In this Caribbean Studies Project, a traditional vs. modern approach was used to explore the changes in the Chinese community from the 19th to the 21st century. The impact of Chinese advancement throughout the centuries in Trinidad was made visible through the lenses of a second generation Chinese man Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai and his family the Aleongs. An investigation into the impact of the Chinese Association and the role they played in making the Chinese community known was also noted. Limited research has been done on the impact of immigration on second generation Chinese Trinidadians, so through interviews done not only with Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai and the Association but close family friends; a further insight into second-generation Chinese Trinidadians was revealed. This research laid emphasis on the contributions of the Chinese to the development of the multicultural and diverse society of Trinidad.
ALDWYN TANG KAI AND THE ALEONG-TANG KAI CONNECTION
As the Chinese Trinidadian community in the 21st century becomes more open-minded to change, by embracing their identity as Trinidadians, it becomes incumbent to explore this new attitude and its impact on their Trinidadian experience. In an effort to add to the historiography on this topic, this work examines a second generation Chinese family, The Tang Kai’s, to provide an insight into the extent to which the encounters of this latter generation differed from the typical first generation experience. This family is unique because unlike many traditional Chinese family homes, they were involved in all that Trinidad had to offer from cultural festivities to Creole cuisine.
This study of the Chinese community in Trinidad and their evolution focuses on the life of Aldwyn Tang Kai a prominent business man of San Fernando and more importantly a second generation Chinese Trinidadian whose experiences certainly provide insight into the changes within the Chinese community with the second half of the 20th century. It is important to note that some reference will be placed on the Aleong family since Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai spent his teenage into adult life at the Aleong family home.
These two families are supposedly related through marriage. The misinterpretation of the first and last names of Chinese coming into the West Indies has stripped many Chinese of their true identity by giving them English names. Vernon Aleong married Gloria Lee Kit (Mrs. Aleong), and her sister married James Woo Chong, who is the cousin of Aldwyn Tang Kai. Mr. Tang Kai has lived at Vernon Aleong’s home since 1958 and resides there with his wife up until this present day. Rex Collymore, an Afro-Trinidadian also lived with the Aleongs for many years, which also attests to the aberrations of the Aleong family home.
Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai is a seventy year old second generation Trinidadian of Chinese descent. He was born to Henry and Evelyn Tang Kai, who resided in La Brea. He was a product of an interracial marriage. His father was pure Chinese and his mother was of mixed descent (Chinese, African and East Indian descent). His mother was also a descendant of the Pawans; she is the second cousin of Dr. Lennox Pawan who was instrumental in eradicating rabies in Trinidad. He lived with his parents up until 1958 but later moved in with the Aleongs to avoid traveling to college in San Fernando. Both the Aleong and Tang Kai families were religious. The same values that he learnt at home, he learnt while living with the Aleongs. Although many Chinese converted to Roman Catholicism not all were baptized. Henry Tang Kai was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church in January, 1931. Aldwyn Tang Kai, like his family was a strong believer in Catholicism. Henry Tang Kai never wanted to move to China, but planned to visit in 1947.
The Tang Kai and Aleong families belonged to the middle class because they owned businesses (Dry goods shop and cafeteria). There were two generations that lived in the Tang Kai home. Aldwyn had a good relationship with both his parents and his extended family, the Aleongs. He recalls helping out in the family business and learning to cook Chinese food. He considered his family as modern Chinese Trinidadians because in their home, they also ate Indian and Creole food. They also participated and were involved in different cultural festivities that took place in Trinidad such as Eid, Divali, Christmas, Carnival, Panorama and Easter, just to name a few. The impact of the aforementioned was phenomenal, as in his later life, it would be seen that on his travels, he took with him his Trinidadian cultural values while at the same time retaining some of his Chinese culture.
While growing up, Trinidad English was spoken in the Tang Kai and Aleong family home. Little Chinese were spoken mainly by the head of the home when distant relatives came to Trinidad to visit them. Evidence has been shown through research done by relatives such as, Henrietta Akit, of both internal and external events that had a tremendous impact on their family and the society of Trinidad such as the Black Power Movement and the 1990 coup.
Furthermore, an insight of the Aleong’s family through the lens of Rex Collymore, an African family friend, who lived with and worked for the Aleong’s in their family business, sheds light on the relationships that this family had with persons of differing ethnic backgrounds. Lastly, a look into the influence of the Chinese Associations reveals that the transformation of the society of Trinidad since emancipation has resulted in a degeneration of the traditional and cultural norms and values of Chinese Trinidadians.
