Happy Chinese New Year! An Introduction to Chinese Culture in Peru

In honor of the recent celebration of Chinese New Year, we thought we’d put together a brief introduction to Chinese culture in Peru, one of the many cultures that has helped shape Peru into the diverse country that it is today.

Chinese immigrants arrived in Peru in the 19th century mostly as contracted laborers brought to work in the guano mines and sugar plantations following the abolition of slavery.  Over a period of about twenty years, more than one hundred thousand Chinese workers arrived in Peru, establishing a community that has grown, evolved, and has had a significant cultural influence on the country.  Later, in the 1980’s and 90’s, a wave of Chinese immigrants reactivated the migratory network and settled here, reinforcing the community and strengthening the culture in Peru.

Today, Chinese cultural influence is very noticeable in everyday life.  Walk down the street in Lima and you will be sure to interact with people of Chinese descent.  Also to be noted, words like “chino” and “kion” (Cantonese word for ginger) have permeated into the Peruvian dialect of the Spanish language. The best place to gain insight into the Chinese-Peruvian culture is in downtown Lima’s Barrio Chino, or Chinatown, a thriving community of immigrants old and new in the heart of Peru’s capital city.  A traditional Chinese arch welcomes you into a bustling concourse for Chinese businesses, shopping, and restaurants, and street food.  Centralized around the seventh and eighth blocks of Jirón Ucayali in an area almost universally referred to as Calle Capón, Barrio Chino is the headquarters for several Chinese associations and businesses. These include La Voz de la Colonia China (“The Voice of the Chinese Colony”), a weekly publication for Chinese-Peruvians, and several temples ran by various Chinese cultural societies.

But perhaps the most visible influence of Chinese culture is on the cuisine of Peru.  “Chifa”, as it has become known, is the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian culinary products, techniques and styles, which is also the name of the restaurants that serve this cuisine.  The word chifa is a form of the Cantonese words “to eat”, chi fan, and is another perfect example of Chinese words becoming assimilated into Peruvian Spanish. In big cities and small towns throughout the country, you can find thousands of restaurants serving up what has become a culinary staple, including dishes such as arroz chaufa, tallarin saltado, and chi jau kay, to name a few of the more popular selections.

Chinese culture has deeply rooted itself into the identity of Peru, influencing the ethnic diversity, the language, and the cuisine of the country, so much so that Peru currently has the largest Chinese population in Latin America. This widespread Chinese influence demonstrates the power of cultural integration and serves to exemplify the rich and diverse makeup of the country.

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