06 February 2005

Part Chinese, Part European, Part Latino

MY GRANDMOTHER, my mother's mother, was born in China. Her name was Lee Chung. She came to Peru in 1905 or 1906, at the age of 18 or 19, to work on the coffee plantation in the jungle of Peru. At that time many people came from Europe and Asia as the government was giving free land to immigrants willing to go to the eastern side of the Andes Mountains. She came with about twenty families, altogether more than a hundred people, from the same province in northern China. They lived together like a family because the government provided housing for people working in agriculture. But they were really not one family, and she was by herself. She told us that she had some brothers, and their families were living in China and Hong Kong. She did not have much education.

She married my grandfather, an Italian. It was funny because my grandfather from Italy did not speak Chinese. She did not speak Italian. But they communicated somehow. They got married in 1907 or 1908....

My grandmother never spoke Spanish. She only spoke Mandarin Chinese to us. When I was small, it was easier to communicate with her. Then when we grew up, we began to speak Spanish. She only spoke Chinese throughout her life, although she understood a lot of Spanish.

My mother speaks some Chinese because she lived with my grandmother all the time. My mother speaks Italian too. My Chinese was not good because I learned it by ear, listening to my grandmother. As a kid of six or seven, I would speak with whoever that was there. In Peru, it was mostly my grandmother. She lived to sixty-four or sixty-five years of age.

In Peru, there are still some old Chinese families that have been there for generations. And the Japanese too. We have many Asians in Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. In all these countries the Asians and their cultures are very strong. The Asian cultures are very respectable in South America. If you are part of an Asian culture, people respect you more because they think that you are more trustworthy. The Chinese who were born in South America act like Latinos in their manners. They look Asian but they speak Spanish. They are very integrated.

The last time there were Chinese immigrants to Peru was in 1968, I think. They stopped coming because the economic situation in the country was not good. Most Chinese went to Argentina and Venezuela. I have met a distant aunt in Venezuela. Most of the Chinese there came from Hong Kong, from around 1984 to about 1995. Venezuela is the only country you can pay for your residency and work. The people from Hong Kong learned Spanish very fast.

My uncle has been in Australia for forty years. He lives in Sydney now. He is the nephew of my grandmother. I met him several times in the U.S. He did not speak Spanish. We communicated in English, but sometimes he spoke to me in Chinese, and I had a hard time understanding him because I was out of practice and hadn't spoken Chinese for a long time.

I see myself as part Chinese, part European, and part Latino. I feel that way always. I like Chinese culture, as I do European and Latino cultures. Chinese culture is part of my background. I went to the U.S. for my university education. I made friends with students from Hong Kong and Taiwan. We would get together and play soccer. We discussed about things, and we enjoyed ourselves. We talked about things in Peru and how the Chinese came to Peru. Some of the Latino students from South America who saw me then did not think that I was a Latino because I was always with the Asians. When I am with my friends from Hong Kong or Taiwan, I feel Chinese. I feel I am part of that group. I feel that I belong there.
SOURCE: "San Ramon the Coffee Town," by Juan Miranda, in Being Chinese: Voices from the Diaspora, by Wei Djao (U. Arizona Press, 2003), pp. 131-134

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