Saturday, November 16, 2013

OBIT: Ma Chin - an amazing warrior

JYOTI is saddened to report the death of Ma Chin, matriarch of the Seyon family. I never met this amazing lady but heard stories about her struggles for family and community from her son, my friend, Frank Seyon. She was 101 on July 27, this year.
Three generations of Lee Seyon: Ma Chin with her grandson Geoff and great grand daughter, Amani. Geoff is the son of Frank and Zalima Seyon and is chairman of the IT company,
In 2011 JYOTI wrote about Ma Chin's story with notes and photos from Frank.

The feature is reproduced below:

Feature: Ma Chin's vision trickles down to another generation as she turns 99

Victoria Lee Seyon, whom everybody knows as Ma Chin, came to Trinidad from China in 1940 to join her husband Gerald Lee Seyon (Papa Chin) in the one house, one shop village of Guanapo.

Everyone in the family made fun of papa Chin.

How could you do business with only one household? While Papa Chin was a dreamer, Ma Chin was a warrior and a visionary.

She had somehow managed to find her way to her husband's side through the confusion of the late 1930's in the hope that she could carve a brighter future for herself in this remote village.

Traveling for six months by sea, she arrived in Ottawa in 1939, then on to Port of Spain, registering at Arima in 1940 when she arrived in the colony.

Guanapo at the time was an agricultural village of sugar cane, cocoa and citrus plantations. The plantation workers came from surrounding villages of San Carlos, Brazil, Talparo, and Las Lomas.

When asked why he chose Guanapo, Papa Chin would explain with a wry smile that "where the road crosses the railway, it's good for business".

Guanapo is the statutory village of the La Horquetta Estate. The shop was the only dry goods merchant for miles around.

In 1940, there were no children born in Trinidad to the Lee Seyon family. A daughter was born in China, but she remained there until the mid fifties when Ma Chin and Papa Chin could afford the airfare to get her to Trinidad.

Ma Chin adopted everyone who would choose to build their modest homes close to the shop. She became the village benefactor. New villagers would get "goods trust" until they got "paid month-end."

Ma Chin quickly became the mother of Guanapo. Starting out in the humble sugar cane fields, Ma Chin made her way into the hearts of the people.

By 1940, the Americans also started mobilizing construction material to build the Churchill-Roosevelt highway from Wallerfield to Morvant junction using aggregate material from the Guanapo river.

At that time, the la Horquetta estate was owned by the J. J. Ribeiro family. With the construction industry in its infancy, construction workers began coming into Guanapo and Ma Chin promptly added a rum shop to the premises next to the dry goods shop to cater for the new clientele.

Ma Chin knew in her heart that an opportunity was around the corner. She believed that with Faith and Courage, the promise of Guanapo would unfold.

Things moved slowly in those World War days. Ma Chin worked long hard hours in the shop. During the slow periods, she reared chickens, ducks and pigs and eventually expanded her efforts providing employment to villagers by investing in route taxis.

She saved and invested money wisely, bought property, built a new family home and raised six children born in Trinidad.

In the mid sixties, P. J. Mahanna Haddaway bought the estate from Ribeiro. Mahanna (as she was affectionately called) wanted to popularize and industrialize Guanapo.

First there was Readymix WI Limited. Then came PresTcon, Crown Cork and Seal Limited, Electrical Industries Limited, and Amalgamated (Cars) Assembly Plant among others.

Mahanna too had big visions for Guanapo. She allocated 100 acres from the La Horquetta estate for a middle income housing development to accommodate the growing numbers of workers coming to the area.

Ma Chin was her operations partner for this venture. Unfortunately Mahanna
died all too soon and with her passing those plans also died for Ma Chin. Before Mahanna died, Ma Chin had asked for a road to be built making the shop a corner property. That road was to be called Lee Seyon Boulevard.

Government purchased the 100 acres and built the La Horquetta Housing Development. Not to confuse issues, La Horquetta Housing Development is NOT La Horquetta estate.

La Horquetta estate is an expansive 999 acre property a short hop south of the Churchill Roosevelt highway on Tumpuna Road.

Ma Chin believed that La Horquetta Housing Development was a signal for a new era of enterprise, the promise that anyone is free to aspire as high as his/her talents, ambition and vision of the future would allow.

She operated on the Henry David Thoreau premise that "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost, that's where they should be, Now put the foundations under them".

Ma Chin had visions of castles in the air. Today a new generation of Lee Seyon grand children is emerging on the business horizon. Three National scholarship winners and a host of top level managers.

Soon they too would heed the call to build the foundations for the castles
which Ma Chin dreams of.

This is the house in China which was owned by Ma Chin's father, Hinkee Johnson,
before he came to Trinidad (Photos and notes supplied by Frank Seyon)

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai