Chun Kúnes and Chinos
Learning about Chinese diaspora at a punk fest in Tijuana
During the first night of the the Polis y Ratas Fest, bands play at the back, outdoor patio area of the Mustache Bar. A Chinese woman food vendor selling egg rolls from a cart loudly yells, “Chun kún! Chun kún!” I ask my friend to help order for me in Spanish, and I buy two chun kúnes de pollo that are warm, crunchy, and tasty. She makes her way around the large outdoor patio area greeting many people, smiling and waving, often with a high-five-and-hug.
After pondering for a moment, I figure out “chun kún” is a Spanishization of “chun gún,” the Cantonese word for egg roll. I ask her, “¿Hablas Cantonés?” She nods and smiles, and we start talking about her experience in Tijuana. She says it feels good talking with someone who speaks Cantonese because her Spanish is limited. Even though I speak conversational Cantonese in an American accent, our pre-established cultural connection is familiar for both of us.
We talk about her family moving to Mexico; her moving four years ago, and selling chun kúnes for three years. She has a newborn at home, and her husband recently immigrated here. Her mom makes the chun kúnes, and she is well known for selling them around the Avenida Revolución area. She says people here in Tijuana enjoy eating fried food.
She tells me about an incident in April 2015 regarding a Chinese restaurant in Tijuana that sold dog meat. It created a huge stir in the region, and significantly impacted Chinese businesses. A restaurant near her house had to let go most of their staff due to lack of income. She used to sell 100+ chun kúnes a day, and now she only sells about 30. The dog-serving restaurant owner has since fled to the states. If he hadn’t, she says, he would’ve suffered heavy repercussions from the Chinese community.
After talking with the woman, I discussed the issues further with my friends Jael and Troy. We talked about issues pertaining to racism and immigration, and Chinese communities in the US-Mexico border in particular. (Check out Jael’s article).
Even though dog meat is taboo and frowned upon in Chinese culture, issues of racist stereotyping and generalizing of Chinese people still persist. For example, internet memes not only perpetuate racist stereotypes, but are detrimental to immigrant families and communities.
In the United States, anti-Chinese sentiments have shaped immigration patterns and communities. Jael and Troy brought up the Chinese Exclusion Act and its connection to the creation of border towns such as Mexicali. Many people left the states due to anti-Chinese policies, and started families and communities in border towns such as Mexicali. (This brings up the issues of immigration in different contexts. Xenophobia and other forms of “othering.”)
Polis Y Ratas brought together a wide range of people into a space, creating a powerful and inspiring point of connection between bands in Tijuana, Mexico City, and southern California. I loved seeing so many familiar faces at the same place, from long distances. This event was successful, partially because of the common bond of DIY punk communities and related social circles. Polis Y Ratas was a nexus, and also a stopping point for some bands to go up the California coast.
If punk is to help people to broaden their socio-political consciousnesses and awarenesses, then Polis Y Ratas helped me understand a part of the Chinese diaspora in Mexico. These are “my people” and I’m not even familiar with the experiences and struggles in this region. It’s important to take into consideration, the interconnecting web of our past. I’m still piecing together the puzzles of non-mainstream histories. In reference to the documentary “The Search for General Tso,” one way Chinese immigrants adapt is to open Chinese restaurants, with dishes that cater to the local clientele (e.g. Szechuan Alligator, chop suey, etc.). One thing’s for sure, I’m planning a trip to Mexicali to eat Chinese food.