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2002 Maxwell Studentship Recipient - Shirley Chiu

Guest People
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 group.

Monique Roy-Sole

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