Feeling at home in the “Chocolate City”: an exploration of African migration to Guangzhou in the context of diasporic cultural globalisation.

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The transformations brought about by economic re-articulations resulting from the ‘rise of Asia’ have had implications in a myriad of places, practices, and imaginations. Dazzling increases in economic investments and the political rapprochement between several Asian and African states illustrate the magnitude of recent geopolitical shifts. While great effort has been directed at analysing Asia-Africa economic and political ties, scant attention has been paid to the ways is which Asia’s re-emergence has shifted how people in Africa might think about Asia. Over the last two decades, the Asian region has been conflated with opportunities for entrepreneurship and wealth generation – a shift in imagination that has led countless Africans to opt for Asian destinations in their trading and migration strategies. This paper examines the conditions for movement and migration from Africa towards China within the context of the ‘era of Asian influence’. I focus on place-making practices, structures of belonging, and strategies for settlement and citizenship associated with the African population in Guangzhou. Based on my fieldwork, I argue that the continued and recurrent presence of African transnational traders and migrants has resulted in the unintended emergence of ‘support networks’ in the city. These networks facilitate the mobility (arrival, departure, return and settlement) of individuals and give rise to the organisation of communities and the emergence of identities that structure (sometimes transient) feelings of ‘at-homeness’ and belonging. This paper seeks to broaden the discussion in this workshop by posing questions such as: How does one feel at home in Asia when s/he is not ‘Asian’? How are ‘belonging’ and ‘home’ understood/structured when you maintain multiple simultaneous interpersonal net works in several countries? Is there space for opening up imaginations and legislations for including Africans (and Sino-Africans) in Asian debates about ‘cultural citizenship’ and ‘global modernities’? To answer these questions, I will draw attention to the diversity of those Africans assembling in Guangzhou; then describe they ways in which they have adapted to transnational modes of living, and the strategies they utilise to reproduce structures of belonging and solidarity. Although the presence of Africans in China might be conside red by some as a non-Asian issue, the intermingling of Africans and Chinese nurtures ‘alternative imaginations’ of self, place, home, and belonging that directly challenge extant discourses on Asian identity, race, ethnicity, nationalism and citizenship; and, at the same time, provide an exciting opportunity to discuss not only who can feel but also how is it to feel at home in 21st century Asia.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013
EventWhere is Home?: Place, Belonging, and Citizenship in the Asian Century - Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 22 Mar 201323 Mar 2013


WorkshopWhere is Home?: Place, Belonging, and Citizenship in the Asian Century
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong
OtherA two-day workshop examining the transformations of place-making and cultural citizenship in the era of Asian influence.
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