While I was Away … (The Next Phase)

June 25th, 2017 No Comments

My apologies for not posting sooner. It has been a hectic few months since I returned from two trips to China in November 2016 and March 2017. As a result, my research and other activities have expanded into different areas, so it’s been difficult keeping up with my writing schedule. Now that things have settled down, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a short review of what I’ve been doing lately. These observations may be as therapeutic for me as I hope they will be informative for you. I’ve always found that reassessing where I am at any particular point in my work (and my life) is helpful. At the very least, it allows me to gain some perspective as I move forward. As a reader, I hope you will gain some understanding of what life is like for an academic researcher/author/cultural explorer/and would-be entrepreneur. At the conclusion, I’ll provide some ideas on where my research and work will go from here.

 

Here’s a short synopsis.

Last November I was given a grant by the Jornal Tribuna de Macau (a local newspaper) to write about the 2016 Encontro das Communicades Macaense (Meeting of the Macanese Communities) in Macau. The meetings were important because questions had been raised by the PRC government in Beijing about the current direction and strategies for Macanese communities because of dwindling attendance at past meetings and large sums of money spent by the organizers (the Conselho das Communicades Macaense, or CCM). Several questions were presented in two articles I published in Portuguese by the JTM, which were later translated into Mandarin in the weeks before the Encontro began.

 

These issues led to a reassessment of CCM’s annual budget by the PRC, and later, to negotiations with an association I lead in Macau called AIM (Alianca Internacional Macaense). Full disclosure: AIM was organized in Toronto in 2014, when I was elected its first president. The Association was registered in Macau in 2016. The process began when CCM informally asked AIM to intercede with Beijing’s representative in Macau, the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government. A direct result was a division of labor between the two organizations. CCM first informed the Beijing government that it was unwilling to work on economic affairs, and agreed to focus on cultural affairs through the Encontros. AIM agreed to use its network of next generation Macanese to assist in business exchanges between China, the United States, and Canada. AIM also decided to help CCM to organize a business track during future Encontros, which may now occur more often.

 

The negotiations led to my second visit to Macau in March 2017 to meet with the Deputy Director General of the Liaison Office to confirm the agreement, and to speak at an Environmental Forum on economic diversity. Both were supported and funded by the Macau government. As a result, Mr. Bian Tao, Deputy Director for Coordination, agreed to become a personal advisor on economic issues, education, and relations with the international Macanese community. The Macau government, through its Trade and Investment Promotion group (IPIM), also appointed me as a delegate for business affairs.

 

 

 

Since the beginning of April, I attempted to continue my research, with moderate success. After returning to the U.S., I was contacted by a large city in China (unnamed for now) to assist on a project related to developing business with U.S. based Macanese entrepreneurs. Another investment group from the Azores also contacted AIM seeking advice on working with Macau, and contacts with Chinese and Macanese partners. In the meantime, two of my articles had to be edited for publication. The first, “The Macanese at War” about experiences during World War II, was added to Wartime Macau, a book published by Hong Kong University Press and Columbia University. Another article: “Luso-Asians and the Origins of Macau’s Cultural Development”, will appear in Vol. 57 of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society by the University of Hong Kong. The latter will appear soon under the “Articles” tab in the menu above.

 

As you can see, I’ve been involved in activities seemingly beyond my research, and in work that most academics don’t often perform. That is not to say that these activities are unrelated, just that they are not considered traditional lines of inquiry. I would also argue that my knowledge of real politic in China may now be more informed. As for my research, it will continue with a contemporary slant. I should mention, however, that I don’t view what I write as contributing to a grand body of work, nor do I see it leading to significant shifts in historical paradigms. What I offer in my writings are closer to forms of social and historical heresy concerning Luso-Asians, and Macanese in particular, that have not been attempted in recent decades. Some readers may think my rendition of history and recent activities are self-serving. So be it. But there are more salient issues to consider, including why cultural and economic issues related to Macau have not been studied together before. This was, in fact, a motivation when I began my studies.

 

I’ve always suspected that some of the rationale for not seeing more Macanese in business or historical research until now may be a remnant of history. That is, many Macanese were trained as clerks in colonial societies, and left Asia as middle age immigrants with families. Most had little interest or desire to be involved in new commercial ventures. Many were also dissuaded by relatives and teachers from learning about their history, perhaps due to the stigma of being perceived as “mestizo” rather than “pure Portuguese”, which of course they never were. Clearly, that seems to be changing.

 

Based on recent surveys and interviews, many are looking for information on personal family histories. As I suggest elsewhere, most articles I write provide a historical context for the legends and tales that many heard from relatives or read from ancestors about their lives in the Far East. Their oral histories and writings in diaries, wartime accounts, and reminiscences, when read with an understanding of history, can make more sense to younger generations.

 

To this can be added comparisons to how business is currently being conducted across the Pacific Rim. I’ve learned that many members in the community, especially those in the United States and Canada, are now either working for companies with interests in Asia, or seeking opportunities in the region. The fact that the existence of Luso-Asians and Macanese is the result of 500 years of colonialism provides another layer to future studies, suggesting that one day this new perspective could make their understanding of the past and their place in the present more clear.

 

So, where do I go from here?

 

Personally, this has become a pressing question. It has been suggested by some friends and family that there are few rewards in what I am doing. The implication, which most would deny, is that my efforts have not been effective. The evidence they point to is a lack of consistent compensation, and the criticisms of older Macanese who don’t wish to be reminded of their mixed-racial heritage, or simply don’t recognize that there are many more in the community who are not considered “puro Macaensi”. Monetary “rewards” were never my goal, although I appreciate those I received. But I admit to feeling more enriched from learning about my family history and sharing that knowledge in the context of my studies. I also choose not to address some ridiculous, and ultimately false, assumptions about the origins of the Macanese, since I and several other scholars have published ample evidence to refute those assumptions in the past.

 

The future path I have chosen, instead, can be summarized in two parts:

 

  • To continue the historical documentation of Luso-Asians and Macanese migrations with a new focus on Hong Kong, Shanghai, Thailand, Southeast Asia, and other communities in the United States and Canada.

 

  • To incorporate my experiences in business into studies of present day Macau and Hong Kong, comparing past and present practices in China through the “One Belt One Road” economic initiative and the Paris Climate Accords.

 

These new objectives will allow me to fulfil the goals of Far East Currents first presented in 2012:

 

1)      To understand the roles that Portuguese-Macanese people played in the development of Macau, Hong Kong and other regions of southeast Asia, and their migration to other countries after World War II;

 

2)      To document the stories of community members, past and present, whose biographies were witness to colonial development, the expansion of the China trade, and the origins of the current global economy.

 

3)      To use Far East Currents and social media to involve anyone interested in understanding, contributing to, and preserving Portuguese-Macanese cultural history.

 

I take these objectives very seriously, and hope they will be of interest to readers in the future.

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