Constraints on Social Integration

The Chinese community strengthens new Chinese immigrants’ ability to adapt, regulate themselves, cohere and protect themselves, and it improves their overall ability to communicate with and integrate into local communities. However, since its social functions are improving, it also provides an internally oriented social environment that Yoon Jung Park has called “our own little box” (Park 2009). As a result, this environment becomes a protective shell, strengthens their identification as Chinese, and decreases their motivation and ability to integrate into local communities. Through interviews with new Chinese immigrants, i found that the constraints on assimilation were the language barrier, self-isolation and patterns of intimate relationships.

The Language Barrier

The language barrier is one of the most formidable constraints on social integration for new Chinese immigrants. There are three official languages:

English, Shona and Ndebele. In Harare, where most new Chinese immigrants live, English and Shona are widely spoken. Most early Chinese immigrants to Zimbabwe were interpreters and engineers. Most could speak English well and used it to communicate with Zimbabweans. Some even learned Shona. Furthermore, because the Chinese community had not yet emerged, those who could not speak English had to learn it. Chinese-style English emerged, such as “me no in office” (I am not in the office) and “me ok, you no ok” (I can do something, you cannot).

Most immigrants in the second wave consisted of the families, relatives and friends of those in the first wave, and employees in small and mediumsized enterprises, especially in mining. Generally speaking, their English is poor, and some cannot speak a single word. But the Chinese community has matured, so people can work and live in an internally oriented social environment: if they want to go to work, they can drive their own car; if they want to go shopping, they can go to Chinese supermarkets; if they want to go out for dinner, they can go to Chinese restaurants; if they want a job, they can go to Chinese enterprises; and if they want to communicate with Zimbabweans, they can seek help from friends or hire an interpreter. As one correspondent said, “my husband’s English is very poor, so he can only do administrative work in our garments factory and leaves business dealings with partners to me.”13 As a result, those who cannot communicate with Zimbabweans lost their motivation to learn English and the opportunity to integrate into the local community.

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