15 Feb Introduction for China Latina
The following essay was published in 2002 by Temple University Press, my contribution to the book Re/collecting Early Asian America, Essays in Cultural History, with Josephine Lee, Imogene L. Lim and Yuko Matsukawa as editors.
I wrote it between 1995 and 1999, based on oral history interviews conducted with family members. I had the generous support of Dr. John Kuo Wei Tchen of the Asian American Center/Queens College in NY and a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship. Much of the material was gathered and written during my tenure as deputy director of the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. The essay is an intimate window into the life and establishment of a working-class family of Chinese descent in Peru between the late 1880’s and the early 2000’s.
In the sixteen years since it was first published, much has changed, both in China, Peru and with me personally. After years of searching, I was able to find some of the family about whom I wrote. A “what happened next” is well overdue. If I were to re-write this piece, I would not only update the narrative to help the reader catch up with our characters, but I’d spend more time exploring and expanding on the facts and terms used. For example, “injertos” is a term that refers to biracial Chinese Peruvians. My parents shared their feelings about this term. I did not write about the term “Tusan,” another term that denotes Chinese ancestry, because it did not come up in the oral history interviews. Today, groups like Tusanaje serve as a platform for self-expression and exploration of what it means to be a Peruvian of Chinese descent.
Scholarship about the Chinese in Peru has also expanded and many more people have written about it. Importantly, many scholars have promoted, highlighted and encouraged the cultural and intellectual work of many Chinese Peruvians. There’s more awareness, more appreciation, more respect for our work than ever before.
Furthermore, in the past two decades, our community has changed and expanded—Peruvians of Chinese descent are most definitely not a homogeneous community. That said, what we all have in common is the humble beginnings of our history in Peru, now nearly 170 years in the making. This unfolding history helps explain why the Chinese are viewed, perceived or understood in a myriad of ways.
With regards to the essay, I find that the tone and general content are still a faithful portrait and testimony to what our lives were like and how we perceived ourselves. I do not assume that others in my community lived similarly, nor that they have come to understand their lives in the same way as myself. We are all a piece of the puzzle that makes up the larger picture of immigration of Chinese to the Americas. For the work and dedication of my colleagues in this field—past, present and future, I am indebted.
In Chifas We Trust,