Moreover, it is the belief of many people that the Chinese community has excluded themselves from the festivities and multicultural nature of the society in which they live. This family has revealed that each household has its own experiences, its own beliefs and whilst they still uphold some of the traditions from where their ancestors came, through interracial marriages, a new era of Chinese Trinidadians has been manifested in this family.
CHINESE IN TRINIDAD: 19TH TO 21ST CENTURY
Trinidad has been referred to as a ‘melting pot’. So as a way to truly understand Aldwyn Tang Kai and the evolution of his family, an in-depth look at the history of his Chinese ancestors who came to the colony is necessary to see this family saga unfold. The West Indies is a multicultural society with people of differing ethnic backgrounds and cultural values, as a result of various streams of migration. Migrants came for many reasons; some were forced to come, and others came as a form of escape from the plight of their native home land. People such as the Chinese came as indentured labourers /free labourers who migrated to Trinidad between 1853 and 1866.
However, the dispute was that, they were brought in the 19th century for experimental purposes by the British colonists/government but were told otherwise. In ‘The Chinese in the West Indies 1806-1995: a documentary history’, Walton Look Lai verified that, ‘The original motivation for the idea of a Chinese settlement stemmed from the need to populate an island which was a newly acquired British colony (1797), and to find a substitute for the African slave traffic, then on its last legs within the British Empire’This project, the first New World Chinese settlement of its kind in the nineteenth century, was not successful.’ (22)
Evidence of this scheme to acquire a replacement for enslavement has been revealed. In ‘Essays on the Chinese Diaspora in the Caribbean’, Walton Look Lai, illustrated the deceit of Kenneth Macqueen in which is stated that:
‘They should be told that Trinidad was a large, fertile, uncultivated land and ‘that it is the wish of the British Government to have it inhabited not by slaves, but by a free people; that the Chinese are preferred to all others, as being natives of a warm climate, and still more as being an industrious, sober, orderly people”(17) Although they were misled into coming to the West Indies, the Chinese adjusted to their new living conditions and worked assiduously on the field.
They also played a major role in the cultural assimilation, social fabric and diversity of the economy, spreading their cultural norms and values not only in the Caribbean but globally. They came in four waves, initially in 1806 on the Fortitude from Macao, Penang and Canton as a British experiment to replace enslaved Africans prior to the abolition of slavery. This was a ‘bitter sweet’ period in the colonial Caribbean. Kim Johnson, in ‘Descendants of the Dragon’, documented that ‘ Nineteenth century Trinidad was described by a colonial officer as ‘ A subject for an anatomy school or rather a poor patient in a country hospital on which all saints of surgical experiments are tried, to be given up if they fail and to be practiced on others if they succeed.’ (16)
The second wave came from the southern province of Guangdong, subsequent to the failure of the experiment and the abolition of slavery. Edison Boodoosingh recorded in ‘Trinidad and Tobago- A Caribbean Expression of Colourful Diversity’, that ‘Between 1853 and 1866, the bulk of the immigrants that had arrived in Trinidad were hired as indentured labourers. At this time also, there were some free Chinese who migrated voluntarily in search of an improved way of life in the new world.’ (19)This ended after the colonial government ended their contract, and the Chinese government demanded a free return passage.
However, the Chinese revolution sparked the third wave of Chinese migration after 1911. This led to a growth in the Chinese in Trinidad in the 20th century (1920’s to 1940’s). Resulting from the failure of the British experiment during the first wave of Chinese migration and the second wave where only Chinese men were permitted to come to the colonies, the families of earlier migrants were now allowed to come from China as well as the wider Caribbean.
