2002 Maxwell Studentship Recipient - Shirley Chiu
ASK SHIRLEY CHIU about her heritage, and you may get more than one answer.
She might tell you that she is a Canadian of Chinese descent who was born in
Calcutta, India. Or she might say that she is Hakka-Chinese, a response often
met with bewilderment.
The Hakkas, whose name means “guest people,” are a minority ethnic group in
China. They were a marginalized group that, throughout history, migrated in search of a homeland,
first within China, then in India, Singapore, Mauritius and the Caribbean.
When she was 12, Chiu emigrated with her family from Calcutta to Toronto — a centre
of Hakka settlement in recent years. The move heightened her awareness of her ancestry so
much that the now 25-year-old York University student is studying the city’s Hakka
community for her master’s thesis in geography. Her innovative research proposal has
earned the Maxwell Studentship in Human Geography, a $5,000 grant
awarded by The Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
“This is, in part, a self-reflective project,” says Chiu. “But I’m
mainly interested in how migration raises ethnic consciousness.”
This summer, she is interviewing Caribbean and Indian Hakkas to determine the characteristics
that shape their identity and the role of place in forming that identity. She hopes her study
will help fill a void in the academic literature on this widely dispersed, but largely unknown
— Monique Roy-Sole