The Chinese have been living in Peru since they arrived on ships that traveled across the Pacific in the 1850s. They were the first Asians to make it to South America and came as coolies who worked in guano mines and sugar plantations.These days, there are Chinese people all over Peru and there’s even a Barrio Chino (Chinatown) in the center of Lima with a thriving community of new and old immigrants. Many have Chinese surnames, such as Wong or Chang, but others’ ancestors took on the surname of their Spanish patrons. The Chinese have integrated so well that many Peruvians don’t even know they have Chinese roots and “Chino” (Chinese) is often used as a nickname for both the biologically Chinese and Peruvians with Chinese-looking eyes.
Chinese food has also permeated Peru: Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese food; the term is also used to refer to restaurants that serve Peruvian-Chinese food) is a staple here with its Anglicized names of Chinese dishes and chaufa (an adaptation of the Mandarin word for fried rice) is cooked and served in most homes and restaurants.Though I can often pass for being Peruvian if I don’t talk too much (and therefore don’t give others the opportunity to realize that I don’t actually speak Spanish perfectly), I still get stereotyped a lot. If you’re Asian from anywhere in the world and come to Peru, you may go through some or all of what I’ve been through during my time here:
- People will call you “Chino” (if you’re a guy) or “China” (if you’re a girl) whether they know you or not. It’s actually easy to remind others who you are. Just tell them, “I’m the Chino/China you met.”
- People will say you look like Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former Peruvian president and Japanese native, Alberto Fujimori, even if you don’t.
- People may yell “Yoon Soo” at you in the streets. Yoon Soo is the main character of the most popular Korean drama aired in Peru: Stairway to Heaven.
- People will ask you to join their Korean-pop dance group or Japanese cosplay event.
- People will turn on the Japanese channel on cable and ask you what they’re saying.
- People — especially children — will ask you to talk, so they can make fun of the Chinese accent they think you have. They’re waiting to hear you speak with all your R’s sounding like L’s.
- People will ask you to say a few words in Mandarin or Cantonese. I speak neither, but any dialect will do. They’ll get a kick out of hearing phrases and will love imitating you.
- People will ask you how to cook chifa dishes.
- People may think you’re related to the other Asian guy who lives nearby.
- People will ask you what it’s like to live in China.
- People will say “Konnichiwa” (Japanese for “Hello”) to you in the streets.
- People may sing “Ojos Chinos” (Chinese Eyes), a Puerto Rican salsa song, as they pass you by. Particularly these lyrics: “Mira que bonito tiene, la chinita los ojitos” (Look how beautiful that Chinese girl’s little eyes are). The song is all about how much the singer loves his Chinese girl:
How have people acted toward you after automatically stereotyping you whether at home or during your travels?