Written by Maya Doyle
Chinese Association Building. Photo by Leslie-Ann Paul
The Chinese Association of Trinidad & Tobago (CATT), located on #7 St. Ann’s road was founded on October 10th, 1945, and registered on the 16th. One of the major operating objectives established was to work for the cultural, social, educational and economic upliftment of the Chinese Community in Trinidad and Tobago. This unique building contains beautiful colonial architectural features including wooden fretwork, cast iron columns and unique etched glass. It is a building with a striking cast iron cresting on top of its front facing gables, with wooden jalousies lining the windows and ornate brackets adjoined to the poles which create a decorative entrance to the building. The association is known to be a Trinidad-born Chinese club, however people from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds are welcome to become members and participate in the various activities that are held throughout the year.
Members of the Chinese Association take part in many sports such as Karate, Tai Chi, hockey, football, badminton, pico ball and ballet. As the Association is a non-profit organization, they hold various fundraising events such as car boot sales, garage sales etc. If you have ever been to the Chinese Association headquarters for one of their many events, you might have noticed an amazing mural on one of the walls of the building. That mural was created by Darryl Chee Wah in 2012 for the occasion of the Lantern festival held which coincided with the Golden Jubilee of Nation’s Independence that same year.
Mural created by Darren Cheewah in 2012. Photo by Leslie-Ann Paul
The land on which the association was built was originally owned by Friedel Weisinger, and this land was divided into four lots. As time passed and the land went under other ownership it was eventually sold to the Chinese Association and its neighbours. The organization is currently run by an executive board of four members: The President of the association Albert Allum, a Vice President, Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer. A Management committee of five members also assists in the running of the organization. The association building is currently closed due to the impact of Covid-19 however, once restrictions are lifted, the organization intends to open its doors. To become a member an application form must be filled out and two passport-size pictures must be submitted to the office. For more information on how to become a member please check the Chinese Association facebook page and the office can be contacted at 624-7150.
Close up of cast iron cresting on roof of the Chinese Association Building. Photo by Leslie-Ann Paul
Cast iron brackets on the Chinese Association Building. Photo by Leslie-Ann Paul
Chinese History in Trinidad and Tobago
The arrival of the Chinese to Trinidad’s shores began on 12th October 1806. Intended to replenish the soon-to-be-lacking labour force composed of enslaved Africans, these Chinese immigrants were brought in in what would be called the first wave. As the ship Fortitude reached Trinidad’s shores, 141 Chinese men came from Macau, 6 men from Penang, and 53 were recruited in Calcutta. 8 passengers died along the way. One could imagine the lengthy, arduous journey from Asia to the Caribbean which the Chinese immigrants had to endure, travelling from their homeland on 12th October 1805 to a foreign country far away. They were brought to Trinidad to work on sugar plantations and to further populate the British colony.
Immigrants who became peasant farmers were placed in the Surveillance estate in Cocorite to form a community. During these times, immigrants brought through a labour scheme, were treated poorly with abysmal living conditions, oppressive hours, severe punishment and minimal opportunity for independence. The Chinese left the estate in large numbers in search of better opportunities. 169 of the immigrants who came to Trinidad, left on the Fortitude to return to their country and the remaining took up jobs in the towns as artisans, shopkeepers and market gardeners.
Another attempt at immigration occurred between 1853 and 1866 which was subsequent to the abolition of slavery. This immigration attempt included other major countries outside of the Caribbean, including USA, Australia, and Canada all of which were seeking foreign labourers. Trinidad only received a small portion of immigrants who were grouped as indentured labourers and free Chinese immigrants. The immigrants who came to Trinidad, came in search of better opportunities which was common practice as they usually migrated to other countries in South East Asia for the same reason. These immigrants in the second wave came from Macao, Hong Kong and Canton and were dispersed to various estates within Trinidad. The second wave ended in 1866 due to the colonial powers deeming a free return passage to China for the immigrants too expensive. This was a mandatory condition for the indentureship scheme posited by the Chinese government. The British government eventually terminated the indentureship scheme thereby ending the second wave.
After the Chinese revolution, in 1911, which resulted in the establishment of the Republic of China, a third attempt at migration occurred. Immigration boomed during this time due to immigrants seeking to join their relatives who came to Trinidad on earlier voyages. Chinese immigrants also arrived in Trinidad from Guyana seeking better opportunities after completing their indentureship contract. The Chinese immigrants obtained jobs as hucksters, peddlers, traders, shopkeepers, and merchants. Furthermore, Trinidad saw another influx of Chinese migration during the late 1970’s as the Republic of China opened its borders to the external global community resulting in the fourth wave of immigration to Trinidad’s shores.
Many developments occurred in the Caribbean Chinese community as time progressed. In the mid 1960s the evolution of the second and third generation of Chinese offspring chose another path from that of their parents which was the taking up of small shops. The children of those generations sought education as the means for mobilization and this led them to become professionals in various fields and owners of major establishments in the country. The Chinese associations that were started in the country were losing their community as they were seen as outdated by the younger generations. Lastly, the language and culture were points of contention for the younger generations as they saw that rebranding themselves in their Caribbean identity propelled them forward in the upper economic circles of the country rather than holding onto the traditional ways.
Past Presidents of the Chinese Association of Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Leslie-Ann Paul
The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago wishes to commemorate the arrival of the Chinese to our country and to acknowledge the contributions of this community to the culture of the nation. The Chinese brought unique aspects of the Asian continent to this island that are still honoured and appreciated to this day. The National Trust extends its warmest congratulations to the Chinese Association on their 75th Anniversary and we hope its members and the wider community continue to cherish and learn more about this association and its history.