What Is Chino? Memories and Imaginaries of Asian Latin America
By Beatrice Glow Posted on September 30, 2014
Eight years ago I was told the story of two Chinese coolies who had escaped to the Peruvian Amazon, founded a village called El Chino, which means “The Chinese,” and begun a small tapioca business before vanishing mysteriously. I grew curious about what the Chinese were doing in South America, let alone, the rain forest. Two years later I moved from New York to Lima, Peru, to retrace the geography of nineteenth-century Chinese coolie labor as well as the imaginary of Asia in the Americas, given that Peru has the highest ratio of Asian Latin Americans. When I asked limeños for travel advice on the Amazon, several well-intentioned folks warned me of river pirates, reptilian predators, terrorist activity, drug trafficking, and other perils. Undeterred, I began mapping the escape route of the rumored coolies, who had fled harsh labor conditions in search of a road home to China. I then followed the various Chinese migration waves toward the Andes and the Amazon River Basin, weaving together migratory landmarks while documenting oral histories from elders. En route I resurrected...
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