Herman Silochan, Editor, The Caribbean Camera, (25 March 2004):
Dr. Trev Sue-A-Quan has been gathering and publishing his findings on the Guyanese experience, the first being the Cane Reapers: Chinese Indentured Immigrants in Guyana, which came out in 1999, and now Cane Ripples: The Chinese in Guyana. Sue-A-Quan was born in Guyana in 1943, but his career as a petroleum engineer took him abroad, and he now resides in Vancouver. However, he never abandoned his Guyanese roots, delving into the circumstances of his ancestors’ immigration, as well as that of other Chinese. Working in Beijing two decades ago further whetted his appetite for genealogical research. Cane Ripples illuminates another Guyana, through oral histories, recollections, photographs, and family archival material. Featuring several contributors, what is warm about this book are accounts where individual passion relays the ups and downs of family life.
By the turn of the 20th century, the opening up of Chinese shops, trading houses, emporiums, and small restaurants completed Georgetown’s cosmopolitan and commercial atmosphere. Already the children of these indentured immigrants were moving into professions, and making their mark on Guyanese society. Racial intermarriage was also beginning, as there was a shortage of Chinese women among the early arrivals. The titles of each account give a flavour of the whole gamut of family experience. So you have headings like “Down by the Riverside”, “Wheeling Along”, “Path to Education”, Hand Laundry”, “Dental Practice”, “Baker’s Man”, and “Best Little Whorehouse” among the 39 stories.
Chinese Lessons by Irene Akai is quite gripping. Her father Sue Ping, had emigrated from his ancestral village in 1900 and settled in Berbice where he made a small fortune and with his second wife, had six children. Suddenly, in 1930, he decided that he wanted his family to be thoroughly immersed in Chinese culture, so he sold everything and took his family to China, and where he embraced his first wife. With two mothers now in the household, there was an attempt to recapture all things Chinese, except that the war with the Japanese blew all plans apart, and an ensuing harrowing escape to Hong Kong, then Vancouver, and back to Berbice, where the new extended family re-assumed its prominent position.
What will sound familiar to the modern reader is the Chinese principle of “a fast penny is better than a slow dollar.” This was part of the secret to their financial success. Even when the great fire of 1913 destroyed a large part of Georgetown, the Chinese merchants, who took the brunt of financial loss, bounced back in a few years. But it’s more than commerce. The community embraced Guyana as their home, and made contributions in the arts, professions and ultimately politics. And yet this population dwindled, Canada being the main beneficiary of a second migration. Small as they are, their presence is still there, and so are the vestiges of their input. It is a pity that politics of the past forty years destroyed what could have been an even greater input. You get this feeling reading “Cane Ripples”, as you hear the voices of new loyalty being dashed again and again in spite of personal success.
Herman Silochan is a regular contributor to "The Caribbean Camera," a weekly newspaper published in Toronto.
It is very heartwarming to know that future generations will be privileged to know about their ancestors. I had the opportunity to read a few chapters, including my father's (Arif Rayman), and I didn't want to put the book down. I will definitely be buying one today. Learning about my family is insight to myself and for that I'm grateful. I only hope that the legacy that I leave for future generations will be as interesting.
Christine Rayman is a Research Analyst, Plan Services, at AIM Trimark Investments and lives in Thornhill, Ontario.
Barbara Yearsley is an artist, writer and former teacher of English in China, now living in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Jonathan Bratt is a third generation descendant of Chinese immigrants to Guyana. He is working on his Master's degree and lives in London, Ontario.
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This website page was updated on 26 May 2004
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