals activities. As a researcher it was interesting to see the ways in which the history of the local Chinese community articulated for a wider audience in a way that focused on both the specificity of their Hakka identity (most of the Jamaican Born Chinese population is ethnically Hakka Chinese) as well as the Chinese community in the Jamaican context. It was also fascinating to hear locals reminisce about the old Chinatown, especially as downtown has changed a lot since then. Many seemed to be actively interested in reviving it. Overall it was a very ethnographically rich experience.

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One unintended (but extremely exciting) outcome of my research, was that I was able to reconnect with members of my own family and accompany them on a trip of their hometown. I look forward to connecting more with them in the future. I wish to thank the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies for this amazing opportunity and their support in the growth and enrichment of my research.

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Jordan Lynton is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Anthropology at IU.



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