In ‘The Chinese in Latin America and the Caribbean’, Walton Look Lai and Chee Beng Tan records, ‘Re-migrants from Trinidad and especially Guyana, probably fleeing from plantations, started arriving in the 1860s and continued into the 1880s, doubling the Chinese population. They identified and occupied spaces and niches in local commerce, focusing in particular on the retail food trade, starting in rural plantation districts’ (Johnson 1983:53-54; Look Lai 1998; Ho 1989).’ (76)
This continued in the later 20th century and led to the fourth wave of Chinese in Trinidad, where the Chinese government decided to open up the outside world causing an influx of Chinese coming to Trinidad. This time, the Chinese community demonstrated more efforts of societal and cultural integration; Chinese men relied less on just Chinese women but a biracial Chinese community was also established. In ‘A Social History of My Family’, Henrietta Akit records that, ‘Sometimes, it is difficult to identify the genetic parents of a child by just looking at that person. There are many mixed marriages and some are widespread.’ (12)
Furthermore at the turn of the century, illegal immigration and importation began to occur among the Chinese community. In ‘The Chinese in Trinidad’, Trevor M. Millett stated that, ‘A little known fact is that opium was used quite extensively in some associations which often incurred unwelcomed visitors by the law. Signs, written exclusively in Chinese in order to avoid detection by the law, openly advertised the sale of the illicit drug and mentioned the days on which it would be sold and used at the specific association.’ (66)
It can be concluded that each wave of Chinese coming into the Caribbean had different experiences. The first wave was in 1806, the second in 1853, 1911 and later in the 1920’s. However, problems within China managed to affect the Chinese in Trinidad. One such problem is Opium. This created problems such as illegal immigration and importation. There was also a breakaway from the traditional beliefs of Chinese having relations with Chinese. Interracial relationships between Chinese men and African women began to occur. At the turn of every century, they became more and more integrated.
DEVIATION FROM TRADITION
In a traditional Chinese home, family was considered sacred. The men of the home from father, to eldest and youngest son were highly respected by the women of the home. In the home siblings were not to refer to each other by their birth name out of respect (Example: the eldest sister was called ‘Chay chay’ or ‘Tai chay’, youngest sister was called ‘muy muy’ and the eldest brother was called ‘Ko ko’ or ‘Tai Ko’). There have been many attempts to preserve cultural values, but much has changed due to a generation gap between Chinese immigrants who came and Chinese Trinidadian descendants as time progressed.
In ‘The Chinese in Trinidad’ by Trevor M. Millett, ‘the family was founded on kinship and its structure was organized on strictly patriarchal ties. Ideally it consisted of five generations from great-great grandparents to third cousins all of whom were supposed, theoretically to share the same living quarters. In actuality this was rarely possible and the norm was for the family to be located very close to one another in the same area.’ (97)
However, in recent times the aforementioned has changed. Many Chinese Trinidadians moved to San Fernando and Port of Spain for work and to establish their business(s). This move caused a breakdown in the family home as relatives moved all over Trinidad. This indicates that as Chinese immigrants attempted to integrate into society they had to give up some of the traditional aspects of their life brought by their ancestors. The Tang Kai household consisted of two generations, unlike traditional Chinese families who consisted of five generations as previously stated. Many members of the family migrated to different parts of Trinidad and Canada.
Nevertheless, all members of the family played a role in the growth of the family business, financially or otherwise. Millett disclosed that, ‘As a unit of production, all members were expected to contribute their labour to the shop, laundry, restaurant or whatever. This was consistent with the value of diligence held high by the Chinese community. All members of the family were expected to exhibit commitment and conscientiousness in work” (101)
The Tang Kai family, like their ancestors, worked hard as a family unit at the shops. Earnings from the family business were shared amongst family members both locally and abroad in China. Local Trinidadian Rex Collymore, of African descent, worked hand in hand with the Aleongs. At first he was just considered a family friend, who helped out from time to time, but later he became a ‘member’ of the family. He lived and worked in the shop and learnt to cook Chinese food. They treated him like their own, taught him their family values as well as his role as a man. Unlike traditional Chinese homes, the Aleongs, were very accepting of differing cultures and traditions and treated everyone equally. By opening up their home to him, this showed that, the Aleong and Tang Kai families were very accepting of different ethnic. They were very open to interracial marriages as well as differing religious backgrounds. In fact, the Aleong and Tang Kai family were baptized in the Catholic Church and engaged in interracial marriages.
Additionally, in the family home, religion was revered. The Tang Kai’s and the Aleongs families (where Aldwyn lived the rest of his life) are very religious. Second generation Chinese descendant Aldwyn Tang Kai, revealed that, Roman Catholicism was so important to his life that he almost went to Ireland to be a Presentation brother but later changed his mind. The family for them was founded on their spirituality. This is important because many Chinese Trinidadians still conform to this belief system.
