Theses Doctoral

A Transpacific Caribbean: Chinese Migration, US Imperialism, and the Making of Modern Colombia

Ng Tam, Yung Hua Nancy

This dissertation traces Chinese migration to and settlement in Colombia from the 1890s through 2020, and situates immigrants' experiences within a larger racially-attuned economic story of a commercially integrating transpacific Caribbean immediately before and after the consolidation of American hegemony. It specifically traces Chinese migration and commercial activities in key sites and regions increasingly drawn into financial and trade systems shaped by the US, including: the Colombian Pacific port of Buenaventura; Panama and the interoceanic canal which connected transpacific Caribbean communities and commerce; the Colombian Caribbean port cities of Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Santa Marta; and Bogotá, the political seat of power which oversaw externally-oriented national economic development and international trade. Though they were racially and economically marginalized and their entry and movements were restricted in Colombia as elsewhere in the Americas, Chinese were nevertheless able to carve out commercial and migration opportunities that connected regions of nations together. Bridging Anglophone and Spanish-speaking, agricultural and industrial, Pacific and Atlantic, their particular migration paths and economic niches enabled them to play unrecognized but integral integrative roles in larger commercial integration processes—whether as merchants who connected the Colombian Pacific to markets in the United States and Europe; truck farmers whose production of food for domestic consumption supported agricultural export and industrialization efforts; or restauranteurs whose expansion of Chinese restaurants from the Caribbean coast to the western coffee axis and Andean interior later became the basis for a new import-export role of distributing goods cheaply made in China within Colombia’s urban centers. Continually adapting to new structural constraints and opportunities, Chinese created a persisting and evolving migrant and migration economy sustained by and sustaining familial and commercial connections that spanned what I term a transpacific Caribbean. Their (often serial) transpacific and circum-Caribbean historical migration trajectories took them from villages, cities, and counties mostly in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong province and Hong Kong to the Greater Caribbean region (Panama, Trinidad, Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela, etc.), the United States, and the coastal Caribbean, Pacific, and Andean interior regions of Colombia. What facilitated such migrations (and what attracted Chinese migrants)—the anticipated economic opportunities that followed the building of integrative transportation and trade infrastructure that connected interior to port cities and port cities to international (mainly US) markets—is as important to Colombian economic development history and US overseas commercial expansion as to Chinese immigration history. By showing how Chinese built a migrant and migration economy within this broader imperial and national economic structure, “A Transpacific Caribbean: Chinese Migration, US Imperialism, and the Making of Modern Colombia” weaves these interconnected strands of history together.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ngai, Mae M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 19, 2021