Chinese in the English-Speaking Caribbean - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Given the shortage of Chinese women in the Americas during the nineteenth century, Chinese men were willing to marry Black women, especially those who were shopkeepers in the countryside. Although many of these unions were common-law marriages, some were official. The motivation was partly to develop rapport with their Black clientele, but also to engage their trust. In the early twentieth century, some men born in China continued to arrive in the Caribbean for commercial purposes and imported China-born wives. Since the end of World War II, however, with the creolization of second, third, and fourth generations, traditional arranged marriages only take place among the few born in China and, hence, are rare. The marriage norm clearly favors a Chinese spouse (locally born, however), although marriage to Euro-Americans and Europeans is acceptable. Marriage to East Indians and Blacks is explicitly frowned upon, but the existence of many racially mixed Chinese is evidence that such unions are not infrequent. In Jamaica, the racially mixed are called "Chinee Royal."

Domestic Unit. The traditional Chinese patriarchal family is virtually nonexistent. The basic household unit is the nuclear family in which women work, have an equal voice in family affairs, and are often very influential in business matters. It is important to note, however, that nuclear-family households are strongly linked to extended kin with whom they interact frequently and exchange personal services such as child care. Among the less affluent, there is also a pooling of income and other resources.

Socialization. Intimate relationships with Creole women encouraged the creolization of Chinese men, which enhanced their acceptance by the Creole people who surrounded them. Knowing only Creole culture themselves, Creole wives were powerful agents of creolization of their children, which ensured the creolization of subsequent generations. Furthermore, Chinese immigrants were willing to learn Creole languages, which included both Creole English and Creole French, called patois, and adopted English and French surnames. For instance, there are Chinese families in Trinidad with surnames like Scott and McLean. Subsequent generations not only moved away from the Chinese language as the main channel of communication but adopted Western values and styles of dress; however, even the children of mixed-race unions developed dual identities (i.e., Chinese and Euro-African).

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