Congratulations to Marcela Omans for her NSF Graduate Research Fellowship she received for her project entitled “La Mesa Barrio Chino, Tijuana, Mexico: China’s Gateway to Latin America.”
Her work focuses on providing insight into how newly arrived Chinese immigrants and business people leverage preexisting Chinese networks to gain economic footholds in Latin America; and on revealing how perceived Chinese identity in Latin America and the mediation of the expectations associated with this have shaped the Sino-Latin American narrative. In recent decades, Chinese corporations, communities, and individuals have increasingly looked beyond national borders for new economic opportunities. This shift was heralded by China’s joining the World Trade Organization (2001) and implementation of policies which encourage and incentivize overseas investment and migration. Scholars across many disciplines are beginning to study this increase in transnational activities by Chinese entities, including Chinese exchanges with Latin America. Although Latin American connections with China date back to the 1800s, this recent era of engagement is by far the most robust. Currently, much of the Sino-Latin American literature is focused on macro-level global processes such as trade, flow of Foreign Direct Investment, diplomacy implications, and the greater South-South cooperation narrative. However, we must recognize the role that local ethnic Chinese networks in Latin America play in shaping these activities and their overall success and visibility (DeHart, 2015). To date, research looking at these more localized, transnational Sino-Latin American relationships has been limited.
Through her NSF funding, she plans to conduct multilingual (Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) ethnographic fieldwork in La Mesa Barrio Chino, Tijuana, Mexico to provide an example of the growing Sino-Latin American relationship in a local context. La Mesa Barrio Chino currently has an estimated Chinese population of 15,000 people which has more than tripled since 2009. These communities include a pastiche of new and old immigrant communities as well as the local Mexican community. Located in northern Mexico, this community is strategically placed on the border with the United States and near the many factories that span the Mexican countryside. Subsequent to the establishment of a direct flight route from Shanghai to Tijuana in 2008, this site has become a gateway for both newly arrived individual immigrants and wealthy Chinese business people. Thus, it presents a good case study of this wave of Sino-Latin American engagement and the effects it will have on investment and development in the region. The success of newly arrived migrants and business people is not only contingent on their own social fields but also on the urban planning and economic development policies implemented by the local, regional and national government. Her research will be divided into a summer of preliminary pilot fieldwork followed by a full year of fieldwork.
Marcela’s work will help inform those who are concerned with the growing relationship between China and Mexico and its potential impacts on the community and region. This includes scholars and policymakers concerned with trade, urban planning and development, urban diversity and attracting foreign investment.
We wish Ms. Omans safe travels as she begins her dissertation research.