Tusanes: The 1 million Peruvians of Chinese descent

17:22 | Lima, Nov. 29 (ANDINA).

Friendly, smiling, hard-working: such is the stereotype for 'el chinito de la esquina,' the Chinese man on the corner.

But the Chinese men in question here is helping customers in Peru's stores. The country has a very large, well-established community of Chinese descent, which has developed over more than 150 years and now has over 1 million people, better known locally as 'tusanes.'

At the San Joi Lau, a restaurant in Lima's Chinatown, Luis Yong keeps a watchful eye on everything. He perfectly fits the stereotype of the 'chinito de la esquina,' and yet he stopped being one a long time ago.

Yong is a doctor and the former director of an important hospital in Lima as well as the owner of two prosperous 'chifas,' restaurants that serve a popular fusion of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine. In 2008, he had dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao when Hu visited Peru for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

'How might we surprise the president?' wondered Yong, who is also an experienced chef and who designed the menu for the meal.

Yong opted for Chi Jau Kuy, confident that Hu would never have tried that.

'People in China eat anything that moves, but there is no 'cuy' (guinea pig) there,' he recalls in an interview with dpa.

The fusion of Guinea pig and what is otherwise known as Chi Jau Kay, a chifa dish that is usually made with chicken, was the star of the dinner.

'The president loved it,' says Yong.

Influential members of the tusan community, including then-minister of education Jose Antonio Chang, were at the meal. For Yong, it was a chance to show off the contributions that the Chinese community has made to Peru.

'In 1999 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Chinese immigration to Peru. The tusan is now a figure that is respected by the Chinese because he is the descendant of a successful migrant. We rose from the bottom and we stand out in every field of professional life, culture, the economy,' says Yong, who is also the director of culture at the Peruvian-Chinese Association.

'Twenty per cent of Peru's doctors have Chinese surnames, there is not one schoolchild who does not have a 'chinito' classmate,' he adds.

Research shows that Peru has the oldest Chinese community in Latin America, with over 1 million people of Chinese descent.

Food provides the best example of Chinese-Peruvian integration, with 'chifas' all across the country that cater for rich and poor alike. They serve food any time of day, with classics like chaufa rice (fried rice), sauteed noodles, wonton soup and fried wonton.

When it comes to beverages, a popular Peruvian soft drink and more recently 'chicha morada' (made with purple maize) have replaced the jasmine tea that traditionally accompanied chifa meals.

The integration of Chinese immigrants in Peru started with the first wave, who arrived in the South American country from 1849-74 to replace Africans who stopped working on coastal plantations after the abolition of slavery. The Chinese were the new form of cheap labour.

Those Chinese immigrants were active in agriculture, railway construction and the collection of 'guano,' the excrement of marine birds. Guano was exported as a precious natural fertilizer at the time, but its extraction claimed many lives.

Early Chinese immigrants demanded only a daily portion of rice, which was brought in from Spain. In fact, rice only became a staple in the Peruvian diet under the influence of the country's Chinese.

The first friendship treaty between China and Peru dates back to 1875. It brought improvements in the living and working conditions of immigrants, and it also allowed for the arrival of a second wave of migrants in the early 20th century.

That was when Yong's grandparents arrived from the Guangdong province of China to work in a northern Peruvian estate. Although they were illiterate in both Chinese and Spanish, they had a flair for business, and years later they were able to move to northern Lima and open a store.

Luis Yong remains a hard-working man who will not rest even on Sundays. He only stops to celebrate Chinese New Year with a family banquet.

Family efforts paid off. This businessman could give his two daughters a comfortable life: they went to a prestigious Peruvian-Chinese school and they both graduated from private universities, before finding professional success and working in the family business.

A follower of the teachings of Lao Tse abd Confucius, Yong says he will keep working to strengthen Peru's Chinese community.

'We stand on two pillars: the thousands-of-years-old Chinese and Peruvian cultures. If we bring them together, that makes us richer. If we separate them, it makes us poorer. It is a permanent integration process,' Yong says.


Publicado: 29/11/2011