Upon arrival to the West Indies many Chinese converted from Confucianism to Catholicism. According to Millett ‘Confucianism’prescribed that the proper ethical relationship between parents and children should be predicated on kindness as displayed by parents towards their children and filial piety as demonstrated by children.’ (98) Many Chinese entering the West Indies converted to Roman Catholicism, leaving behind their old Chinese religious customs to adjust to their new environment.
Conversion to Catholicism was a way for many Chinese Trinidadians to elevate themselves up the social ladder. Many times, Chinese men changed their names upon conversion to Christianity to English names in order to acquire jobs, to be taken seriously and achieve upward mobility. In China, it was customary for the last name to be first and the first name to appear last in legal documents but, this was not the English way. If in China your name was Tang Kai, Kai was your first name and Tang was your surname, but not knowing this the English gave many Chinese new first names such as John and made both Chinese surname and last name as one last name, so the new name would be John Tang Kai or in some cases the whole name was changed.
Education is also one of the many reasons surrounding the conversion of Chinese to Christianity. In a quote from Bertley and Henry, Millett recorded that, ‘many Chinese in Trinidad became Christians in order to give their children a better education, because the religious schools had stronger discipline and taught a wider variety of subjects.’ (128)This is true for mostly local born Chinese as non- local born Chinese held their faith in Buddha in high esteem. In some cases, where conversion of non-local Chinese born Trinidadians were a success, Chinese in Trinidad decided to have the best of both worlds. According to Millett, ‘their ingrained conviction about the power of the Buddha and his hierarchy of lesser deities compels them to continue paying homage to him.'(128)
BREAK DOWN IN THE FAMILY DYNAMIC (MARRIAGE AND EDUCATION)
In addition, a shift from traditional to modern cultural practices has created a generation gap within the Chinese household. Aldwyn Tang Kai disclosed that, in his teenage to adult life, he dated women of ethnic backgrounds other than his own. His Swedish wife (Gunilla Tang Kai) is not of Chinese descent. In traditional Chinese families, interracial marriages were prohibited. Traditionally, Chinese immigrant men imported brides from China. In some cases, they left their wives in China and married local Chinese women, which were against traditional Chinese practices. Intermarriages occurred in the early stages of migration, but were not as common or as accepted as it is today.
An examination of the Tang Kai family has revealed much evidence on interracial marriages. Aldwyn Tang Kai himself was a product of an interracial marriage between his mother of mixed descent (African, Indian and Chinese descent) and father of Chinese descent. Trevor M. Millett stated, in ‘The Chinese in Trinidad’ that, ‘In their search for companionship many of the male Chinese immigrants were forced by circumstance to befriend and even marry non-Chinese women in Trinidad who acted as agents of creolization among them.'(99) Contrary to traditional beliefs about interracial relationships, second generation Chinese descendant Aldwyn Tang Kai’s parents married for love rather than convenience.
The breakdown in traditional Chinese customs in the Tang Kai home began with Henry Tang Kai, father of Aldwyn Tang Kai, when he married his mother. There was no stated reason why Aldwyn Tang Kai never dated a Chinese Trinidadian girl. In his later life, following in the direction of his father, he married outside of his ethnicity out of love to a beautiful Swedish Caucasian woman. Aldwyn Tang Kai recalls the moment of his life, his wedding day: ‘The wedding took place in Sweden; it was a simple wedding with close Swedish friends and my in-laws. I prepared the reception and cooked- Shrimp cocktail, Tournedo Rossini, and Spanish rice and bought the Champaign.’ Mr. Tang Kai believes that you should only marry once and that there should be equality amongst men and women in the home. His belief in marriage being sacred stems from his religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic. Aldwyn and his wife Gunilla Tang Kai were not just of different ethnic backgrounds, but different religious backgrounds as well, him a Roman Catholic and his wife, a Pentecostal. In no way did he ever encourage his wife to convert to Roman Catholicism, he accepted her exactly the way she was.
Aldwyn Tang Kai was graced with the opportunity to have two role models, his parents as well as the Aleongs. They taught him to accept people for who they were, rather than their religious beliefs, ethnicity or race. Traditionally if a Chinese Trinidadian was to be married, he would import a Chinese wife from China. Although marrying a Caucasian woman would have been more acceptable if a Chinese man was to marry outside of his ethnicity, being Caucasian was not why he pursued his wife, it was purely emotional.
