domingo, 30 de noviembre de 2008

Sino-Peruvian identity and community as prison: Siu Kam Wen’s rendering of self-exploitation and other survival strategies.


Palabras clave: Siu Kam Wen, sinoperuanos, comunidad china, Perú, tenderos, autoexplotación

Por Ignacio López-Calvo
Publicado en Afro-Hispanic Review 27.1 (Spring 2008): 73-90.Eds. Evelyn Hu-deHart and Kathy López.


This essay examines the way in which Sino-Peruvian author Siu Kam Wen (1951-) denounces, in his collection of short stories El tramo final (The Final Stretch, 1985) and in his last novel, La vida no es una tómbola (Life Is Not a Tombola, 2007), an economic system of intensive self-exploitation of family labor in chifas (Sino-Peruvian restaurants), bodegas (grocery stores) and other types of stores, of which the author and many other Sino-Peruvian children were involuntary victims. While Chinese immigrants were able to take over the local commerce in different Peruvian communities, as we see in Siu Kam Wen’s literature this impressive economic success has not come without side effects. Sino-Peruvian shopkeepers’ work ethics follow an old tradition of Chinese peasants’ self-exploitation. In La vida no es una tómbola, in particular, it is obvious that the autobiographical protagonist resents the suffering he had to withstand during his childhood and adolescence, when he was forced to work as a clerk in a small grocery that his parents owned in Lima’s working-class neighborhood of Rímac. To make sure that he leaves no doubt about the true message of his novel, the author includes an epilogue in which he reveals that Héctor’s story is actually his own: “It is basically a disguise that I used in order to put some distance from a traumatic past that I still cannot evoke without feeling sadness.” The words “traumatic” and “sadness” in this passage make one consider the possibility that the writing of this text had a therapeutic effect on the author. In any case, it is important to take into account that they do not refer not to an interethnic conflict but to an intergenerational one. In this regard, Ien Ang argues that the fact that the collective identity of Chinese communities and of the Chinese diaspora is so bounded can turn into a sort of prison house for the individual: “In the case of diaspora, there is a transgression of the boundaries of the nation-state on behalf of a globally dispersed ‘people,’ for example, ‘the Chinese,’ but paradoxically this transgression can only be achieved through the drawing of a boundary around the diaspora, ‘the Chinese people’ themselves” (16).

Amerindians (45-47%) and mestizos (32-37%), followed by people of European descent (12-15%), dominate Peru’s ethnic composition; blacks and mulattos (2%) and Asians (Japanese and Chinese; 1%) represent only about 3% of the population (approximately 250,000 persons of a total of 22 million inhabitants, according to Béatrice Cáceres [“L’Emergence” 151]). And yet, Peru still has one of the largest Chinese communities in Latin America. The study of Sino-Peruvian literature and of the image of the Chinese in Peruvian literature is still somewhat limited. One of the authors whose works deserve to be studied in more depth is the Sino-Peruvian Siu Kam Wen (his given name was Xiao Jin-Rong; 1951-). Referring to his collection of short stories El tramo final (The Final Stretch, 1985), Béatrice Cáceres has underscored the author’s intention to create a testimonial text: “When he writes the nine short stories about life in Lima’s Chinatown, he wants it to be almost a testimonial.”[1] As we will see in this study, his last novel, La vida no es una tómbola (Life Is Not a Tombola, 2007), shares these testimonial traits as it denounces an economic system of intensive self-exploitation of family labor in chifas (Sino-Peruvian restaurants), bodegas (grocery stores) and other types of stores, of which Siu Kam Wen and many other Sino-Peruvian children were involuntary victims.[2]
Siu Kam Wen was born in Zhongshan, in the Chinese province of Guangdong. He lived with his family in Chunsan, China, for six years until they moved, in 1957, to Aberdeen, in the outskirts of Hong Kong. Two years later, when he was eight years old, Siu Kam Wen moved to Lima to meet his parents. There, he had to learn how to speak and write Spanish. He studied in the Chinese school “Sam Men” (October 10) and the state-run “Ricardo Bentín,” and then, following his father’s wishes, he studied accounting at the “Colegio de Aplicación” (experimental school) of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. He graduated with a degree in accounting in 1978. In this university, he also studied Literature and joined literary workshops with the dream of becoming a Spanish-language writer one day. Unable to obtain the Peruvian nationality or a job, Siu Kam Wen moved with his family to Hawaii in 1985. Since then, he has worked as a computer technician for the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts of Honolulu. He has published the collections of short stories El tramo final and La primera espada del imperio, (The First Sword of the Empire, 1988), which were later re-printed, along with the collection Ilusionismo, in the volume Cuentos completos (Complete Short Stories, 2004). On the same year, he published the novels La estatua en el jardín (The Statue in the Garden) and Viaje a Ítaca (which the author himself translated in 1993 from an earlier English version titled “A Journey to Ithaca”). La vida no es una tómbola is his last novel.[3]

