A Salvadoran of Chinese descent and his great adventure in Guangdong Province
By Magdalena Rojas  ·  2023-12-19  ·   Source: NO.51 DECEMBER 21, 2023
An evening scene along the Pearl River in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, in June (COURTESY PHOTO)

Many foreigners come to China to work or study, but Eduardo Somoza's story is unlike any other. Hope and a relentless search for the link to his family on the other side of the world are intertwined.

Looking for Eden

There are millions of Chinese who have migrated to other countries for different reasons and at different times. It is estimated that the Chinese diaspora is around 60 million worldwide.

Although a large number of them arrived in nearby countries in the region, such as Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, others made a much longer journey, reaching as far away as Latin America.

Somoza's maternal great-grandfather was one of them. Somoza, who has lived in China since 2019, said his great-grandfather was Chinese. He was born in 1890 in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, south China, and in search of a better life, he decided to leave his homeland and venture to San Francisco, on the western coast of the United States.

But life was not the Eden that he had imagined—or that had been portrayed to him. On the contrary, he found himself facing a great deal of prejudice and discrimination simply because he was Chinese.

For this reason, he decided to pack his bags again and head south, arriving in Guatemala and eventually settling in El Salvador, the country of Somoza's birth.

"My mother and grandmother used to tell me details about my great-grandfather's life, the delicious food he prepared at home and some of the customs he had, which at the same time seemed very strange to them," he said. All this fueled Somoza's curiosity about and interest in China.

Somoza never met his great-grandfather in person. He died in 1984, years before his great-grandson was born. But Somoza was indelibly shaped by the stories and memories told by his grandmother and mother.

During his lifetime, his great-grandfather regularly sent letters to Guangdong, where he had children. Although he wrote his letters in Chinese, he spoke only Spanish with the new family he had formed in El Salvador.

"When he died, the channel of communication was completely broken," Somoza said. "When we saw the letters, we didn't know what they said, we didn't know what to answer, and we didn't know what to write to them. In any case, we didn't know the address. There was no way to communicate," he added.

In 2016, thanks to an invitation he received as a Chinese descendant, Somoza traveled to the city of Foshan in Guangdong. During the three-week trip, he had the opportunity to visit several historical and cultural sites, as well as see for himself the economic progress across the ocean.

"I joined a group of overseas descendants who had been invited to learn more about the area's great strides in infrastructure and technology development, which interested me a lot, knowing that the destination was Guangdong, where my great-grandfather originally came from," he recalled.

Although this first trip to China was a positive life experience, Somoza was unable to realize his dream of being reunited with his Chinese relatives. He had brought the letters with him, but no one had been able to translate them, and on the last day of his visit, when a person finally managed to identify an address that appeared on one of the letters, he had to return to El Salvador.

Eduardo Somoza and friends pose for a photo at a karaoke venue (COURTESY PHOTO)

A fresh start

In August 2018, El Salvador and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations. With this, the Chinese Government launched its first call for scholarships, and Somoza was among those selected.

Unlike the other Salvadorans in the first group, who chose to study mainly in Beijing and Shanghai, Somoza chose Guangzhou as his destination. "My biggest wish, besides being able to study in China, was to have the opportunity to return to Guangdong to see if I could find my family," he said.

As time went by and he integrated into his new environment, Somoza met a teacher who was able to decipher the letters he'd been holding on to. Through endless calls, he finally found his relatives' neighborhood, which was actually a 15-minute drive from where he was staying at the time. "They asked me some questions and given that I had the letters that had been translated (by a university teacher), I could answer them," he said. "They told me that, strangely enough, [what I told them] was very similar to what they knew."

After a long conversation, Somoza showed them a black and white photograph of a young couple, about 25 or 26 years of age, holding a baby. "I've never seen this photo before in my life, but I can assure you that the baby in it is me, the person holding me in his arms is my father, and the person next to him is my mother," one of them said.

Immediately, the man who recognized himself in the photo went to look for his father's marriage certificate, and the man pictured on there was in fact the same man in the photo that Somoza had. "That is how we deduced that we were related; we found each other and realized that there was a bond between us," Somoza said.

Since then, the young student meets with his Chinese family once or twice a month to eat and talk.

According to him, it is a relationship of great trust and affection.

The fact that he was able to reunite with them after so many search attempts represents a proud achievement for Somoza. "It is a very moving story. Many said it would be impossible to find my family and that it made no sense to look for them, but I decided not to give up because this answer could only be given to me by myself."

This family story has had a profound impact on Somoza's own development as a person. His quest to track down his roots is a clear example that "even though things are difficult or uncertain, you must see them through and not give up along the way."

Once he finishes his undergraduate degree in electrical and automation engineering in June next year, Somoza hopes to pursue a master's degree in electrical engineering. After wrapping that up, he intends to find work in China and spend more time with this branch of his family, which has welcomed him as one of their own. "After all, I didn't come to the other side of the world just to say goodbye and leave," he concluded.

(Print Edition Title: Root and Branch)

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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