Podcast with Diego Javier Luis, author of “The First Asians in the Americas: A Transpacific History”

Diego Javier Luis Diego Javier Luis

There’s a popular folk hero in Puebla, Mexico—Catarina de San Juan, who Mexicans hailed as a devoted religious figure after her death in 1688. She’s credited with creating the china poblana dress, a connection of dubious historical veracity made several centuries after her death. But Catarina is one of Mexico’s most famous “chinos”—despite the fact that she was likely from India, not China. In fact, any Asian that disembarked in Mexico, whether from China, Japan, the Philippines, India, or even further away, was called “chino”. It was not a particularly beneficial classification: “chinos”, under Spanish law, could be enslaved; “indios”, or indigenous populations, could not.

 

 

The First Asians in the Americas: A Transpacific History, Diego Javier Luis (Harvard University Press, January 2024)
The First Asians in the Americas: A Transpacific History, Diego Javier Luis (Harvard University Press, January 2024)

That’s just one part of Diego Luis’s historical investigation into the first Asians in the Americas in a book titled, appropriately, The First Asians in the Americas: A Transpacific History. Diego Javier Luis is Assistant Professor of History at Tufts University. Today, Diego and I talk about Asians in the Spanish Empire, both in the Philippines and in Mexico, and some of the interesting ways that these first Asians tried to push back against their oppressors.


Nicholas Gordon has an MPhil from Oxford in International Relations and a BA from Harvard. He is a writer, editor and occasional radio host based in Hong Kong.