A considerable number of pages in Siu Kam Wen’s oeuvre deal with the daily life of the dwellers of Lima’s Chinatown (which occupies two blocks of Lima’s Calle Capón, near the Central Market), whose story begins, of course, many years before the author’s family decided to move to Peru. In his Chinese Bondage in Peru (1951), Watt Stewart marks the origins of Chinese migration to Peru in the moment when “Manuel E. de la Torre, member of the Chamber of Deputies, presented to the chamber in 1847 a bill for the encouragement of immigration” (12). Two years later, the first Chinese “coolies”[4] were given eight-year labor contracts: “With the passage of the ‘Chinese Law’ the stage was set for the introduction into the country of the Chinese laborer, or coolie, frequently, though incorrectly, referred to as a ‘colonist.’ His history in Peru […] falls into two rather definite periods, the first […] from 1849 to 1856, the second from 1861 to 1875” (14).[5] Facing an unprecedented shortage of cheap labor due to the “gradual abolition” of slave African labor (slavery was abolished in Peru in 1854) and the Europeans’ refusal to work in those adverse conditions, Peruvian landowners decided to follow the British example initiated in 1806 in Trinidad: they brought Chinese laborers from Macao and Gwangdong to put an end to the labor crisis in the guano fields, the sugar and cotton plantations, and, since 1868, in the field of railroad construction. The first seventy-five, explains Stewart, arrived to the port of Callao on October 15, 1849 and “According to the official report of Peru’s Minister of Government in mid-1853, between the dates of February 25, 1850 and July 5, 1853 3,932 colonists were brought, of whom 2,516 were Chinese. From another Peruvian source (César Borja’s La inmigración china [Lima, 1877]) is derived the statement that in the years 1850-1859 the Chinese introduced numbered 13,000” (Stewart 17). Between 1849 and 1874, 100,000 contract laborers, mostly single males from Fujian and Guangdong, arrived in Peru to work alongside African slaves, free blacks, Indians, and mestizos. The Peruvian census of 1876, points out Stewart, “disclosed a population of 2,699,945 (4).

Although these coolies could have never imagined that they would become indentured workers or semi-slaves, it is plausible that many of them knew or intuited that the working and living conditions in the Peruvian guano fields, plantations, and railway construction fields would be close to exploitative. Yet thousands of them still signed the contracts, perhaps as an investment for the future. It would not be too far-fetched to guess that they conceived this sacrifice as a delayed reward, particularly if one takes into account the extremely adverse circumstances in their homeland.[6] Indeed, as soon as their eight-year (five years for the first coolies who arrived) contracts expired, many of the Chinese laborers who had managed to escape enforced recontracting (they were often indebted because they had to pay for their voyage from China) sought to become small-scale entrepreneurs in the form of chifa or store owners. It is at this very moment when a long history of self-exploitation begins.

