A question of belonging : imagining the Chinese in the British West Indies
This study examines what effect the presence of the Chinese in the West Indies had on understandings of belonging in terms of nation. It examines the construction of the category "Chinese" across different modes, particularly literary texts, from the nineteenth century to the present, and from the positions of colonial, creole and Chinese spaces. The results of this research challenge the common view that the Chinese have had a marginal impact on the perception of nationhood in the West Indies. Instead, images of the Chinese were, and continue to be, a key means of exploring the ambiguities, potentialities and limitations of nation as it developed in the West Indies. In particular, they reveal that neither "nation" nor "belonging" are static positions; rather, they signify continuing renegotiations of power relationships and cultural identities. Several factors impact on representations of the Chinese. In the nineteenth century, such images were molded by the specific aims of colonial enterprises, entangled at the intersection of the discursive constructs of "East" and "West" during a period of mass migrations and the peculiar tensions of post-emancipation West Indian societies. In the twentieth century, "the Chinese" have been created in response to a need to assert ownership of what was once colonised space and to perform nation before a global audience. Of late, Chinese West Indians have taken a more visibly active role in the construction and dissemination of images of themselves and their communities. In the process they have sometimes radically redefined the imaginative nation space of the West Indies and, in the process, challenge established boundaries of belonging, and contest "belonging" itself.