Chinese of Costa Rica - Economy

The original immigrants left their contract jobs within a short period of time. Of the 653 who had entered under the railroad contract of 1873, only 236 remained with the railroad project a year later. Departure from the railroad was facilitated by the purchase of their contracts by private citizens, for whom the immigrants performed domestic services and farm labor. Once freed from their contractual obligations, a few sold vegetables, poultry, and household merchandise in the streets of the port towns, but most set up small grocery stores ( pulperías ), eateries ( fondas ), and drinking establishments. To finance these enterprises, they counted on the small savings obtained while under contract, and on loans from their previous patrons and other Chinese immigrants. The credit societies they established once they had begun to accumulate capital became a very important—often the only—source of credit, especially among newcomers.

By 1902, immigrants had become dominant in the economy of the port of Limón, where they owned the largest proportion of commercial establishments that catered to railroad and banana-plantation workers. They were also dominant in the economy of the town of Cañas, in the northwestern region, and had a very strong economic presence in the port of Puntarenas, on the Pacific, and in Nicoya, on the peninsula of the same name. In other parts of the country, although not as prevalent, the store or restaurant of "el Chino" was a popular feature.

The relative economic and social independence provided by involvement in commercial activities allowed immigrants to maintain their cultural orientation toward the motherland and to supply a steady stream of monetary remittances that significantly bolstered the economies of their hometowns in China.

Eventually, a number of immigrants established businesses that flourished and permitted expansion into other economic areas, such as agricultural production, while allowing them to provide credit to young immigrants who were just getting started. Among them were veritable tycoons such as José Chen Apuy, who established the well-known general store "Man chong sing" in Puntarenas and who helped many of his countrymen with the process of immigration and settlement; Juan José León Yee, a successful merchant, agricultural producer, and common-cause politician on the city council of the port of Limón, who was a well-regarded benefactor of that city; and Luís Wa Chong, one of the first cattlemen in the northern Atlantic plains and among the first coffee producers in the southern Pacific region of Coto Brus. He later became Costa Rican ambassador-at-large to the community of Asian nations.

Since the 1950s, many Chinese merchants have diversified their investments; from the traditional small and large grocery stores and restaurants, which are still the most visible enterprises, they have branched out into farming (rice, cattle), agro-industry (processing agricultural products, such as cocoa, for export), and small local industry (dried foods, pastries, rubber thongs).

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