Henrietta Akit, cousin of Aldwyn Tang Kai, makes known in her thesis, ‘A Social History of My Family’, Bishop Mendes’s discussion on Chinese social behaviour which stated that:
‘The occasion of a baptism or a wedding was a grand social affair. They took the opportunity to invite the Chinese community, but also many of their good customers and friends. It is interesting to note however, that in the choice of god-parents, sometimes non-Chinese were invited; but when it came to marriage it was invariable that Chinese married Chinese. There were times when a Chinese girl was imported from China to marry a man whom she had never met.'(9)
This historical account of Aldwyn Tang Kai and the Aleong families is evidence that there has been a vast transformation in the appearance of Chinese Trinidadians. One example would be his marriage to a non-Chinese woman and his involvement in cultural events (calypso, reggae, pan etc.) It also shows that to a great degree they have been well intertwined in Trinidadian society and culture. Race was never an issue for this family when it came to the choice of a spouse. So, unlike traditional Chinese Trinidadians who worried about experiencing culture shock that interracial marriages may bring, it was never an issue for this family which makes this family stand out as compared to their predecessors.
THE SWEDISH EXPERIENCE OF A TRINIDADIAN CHINESE
Aldwyn and his wife have two children. Their daughter was born in Sweden and their son in San Fernando. He passed down what was taught to him by his parents to his children, ‘to be honest, helpful and to show brotherly love to all.’ Aldwyn states that, ‘It was very satisfying to hear people in Sweden say that my children were well brought up.’ The only Chinese tradition practiced in Aldwyn Tang Kai’s home was cooking. He encouraged his children to embrace their Trinidadian culture by exposing them to religious and cultural festivities while at the same time making them aware of their heritage and Chinese Trinidadians. Aldwyn and his family were present at Panorama, Carnival and all other festivities that Trinidad had to offer. With regards to religious practices, Aldwyn claims to have participated in religious festivities such as Diwali, Eid, and Christmas just to name a few.
In ‘A Social History of My Family’, Henrietta Akit recorded that:
‘It seems that the old Chinese are firm believers of their old tradition. However, the younger generation can choose whomever they want because the older generation is losing their control over the younger ones. One reason is that the older people from China are dying and their numbers are decreasing. Another reason is that American customs seemed to have infiltrated into Trinidadian society.’ (9)
The more attractive something appears to be, the more people tend to run after it, hence why trends are set. The western world is seen as ‘trend setters’ and as a result, many young people have become so fascinated with the western world that they all want in on the action. Today, it doesn’t matter what descent you are, whether you are Caucasian, Africana, Chinese or Indian. The issues of race and ethnicity are becoming a thing of the past, and today the youths have become more open to different beliefs and orientations, to the point where things that were not considered normal or that were kept low profiled are now accepted mostly by the younger generations.
Likewise, just as there has been a breakdown of control that Chinese elders had over the younger generation of Chinese Trinidadians, education has been yet another pull factor next to religion that has caused a further breakdown of Chinese traditions in Trinidad resulting in creolization. In the pursuit of educational achievement, students of all walks of life have the option to study at home/abroad. These institutions promote acculturation through school festivities as well as in the academia which gives students a different perspective on the world around them. The point is, people tend to be drawn to things that they have never known, such as freedom, new experiences and so on.
In the case of Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai, he chose to go to Sweden to further his studies, he cooked Chinese food, he sang Soca and reggae music, he did however, experience a bit of culture shock as the home dynamic there was different from his own. He was taught that, a young man was not to go into the room of a young lady; however, in Sweden it was very accepting. It was not the traditions of a Chinese that drove him to make certain life decisions such as education, but knowing who he was as a person and what he wanted out of life.
The Chinese thrived for acceptance in society, through educational achievement. The Chinese believed that if there was an opportunity for one child to acquire an education, it would be given to the eldest boy. In these two families, education was considered an equal opportunity for both male and female. The boys had to cook, clean and go down by the shops just as much as the girls. The conversion to Roman Catholicism altered the views of the family and considering that most school were Roman Catholic schools, the view of ‘equality’ was often preached. Look Lai verified in ‘The Chinese in the West Indies,1806-1995’ that, ‘ Today, the Chinese have earned a name in the agricultural and commercial world for their honesty and straight dealing’Many who adopted the western mode of living gave their children higher western education.'(238)
Furthermore in Walton Look Lai’s, ‘Chinese Transnational Networks’, it has been stated that, ‘The new generation of Chinese in the West Indies, however, is more ambitious than their forefathers. Brought up in Western schools, they seek freedom from their hemmed in lives and aspire to callings superior to those of shop keeping and planting.'(202) As a result of this breakdown in tradition; many Chinese Trinidadians conform to western type lifestyles.
