History often takes on a national perspective: American history, British history, Chinese history. Ana Maria Candela complicates this tradition with her approach to studying Chinese migrations to Peru.
Candela, who joined Binghamton’s faculty as an assistant professor of sociology in 2014, focuses on how people maintained nationalistic sentiments for their native country while migrating to a new one. “I’m looking at their sense of national identity around what it means to be Chinese and have a sense of belonging to China while at the same time carving out a life in another country,” Candela says.
“My goal is to show these histories that get eclipsed,” Candela says. This involves studying people without isolating them to a single nation or culture. Chinese migrants aren’t typically included in the study of Latin American nations, or in the study of Chinese history, so this group is not well known.
Gail Hershatter, a distinguished professor of history at the University of California Santa Cruz, advised Candela while she was a doctoral student school there. Candela has unique qualifications to do this work, she notes, as she is fluent in Chinese and Spanish.
“Her research is quite unique,” Hershatter says, “because most people that are trained to do East Asian history stay in East Asia. They do their research exclusively about China, but she is doing the history of a group that went from China to Peru. They kept really substantial ties to the homeland, and at the same time they were very involved in national events in Peru. And so she’s tracking both of those things. It’s a really transnational story, which is very unusual and hard to do.”
Candela is working on a book about overseas Chinese nationalism drawn from her dissertation. “The challenge is that you actually end up in the dissertation with a lot more questions than you started with,” she says. “And so then the question becomes narrowing down the scope of what you actually want to answer at this moment and finding how the past speaks to the present.”
Candela has travelled to Peru and China in search of answers. She has been approached by residents of Peru who had letters from relatives that they were unable to read because they were written in Chinese. As she translates these personal histories, she contributes to the understanding of these transnational relations in the global sense while also helping individual families better understand themselves and their histories.
“I think she’s a real pioneer,” Hershatter says of Candela. “I think more and more people are going to try and do the work she does.”