Like Nelson and Hosein, Look Lai was a Caribbean student, and the history and origins of his family are intricately connected with the history of slavery, colonialism and the British empire. Look Lai’s family is descended from indentured labourers brought to the Caribbean after the abolition of slavery, to work on former slave plantations and do the work of formerly enslaved peoples under little better conditions. Indo, Afro-, and Sino-Trinidadians are seen as the three major communities in the country.
Unlike Nelson and Hosein, Look Lai arrived in Oxford five years after the election of his country’s first Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Williams, also educated at Oxford, at St. Catherine’s, and two years before the official declaration of Trinidad and Tobago’s independence from Britain in 1962. Look Lai came to a very different Oxford from a very different Caribbean.
At St. John’s, Look Lai
studied Law and Jurisprudence, taking his BA degree in 1963, and his MA in
1968. Notwithstanding his legal qualifications, Look Lai went on to become a
highly-regarded historian of Chinese labour in the Caribbean, and indentured
immigration the West Indies. He has taught history at the City University of
New York and Rutgers University, and published scholarly monographs on Chinese
migration and diaspora, the history of indentured labour in the Caribbean,
Caribbean nationalism, and the Chinese in Latin America.[i] Look Lai retired as
Professor of History in the University of the West Indies, and we hope very
much to learn more about his scholarship and career, and will continue to look
for further records of his time at St. John’s.