An overview of Aldwyn Tang Kai’s life, makes known the importance and value that he placed on his education, his Trinidadian cultural heritage and the role that he played in spreading the cultural traditions of Trinidad abroad while at the same time maintaining his Chinese Trinidadian identity. Both Evelyn and Henry Tang Kai (Aldwyn Tang Kai’s parents) wanted their children to have a good education but never pressured them into it.
Aldwyn Tang Kai never experienced any form of prejudice in his life in Trinidad. In fact, he was considered one of the popular students as well as one of the ‘bright’ boys. He was 41st in the island in the College Exhibition exam in 1955. At this stage of Mr. Tang Kai’s life, he was very involved in school activities. He was disciplined both at home and school and took his education seriously. After his secondary level of education he later went on to pursue his tertiary education at both local and international universities.
At The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Tang Kai did his Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Mathematics, MSc in Physics; and then Quantum Chemistry at Uppsala University, Sweden. Tang Kai pursued tertiary education because he was passionate about teaching and research. He was a senior lecturer in Physics at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus up to 2005. Although he never experienced racism/ prejudice growing up in Trinidad, he experienced racial insults in Denmark and Sweden, but it never affected him in any way. As a matter of fact, in Sweden he shared his Trinidadian culture by singing calypso, reggae and pop and catered Indian and Chinese food for functions in Sweden.
This being said, it can now be concluded that, while Aldwyn Tang Kai and his family upheld traditional Chinese sentiments of being educated and having a prosperous career, there has been a significant breakaway from the Chinese beliefs of being reserved and separate. Although their ancestors came from China with their own traditions and belief systems, this family viewed themselves as Trinidadians first. They embraced all aspects of the society. However, they were influenced like many other groups by westernization. On the other hand, this family is a representation of a changing society. The older generations no longer have a significant grip on the younger, second generation Chinese Trinidadians because they were not born in China, they were born in Trinidad, and although they may have learnt of a certain way of living at home, they are more and more exposed to the lifestyles of the society in which they live.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND INTEGRATION
The Chinese community of Trinidad is very small. Through the establishments of various businesses throughout Trinidad, the Chinese community has shown just how integrated into society they are. The institution of Chinese businesses has created employment opportunities for the unemployed. Their business strategies have been witnessed from the moment they set foot on Caribbean soil. According to Trevor M. Millett in ‘The Chinese in Trinidad’, ‘A partial psychological explanation of their success could be ascribed to the strength of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was expected of every Chinese man that he would enter the field of business and, most of all, be a success; he was conditioned to accept the pursuit of business objectives as a natural part of the Chinese lifestyle.'(38)
INDEPENDENCE FROM THE CHINESE ASSOCIATION
Whilst the formation of Chinese Associations assisted many Chinese Trinidadians in getting their footing in society, they played no significant role in the lives of the Aldwyn Tang Kai and his family. Mr. Tang Kai only remembers one visit to the association with his father but nothing more. They built their family name and accomplishments through hard work, and did not rely on the Associations to become successful in life. Today many Chinese who rely on the Associations are Chinese coming into Trinidad to open businesses such as groceries and Chinese restaurants. In fact, the seasoned Chinese Trinidadians spoke Cantonese and Trinidad English, but the Chinese from China coming into the country speak Mandarin and know little or no English. The language barrier is what separates and distinguishes them.
Although many Chinese Trinidadians left Trinidad for North America, the Tang Kai family considered themselves as Chinese Trinidadians and stayed. In 1970 because of the Black Power movement many Chinese left Trinidad for fear that their businesses would be affected, and that the history that brought them here to the West Indies would be repeated. There was also the 1990 coup that also scared away not only Chinese Trinidadians but many other Trinidadians. Neither of these events affected the lives of this Trinidadian family, because they saw themselves as Trinidadians, so while everyone ran from the heat they stayed and faced it. Instead, they reaped great rewards, with regards to business, their shop benefitted tremendously. According to Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai, a woman came into their shop and asked his father, Henry Tang Kai, if he too was leaving and he replied, ‘I am a Trinidadian and I have my family here.’
