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Coming to the Americas from China: One Family’s Story

By Giordano Ciampini

Photo by Pinar Istek
Miguel Chan Achiu, 88, prepares to sit down for lunch while his wife, Delia Cheng Yuong, 73, waits for him Friday afternoon, Feb. 15, 2013 at their home in Nicoya.

The wind kicks up the tin roof panels overhead, banging away while we speak. I sit scribbling fervently into my notebook as Xenia Waigui Chan tells me her parents’ peculiar story: How a Tico and Chinese woman got caught up in history and landed in Nicoya.

“My father is a Chinese Tico,” she related. “My grandfather originally came to Central America to make money, but there was a lot of racism against blacks and Chinese in Panama, where he originally arrived, so he moved to Guanacaste and my father was born here in Costa Rica, in Las Juntas, Abangares canton.”

“After my grandfather was here for about 10 or 15 years he made enough money, so he took the family and my father, who was five years old at the time, and went back to China.”

However, in China, the situation would soon become untenable, as the Imperial Japanese Army crushed Chinese opposition after launching a full-scale invasion in 1937, occupying the whole of south and east Asia in a matter of months, and subjecting the people of the country to widespread rape, looting and summary execution, including the family’s home province of Canton.

“It was a very bad time,” she sighed. “The target of the Japanese at first was to find all the men of military age. They would take them all and cut their heads off with swords. My father was chosen to die and an officer let him go because he thought he wasn’t the right age.”

In 1948, at age 24 Miguel Chan Achiu made his way back across the Pacific Ocean to Costa Rica to find a better life, where work opportunities were available. After several months of traveling around the country, he decided to settle in Nicoya. 

In the years following the Sino-Japanese war, Chinese society underwent extreme changes which culminated in the tumultuous civil war between the Emperor of China and the Communist Party of China, paving the way for Xenia’s mother, Delia Cheng Yuong, to also make the decision to uproot to Costa Rica.

“My mother was held in a communal farm,” said Xenia. “But eventually she escaped and went to Hong Kong where she worked as a nanny and made some money. Before she met my father, she had heard about people going to [Central] America, that there were opportunities for Chinese to make money and live in a tropical environment, just like the place in Canton where my family comes from.”

Xenia’s father wanted to get married, but he wanted a Chinese wife, so he made arrangements to bring a bride from China. With nothing more than a promise, a photograph and an address, Xenia’s mother crossed the Pacific Ocean to find her future on the other side of the world. Although 17 years apart in age, the two made it work, purchased a store in 1958, and settled in Nicoya to raise their family.

For Xenia, growing up as a visible minority has had its own unique challenges.  Having grown up without learning Chinese, Xenia believes it is important for young Chinese Ticos to learn Chinese language and writing as part of their culture and identity. “I feel kind of excluded in places where Chinese is spoken more than Spanish, but I also don’t always have the time and resources to learn for myself. Sometimes people make the joke with me that I am a “banana”, yellow on the outside and white on the inside. It’s not nice and it’s very cruel to hear.”

“I’m a mix, really,” she explained. “I feel sometimes though like I’ve lost some part of my identity because I don’t speak, read or write Chinese, not really like I’ve lost my identity, but more that I am always discovering who I am and where I have come from. I think I identify with some Chinese values like my work ethic, my love of family and respect for elders. I prefer oriental food. I like a lot of parts of western culture because it’s more open, more expressive and it gives room for creative expression in speech, and especially body language. Chinese body language is very rigid, like Germans, and I appreciate how as Ticos we’re relaxed and live for the moment, but it can be impulsive. I like to live somewhere in the middle, between western and Chinese.”


More community news

Los Arenales Fiestas Raised Almost $6K for Asphalt

The Fiestas held in Nosara last Saturday March 23 to help raise money for Los Arenales asphalt preparations work collected almost $6000 out of the $28000 that the community need.

MOPT Starts Pavement of Route 160

Pavement is coming for those who live along route 160. Since March 19, machinery from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT) entered the communities with the objective of partially paving 8.5 kilometers.

Community of Los Arenales Organizes Fiesta to Pave Main Road

Even though pavement is arriving to Nosara thanks to an agreement with CONAVI, not all of the costs are covered. In the Los Angeles neighborhood, neighbors need to raise 14 million colones ($28,000) to widen the main street and build curbs and gutters, so they decided to organize a fiesta this Saturday, the 23rd, to collect the funds.

Low Interest in Samara to Have More Police Presence During Easter

On Monday, March 18, the Samara Chamber of Tourism (CASATUR) called a meeting in the community, inviting more than 400 locals, residents and business owners, in order to plan for 20 additional police officers that the Public Force had offered during Easter Week.

New Nosara School Foundation Already Working On The Playground

Some students from Serapio Lopez School in Nosara had to spend the first day of school sitting on the floor of their classroom. Fifth-grader Lara Schussler, 10, said, “It was really sad and uncomfortable.” Ashley Ruiz, 11, also in fifth grade, added that it was hard for them to concentrate on the class while sitting on the floor.

Bureaucracy Delays Process for Ministry of Security to Take Charge of Tourist Police Station Rent

Since last year, the Nosara Security Association has been trying to get the Ministry of Security to take over payments of the rent for the tourist police station in Guiones, but delays in paperwork have held up the process and now the association is almost out of money, once again renewing concerns that the tourist police might have to leave town.

Costa China: Two Loves, Two Hearts

In mainland China, the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year are intense and raucous, but here in Nicoya it is a much quieter affair. On Friday, February 8th, I gathered with about 70 people for the celebration of Chinese New Year at El Presidente Restaurant, which was closed to the public for the special event.

“American Project” Asada’s Financial State a “disaster”

On February 20, the Playas de Nosara ASADA water board, often referred to as the “American Project” ASADA, held a meeting assembly to let members know how things stand financially and resolved to send two new rate change requests to ARESEP, the Regulatory Authority for Public Services (Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos).

Samara’s Library Relocated

Playa Samara’s public library has found a new home. The library is housed and operated by a local non-profit organization, La Asociación CREAR, whose new office is now located opposite Intercultura Language School next to the beach.  

Las Olas Condominium Project with New Owner

For more than five years, the unfinished condominium project Las Olas has been an eyesore in Guiones, but that is about to change, as the property has finally been sold and orders have been given to tear the structure down

Young Ballerinas in Guanacaste Pass International Exam

For the past three years, young ballerinas in Guanacaste have been studying dance in conjunction with the Royal Dance Academy of London, an international institution for dance, and for the past two years they have participated in the annual international ballet exam to receive recognition for having attained a certain level of proficiency such as pre-primary, primary, 1st grade or 2nd grade.

Nosara Asked for More Security on National Television

On Monday, March 4, the Channel 7 news program “Telenoticias” broadcast around the country a 7-minute news item titled “Wave of Thefts in Nosara Generates Anxiety and Insecurity in Neighbors in the Area.”

Telenoticias interviewed locals on case of thief released by judge

Channel 7 Telenoticias sent a news team to Nosara Feb. 26 to report on the local uproar following the release of a burglar caught red-handed inside a house at Playa Pelada, and almost 100 concerned residents appeared at the Casa Tucan during the videotaping to show their outrage. 

DMA delivers school supplies in Nosara area

Starting February 28, Del Mar Academy community service committee (CSC) start delivering supplies and clothes to children in need to the schools of Nosara, Santa Marta, Garza, Esperanza, Santa Teresita, Los Angeles and Delicias.

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