Foreign: Deconstructing Chinese Jamaican Transnational Identity Formation and Negotiations of Authenticity

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:30 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center)
Jordan Lynton, Indiana University
Although Jamaica is often toted as a multiethnic society— an idea grounded in the rhetoric of the Jamaican national motto “out of many, one people”—conflicts surrounding resource allocation often reveal underlying tensions in the public’s understanding of how race, class, and ethnicity function as indicators of authentic Jamaican-ness. These tensions are most salient during times of economic scarcity, political shifts, as well as during the development of a national identity. Historically, many of these tensions have resulted in Anti-Chinese exclusionary violence, most notably in the 1918, 1938 and 1965 riots, often decentering Chinese Jamaican claims to an "authentic" Jamaican identity.  Recent Chinese investment and migration into Jamaica has caused a resurgence of these tensions, causing many Chinese Jamaicans to carefully negotiate the intersection of their two identities in order to maintain non-competitive ties to both spaces. In light of this shift, this paper will examine the ways in which Chinese Jamaicans negotiate different parts of their identity in order to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts as well as capitalize on their transnational ties. Examining the sites of conflict against Chinese Jamaicans, such as the 1918, 1938 and 1965 riots, data from fieldwork, and personal narratives, this paper aims to identify the ways in which Chinese Jamaicans co-construct an identity that is simultaneously Jamaican, Chinese, and ethnically Hakka in response to mounting questions of authenticity. I argue that these communities use strategic identity formation to bridge several cultural and economic markets.
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