As happened in other countries, in Peru “The basic plan of utilizing Chinese labor in economic development backfired as they began to branch into areas of commerce and business, distressing the host nations whose primary intent had been to use the Chinese as a cheap labor source” (Krutz 326). Evelyn Hu-DeHart has studied the first steps in this move toward economic independence:

Recontracting in turn quickly gave rise to the appearance of a group of ex-coolies who became in effect labor contractors (contratista or enganchador) taking on the task and responsibility of recruiting, managing and, very importantly, disciplining labor crews (cuadrillas) on plantations. […] Along with a handful of other ex-coolies who became small shopkeepers on plantations and nearby towns, some of whom proceeded to take on the role of labor contracting, these Chinese were the first entrepreneurs to appear within this immigrant community. (174)

Their unexpectedly rapid economic success did not go unnoticed by the local press. Thus, Stewart quotes an editorial from a Peruvian newspaper, in which the journalist praises the business skills and the spirit of self-improvement that prevails among the Chinese: “To their mercantile skill, to their tireless industry, to their astuteness (cálculo) and to their profound knowledge of our people, is owed the fact that they [the Chinese] have prevailed over them, becoming their purveyors and routing in many industries the native Peruvians who have not known how to compete with them” (Stewart 227).

Siu Kam Wen only focuses on the tragic odyssey of the “coolies” in one of his short stories, “En alta mar” (On the High Seas), included in El tramo final; the rest of his works that deal with the Sino-Peruvian experience take place in the 1960s or later and focus on the second wave of entrepreneurs from Hong Kong (which, according to Wilma Derpich, migrated to Peru between 1890 and 1930 to invest in different areas [17]) and their descendents. In this context, Adam McKeown has studied the image change of overseas Chinese worldwide from coolies to “respectable” businessmen: “By the early twentieth century, the image of Chinese around the world as coolies was replaced with the image of Chinese as small shop-keepers, extending their marketing networks deep into the interiors of many lands. Urban Chinese merchants were in a position to benefit most from the increased trade and migration that came with the expansion of capitalism” (Chinese 117). Other historians, such as Isabelle Lausent, have studied the tactics used by Chinese immigrants to take over the local commerce in different Peruvian communities. And yet, as we see in Siu Kam Wen’s literature, this impressive economic success has not come without side effects.

Sino-Peruvian shopkeepers’ work ethics follow an old tradition of Chinese peasants’ self-exploitation. The concept of self-exploitation was first applied by the Soviet agrarian economist and rural sociologist Alexander Chayanov to the economic systems of Russian peasantry. Since then, it has also been used to analyze Chinese work patterns. In 1979, for example, Hill Gates detected this same model in Taiwan:

The costs of reproducing an industrial work force are neatly passed on to a class characterized by (among other things) large families whose members practice mutual economic support and extremes of self-exploitation […] In recent decades, then, we have seen the development of an economy which encourages the overexpansion of a petty bourgeoisie, which by the self-exploitation of its large families and occasional resort to even cheaper hired labor, supplies low-cost workers to big industry. (396, 402-3).

