Si Xuan Loo
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
After the end of my spring program in Rouen, I decided to take a narrative analysis approach to my research by spending quality time among the Chinese in Paris to learn about their lifestyle. I rented a room at Avenue de Choisy in the 13th Arrondisement, which is better known as the first Chinatown in Paris. Their parents, like my grandparents, were the few Chinese people who migrated to Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia) in search of a better life in the 40s. Meanwhile, they claimed themselves to be the first group of Chinese from Pu Tian, who migrated to Paris around 10 years ago. The earliest Chinese immigrants in Paris were the Wenzhou ethnic groups who are also well-known for their entrepreneurial characteristics, and they settled down in Belleville. Since then, Belleville has become like a ‘Wenzhou' region in Paris. Meanwhile, the 13th Arrondissement is populated with ethnic groups from Guangzhou, mostly the Teohchew. The Wenzhous are very traditional in the sense that they do not integrate into the local culture and only marry within their own ethnic group (they do not even marry outside of the Wenzhous ethnic group to another Chinese group).
During my stay in Paris, I attended a Chinese gathering organized by the Paris Chinese Club, where most of the attendees do not know each other. I met a Wenzhou man who was born and raised in Paris. What amazed me about him was that he could recognize his ‘own people' just by looking at their features and fashion sense. I, on the other hand, had difficulty even pointing out Chinese from Japanese and Korean in such high accuracy.
Most Chinese in Paris work as employees in Chinese restaurants, flea markets and grocery stores. A few of them work in travel agencies that receive Chinese tourists in Paris. The average monthly income is not more than 750 Euros. Chefs of the restaurants may receive close to 1200 Euros but no more than that. As for the younger generation, many of them come here for better education and are able to communicate in French better than the generation above them. Chinese who were born in France have integrated into the French lifestyle, but unlike Chinese Americans who were born in the US; Chinese-French youth are not as accepted into society. This is because the French have difficulty assimilating with minorities. Racial tension among minorities in Paris is still very prevalent and intense. In June 2010, approximately 8500 protesters attended the two-hour rally in the Eastern Belleville district over security concerns.
During my stay in Paris, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Pan - the bookstore owner of You Feng Bookstore and Publisher who migrated to Paris 34 years ago from Cambodia. As one might not know, Cambodians back in his time spoke fluent French due to French occupation. Migrating from Cambodia and Vietnam to France was easy back then because of France's assimilation theory that everyone was equal among the French colonies. Thirty years ago, Chinese people who lived in France were mostly illiterate. The educated Chinese people were less than 100, therefore forming a very close community. Among his customers were the two famous Chinese authorities Deng Xiao Ping and Zhou En Lai. Although he didn't mention this, I believe his relationship with Zhou En Lai was close given that he lived right across his bookstore in the 6th Arrondisement.
This Travel Enrichment Grant has fulfilled my personal interest to explore the Chinese community in Paris as an insider, and this experience has enabled me to compare and contrast the hardships and challenges of the Chinese Diasporas around the world. Be it through the lens of my house owners, the lens of Mr. Pan or the Chinese immigrants I met on the streets; this community represents a multicultural society. As my areas of concentration in Global Studies major are European studies and Asian studies, this experience has definitely exposed me to cultural issues relating to Sino-European relations and will allow me to better analyze and understand the affect of China's Rise in Europe.