In 1981, Aldwyn’s brother (Gerry Tang Kai) became an NJAC (National Joint Action Committee) candidate but was only able to get about 10 votes. The Black power movement was held under the leadership of NJAC led by Mackandal Daaga. It was very rare that a Chinese Trinidadian would run for candidacy considering that NJAC was more of an Afrocentric type of group that fought for people that were labelled based on the colour of their skin in order to acquire certain types of jobs such as in the bank or their status in society. Chinese Trinidadians focused more on their business than political affairs. However, Gerry Tang Kai’s involvement is evidence that, while many Chinese Trinidadians ran away from the country during this time some stayed because they wanted to be a part of making Trinidad a better place for everyone, even if it meant voting for the most popular political party. As previously stated, they may have been small in number, but made a tremendous impact on the growth and development of this country, through politics, sports, food, education and business.
OPPORTUNITY IN LA BREA
On another note, in the early 20th century, the development of oil, asphalt and the van Leer steel works in La Brea created job opportunities for the Chinese. As a result of the influx of Chinese Trinidadians residing in La Brea, part of the village was given the name ‘Chiney Village’. There were seven different oil companies operating in south Trinidad and many Chinese citizens benefited from the job opportunities created by these companies. They acquired the finances to expand or open businesses all over Trinidad. By the middle of the 20th century, there were thirty established Chinese businessmen. The Chinese community included Chong Ling, Achong, Henry Akit, Tang Kai Yuen, Lee, Achee and Henry Tang Kai (Tang Kai Chun). Henry Tang Kai owned a dry goods shop and was able to send money to family in China. This evidence shows that, although these families grew up doing the same things as other Chinese households, the norms and values within the Aleong and Tang Kai homes were different. They were very involved in cultural and social events of the country and had close relationships with their neighbours regardless of creed or race.
In an account of her paternal grandfather’s life in La Brea, Henrietta Akit (cousin of Aldwyn Tang Kai, also second generation Chinese) recorded:
‘My paternal grandfather, Henry Akit (Tang was his original name), left China in the early 1900s and migrated to Trinidad. He worked as a cook in Mayaro on a coconut estate for a white lady for a long time. He moved to La Brea in 1910 and continued to work as a cook for Tan ming, his boss. La Brea was a very prosperous village because it was the main point in shipping asphalt to overseas. Tan ming eventually offered Henry the opportunity to manage the shop. Henry grasped the opportunity. He made enough money to build three more shops and one house at Three Hands, La Brea. Henry Akit lived on leased land owned by the Texaco oil company.'(5)
It was customary for Chinese to help friends and family from China to become established. However, as the automation of asphalt reduced, Texaco and van Leer left as well as many residents of La Brea. Events such as the Black Power Movement, the 1990s coup as well as Trinidad becoming a Republic caused many Chinese to flee Trinidad. Currently, only few Chinese businesses remain in La Brea. Although many left during these periods, the Chinese community still prospered.
It can now be concluded that, because the Chinese community is so small, it is easy for the wider community to single them out as being reserved. It is, however, clear that they are indeed hard workers, but to many people that is all they are. So with the formation of the Associations, the wider community was now able to see what the Chinese Trinidadians had to offer. This family broke away from tradition, and integrated in the society. Their ancestors worked very hard for their family, both in Trinidad and in China, but they still viewed themselves as Trinidadians. They treated everyone equally, and in the time of rebellion, they stood their ground and did whatever they could to help their country, ‘Trinidad’ through their plights.
Research on second generation Chinese Trinidadian Aldwyn Tang Kai and his family has proven that, westernization and acculturation have created a generation gap within the Chinese Trinidadian community. This investigation into the life of Mr. Aldwyn Tang Kai and his family discloses that much of the cultural value of the Chinese Trinidadian community has been tainted. While maintaining some semblance of Chinese culture, there has been a cultural shift in the upbringing and views of Mr. Tang Kai as compared to that of his ancestors.
However, Mr. Tang Kai carried the sentiment of ‘brotherly love to all’ throughout his life. Both western and local cultures have influenced all aspects of his life. At home, he learnt to cook Chinese, Indian and Creole food, sometimes merging them. His skill of cooking was responsible for his occasional catering for parties while living in Sweden. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church and is strong in his faith. Aldwyn Tang Kai took great pride in his education as well as being identified as Trinidadian of Chinese descent. The involvement of this second generation Chinese Trinidadian family in all aspects of this society is proof of the accomplishments and integration of the Chinese community in their second home, Trinidad and shows just how far they have come.