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The Chinese of Central America: Diverse Beginnings, Common Achievements

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The Chinese began arriving in large numbers in Central America after 1850. They came first to Panama, Costa Rica and Belize primarily to build railways and work in agriculture. The first workers came as indentured workers and endured a life that was little better than slavery. By the last two decades of the 19th century Chinese merchants and free laborers could be found in all countries in the region. From such a beginning the Central American Chinese communities continued to grow until, from about 1980, Central America began to experience Chinese migration of unprecedented size coming from Taiwan and particularly from the PRC. This article examines the Chinese presence in Central America from the middle of the 19th century until about 1980, and seeks to illustrate living conditions, achievements, and the roles of Chinese associations.


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