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The story of the Third Wave of immigration to Los Angeles' Chinatown takes us not just to China but to Vietnam. Just as webs of migratory dependency have taken root that link cities in Central America, Mexico and the United States, part of Chinatown's social and cultural narrative links Guangdong Province in China's South-East to the story of migration between China and Vietnam.
Let me explain.
China's ties to Vietnam - especially in Guangdong - stretch back generations. For many centuries, the Qing, or Manchu Dynasty, subjected the rural populations in China's south to routine repression in an effort to centralize its government, economy and beliefs, forcing many to escape into Laos and Vietnam.
Later, the same economic and social instability that drove many residents from Fujian and Canton to sail across the Pacific during the Chinese Revolution in the 19th Century, led another wave of South-East Chinese to cross the border into Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, where they found thriving communities of Cantonese who had laid down roots there centuries earlier.
Almost fifty years later, Vietnam, as well as Laos and Cambodia, would become violent focal points in the Cold War. Like many Laotians, Vietnamese and Cambodians, Cantonese who had migrated those areas packed up their belongings and families and headed off to America. In Chinatowns across the Unites States - but especially in Los Angeles and San Francisco - populations like the Chinese-Vietnamese known as the Hoa looped back to their original Cantonese roots after years of hybridization and cultural syncretism - only this time in America.
Mapping these loops and turns and webs of geography, history, food, and economics (to name a few!) against present-day Chinatown gives us a clear picture of the effect this history of migration has had on both our Cantonese neighbors here in L.A. and on the families that stayed behind. The Third Wave of migration will give Departures: Chinatown a unique opportunity to re-imagine China's migratory trends: what is so often visualized as a line (or even a wave) turns out to be cyclical and inter-dependent in nature, populations moving somewhere new only to find themselves where they began.
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