Monday, March 17, 2008

Chinese Restaurants...thoughts

The “Chinese Restaurants” series uses the ubiquity of Chinese restaurants as international institutions in order to gain access into the lives of those people living in all parts of the world due to the Chinese Diaspora phenomenon. In many of the places that the narrator visits, such as Madagascar, Canada, and Trinidad and Tobago, Chinese immigrants were first imported as indentured servants and manual laborers; then the second wave of immigrants consisted mostly of small-time merchants and shopkeepers who have progressed into supermarket owners or successful restaurant owners in some or many cases. It appears from the movies that Chinese immigrants historically have been climbing the socioeconomic ladder in many of the societies that they are working in, enough so that one man in Madagascar called them the “elite minority because they make the best merchants.” The model minority idea seems to have sprung up in countries that do not/cannot know of the Asian stereotypes in the United States, with the Norwegian waitress commenting on her boss Mike’s efficacy and quickness and the Chinese-Canadian restaurateurs themselves stating that they missed all the holidays when other people were having fun. Although this may in part be because the narrator seems to have designed his study such that he interviews the more successful Chinese restaurants in whatever region he visits and therefore the owners naturally would be hard-working, it seems to still hold that there is a lot of truth behind the model minority stereotype. The narrator suggests, however, that in some cases, at least, the perseverance, determination, and work ethic of the Chinese restaurateurs arise not so much from an innate Chinese sensibility regarding work but rather out of necessity. The case that best demonstrates this is the Norwegian couple of Little Buddha in Norway where the husband had settled after years of working in restaurants illegally throughout Europe to escape Hong Kong. Repeatedly he talked about seeking financial security, and when asked if he and his wife would want their children to carry on with the family business, they both adamantly said no. The wife said that she never thought that she would be running a restaurant, and the husband added that they were doing it only because they had to. The other Asian employees in the kitchen also talked about “having to” work long, hard hours in order to support families back home, even if that meant living in a place where there is barely an Asian community, much less a Chinese community. This lack of a community and Chinese solidarity seems to hit isolated Chinese immigrants the hardest because it seems that a common belief, especially among the older generation, is that the Chinese should help each other. Despite discrimination and economic hardships, there may be some comfort to be had in the elderly community in Havana of those “left behind by history,” or in the Canadian bachelor society before 1947. This sort of mentality, while not unique to Chinese immigrants, may be especially important to them in leading their lives because of firstly, the obvious physical differences between the Chinese and their newly adopted society, and secondly, the traditions of the Chinese society they had left behind – especially that notion of people sharing last names being of the same family and therefore parts of the same and long history.

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