Chinese of Costa Rica - Marriage and Family

The first groups of immigrants were composed of young unskilled men, many of whom established consensual unions with local Hispanic women of low socioeconomic status and rural background. Immigrants of solid economic status brought brides from China or from immigrant colonies in neighboring countries, such as Panama and Colombia. Otherwise, an undetermined number of immigrants, and later their descendants, traveled to China to find consorts.

As unions between Chinese immigrants and Hispanic women produced offspring, the growing population of cruzados provided marriageable partners to an immigrant community that was chronically faced with a scarcity of females.

In an effort to strengthen Chinese cultural values, immigrants who could afford to sent their older children to special schools for immigrants' children in southern China, (Hong Kong, Zhong shan) and encouraged them to marry preselected Chinese brides.

The family structure prevalent among Costa Rican Chinese today can be safely assumed to represent patterns common in southern China, first practiced by the early immigrants, mixed with those of local Hispanic society, as introduced by Hispanic consorts and by the descendants raised and educated in Costa Rica. The structure was based on a clearly defined hierarchy of positions of authority and roles, in which gender and age were the most important factors. The oldest males in the family —grandfather, father, and his brothers—held the highest position of authority and respect, followed by male children in descending order. Kinship terminology emphasized the rank of males in the structure and clan membership as defined through the father's line of descent. Under traditional rules of inheritance, older males likewise, had more rights, and females were practically excluded.

Although the family structure valued by traditional local Hispanic society is similar in principle to that of the immigrants, Hispanic women play a more important role in the family hierarchy and in decision making; the incorporation of Hispanic women tended to introduce changes in the immigrant household leading to a stronger role, and increased recognition, for females. The functionality of the structure is attested by the stability of immigrant households: divorces, separations, and broken families are rare.

However, despite the father's important role in emphasizing Chinese cultural values, and despite the strength of the family structure and the economic power that helped retain descendants within the immigrant family and community, cruzado children gravitated toward the culture of their Hispanic mothers. Moreover, for both cruzado and full-blooded Chinese children, the local public-school system strengthened the process of assimilation to local Hispanic society. Today, 140 years after the arrival of the first immigrants from southern China, only the eldest members of the community, immigrants who arrived after the 1920s, retain a strong Chinese cultural identity. Their descendants, although favoring aspects of Chinese culture, are predominantly culturally Hispanic.

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