Asian-Peruvian Literature

Ignacio López-Calvo

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Asian-Peruvian Literature

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In the early 21st century most people of Asian descent in Peru are of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean origin. The Korean community is by far the smallest of the three, with approximately two thousand people living in Lima and surrounding areas. Since there appears to be no significant Peruvian author of Korean descent, this article will only consider authors of Chinese and Japanese origin. Chinese “coolies” arrived in Peru in 1849 and progressively replaced slave labor (although they often worked side by side with black Africans) in cotton and sugar plantations as well as in guano fields. By the time the Treaty of Tientsin (1874) officially abolished the coolie trade, 100,000 contract laborers had arrived in Peru. A key episode in their history was the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), when Chile fought Bolivia and Peru over the nitrate-rich Atacama region and approximately fifteen hundred Chinese indentured workers sided with Chilean forces in the siege of Lima. Subsequently, many of them were massacred by Peruvians. As a replacement for Chinese coolies, who eventually moved to urban areas, the first Japanese farmers arrived in 1899. Unlike the desperate coolies, they enjoyed stronger protection from their government. With massive immigration waves ending in the early 1970s, Peru’s Nikkei population has been reduced to approximately fifty thousand persons, as many migrated as dekasegi (temporary workers) to Japan after 1988. Like the Chinese before them, they achieved great economic success thanks to their work ethic, business skills, and mutual aid strategies. Also seen as the “yellow peril,” 1,771 of them were deported to internment camps in the United States during World War II, and numerous Japanese-owned businesses and homes were sacked in May 1940. Another important moment in their history was Alberto Fujimori’s victory in the 1990 presidential elections. In the early 21st century Peru is the Hispanic country with the largest Asian population and boasts the largest Chinese and Japanese communities in Latin America after Brazil. Not surprisingly, during the first migration waves, it became a contact zone where Eastern and Western worldviews interacted, producing a fertile process of transculturation. The cultural heritages of Asian immigrants have undoubtedly enriched Peru’s cuisine, art, language, music, and literature. Although people of Asian descent only represent about 1 percent of the total population (approximately 250,000 persons of a total of almost 30 million inhabitants), their cultural production and their literary production in particular have been disproportionately influential. Yet until the late 20th century the literature by Latin American authors of Asian descent was surprisingly overlooked. Asian-Peruvian authors see literature as a vehicle to articulate their claim of “belonging” in the national project, to negotiate ethnonationalist politics, and to explore issues dealing with identity. Literature therefore becomes a privileged site of representation and production of new Asian-Peruvian identities.

Article.  12615 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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