Chinese Culture in Trinidad

By the time the Chinese had arrived in Trinidad the process of creolisation had long begun in the wider society. But it would be quite some time before they would be drawn into the creole cultural vortex: they maintained their cultural identity by insulating themselves from the rest of the society. They only made compromises, as in the case of marriage, when such compromises were considered absolutely necessary and expedient. To the Chinese, creole society was not perceived as a desideratum; it was self alienating. Compared to the noble values and traditions of China, creole society was considered a poor substitute.

One of the ways in which Trinidad Chinese have been able to preserve their identity to some extent is in the preparation and consumption of meals. Despite intricacies, Chinese cooking fairly easy since it allows for a great deal of individual freedom initiative and inventiveness. It is claimed that these virtues make it a liberal art which is capable of incalculable, innumerable variations. In Chinese cooking it is possible to make something out of almost anything. The real burden lies in its initial preparations when one has to endure the painstaking task of cutting up meats and vegetable into fairly small pieces for easy cooking. Chinese cooking methods usually involved stir frying, deep frying, steaming, and stewing. A kitchen which strives for authenticity will be furnished with Chinese instruments for basic Chinese cooking. It is a mistake to believe that the Trinidad Chinese in the privacy of their homes feast on the same meals that they offer patrons in their restaurants and ‘fast food’ outlets. Since the customer is always right, he is pampered by being offered the meal he wants and knows.

It is anticipated that within the next generation the Chinese will be culturally very similar to the rest of the creole society. For the instance, in relation to the survival of their language, it will be observed that only the home-born Chinese along with a sprinkling of the local-born first generation make frequent use of Chinese Hakka or Cantonese as their medium of communication. The local-born of the second generation have only a smattering of Chinese if so much at their command. In most cases they understand more than they speak. This has occurred because the English language is the everyday medium of communication in the wider society with which the local-born of the second generation in interacting constantly, likewise the third generation local-born. They read the language in their school book, magazines and newspaper received from Chinese-speaking nations; write it in their occasional letters to their friends and relatives in Hong Kong, Taiwan or the People’s Republic of China. For the local-born of the third generation, however the process of creolisation is unalterable and irreversible if only because their life-experiences differ markedly from that of home-born and most of the local-born of the first generation.

Source: [Millette, Trevor “The Chinese in Trinidad” Imprint Caribbean, 1993]

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