Gates also points out the early age at which shopkeepers’ children begin to work: “The children of the proletariat may go to work early in life, but for the same reasons, not, I suspect, as early as petty bourgeois children. It is, of course, true that conditions are much better for a shopkeeper’s children at work behind their family’s grocery counter than for the little hired wretches welding boilers in Dickensian surroundings next door” (400).
With the exception of La estatua en el jardín,[7] the drama ¿Vino alguien después del funeral? (Did Someone Come after the Funeral?), and the short stories included in La primera espada del imperio and Ilusionismo, the rest of Siu Kam Wen’s writings are either autobiographical or semiautobiographical. Of particular interest is La vida no es una tómbola, which is a sort of novelistic version of the stories included in his first collection of poems, El tramo final. Set during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, both books, which share common characters and stories, describe the daily life of Lima’s Chinese bodegeros or shopkeepers, including the Wa Kiu (first generation Chinese immigrants, both Hakka and Cantonese), the Tusáns (Chinese born in Peru), the Sén-háks (recent arrivals or new immigrants), and even a Kuei (literally “devil;” foreigner) who grew up in China. The very inclusion of these Chinese terms (which are sometimes left without translation while others they are explained in the text itself or in glossaries) forms part of the many linguistic and cultural translations that abound in his texts. The cultural translations include proverbs, traditions, practices, beliefs, and superstitions. At the same time, through the experiences of these Chinese shopkeepers, the novel exposes not only the inner workings of Lima’s Chinatown[8] but also the historical and political events of a Peru on the decline that is now remembered from the temporal and geographical (he wrote it in Hawaii) distance.[9]
As the author explains in a blog in his website, the manuscript of La vida no es una tómbola went through several tentative titles, including “El fin de la infancia” (The End of Childhood), “Recuerde el alma dormida,” (“Let from its dream the soul awaken;”[10] the first line from “Coplas a la muerte de su padre” by Spanish poet Jorge Manrique [1440-1479]), and “Los Tenderos” (The Shopkeepers). The actual title of the novel was inspired by a line from a song by the Spanish singer and actress Marisol (Pepa Flores) that was popular in the 1960s. Siu Kam Wen explains this choice for the title in the sentence that closes the story: “The life of shopkeepers, of course, is anything but a tombola [raffle].”[11] All these titles (except for “Recuerde el alma dormida”) evoke the “dirty little secret” behind the wa kiu (huaqiao in Mandarin)’s[12] (overseas Chinese nationals) economic success as small-scale entrepreneurs: the self-exploitation of the shopkeepers, their families, and the recent arrivals from China. Frank Pieke et al. argue that this pattern of self-imposed overexertion is common worldwide among overseas Chinese: “Normally, the exploitation and self-exploitation that is one of the main features of the Chinese ethnic enclaves allowed upward mobility in a relatively short time and a release from dependent work to arrive at self-employment, in contrast to work for local employers” (7). From this perspective, Siu Kam Wen’s first tentative title, “The End of Childhood,” refers not only to the fact that this is a Bildungsroman that narrates the psychological and moral development of the young Héctor (Ah-Hung; the author’s young alter ego), but also to the way in which being forced to work as a clerk from seven in the morning until nine in the evening, including holidays, ruined the early years of his life to the point of sinking him into a deep depression.

In Viaje a Ítaca, the autobiographical protagonist becomes a flâneur who idly walks around Lima during the summer of 1990 reporting how gloomy and run-down Lima has become and remembering how unwelcoming its weather has always been. He also directs his reproach toward wealthy limeños from privileged neighborhoods, who are born with their “head deeply buried in the sand,”[13] and toward a country that denied him the possibility of getting a job because of his Chinese passport and even the nationality after having lived there for over a quarter of a century. In contrast, in La vida no es una tómbola he re-directs this type of harsh criticism toward his own ethnic group, the Chinese Peruvians. In this sense, R.A. Kerr has underscored Siu Kam Wen’s twofold dilemma about forging his own personal identity within his ethnic community as well as within mainstream Peruvian society: “Implicit in all stories in El tramo final are the predominantly negative consequences of the inevitable encroachment of Hispanic culture on the colonia china. Likewise implicit is the problem of achieving and maintaining a positive sense of individual identity within the minority group itself and within the Hispanic society as a whole” (58). Indeed, the criticism of some of his own ethnic group’s cultural traditions and practices included in El tramo final and in La vida no es una tómbola is not any softer than the negative portrayals of mainstream Peruvian society that appear in Viaje a Ítaca and several of his short stories. In La vida no es una tómbola, in particular, it is obvious that the autobiographical protagonist resents the suffering he had to withstand during his childhood and adolescence, when he was forced to work as a clerk in a small grocery that his parents owned in Lima’s working-class neighborhood of Rímac. To make sure that he leaves no doubt about the true message of his novel, the author includes an epilogue in which he reveals that Héctor’s story is actually his own: “It is basically a disguise that I used in order to put some distance from a traumatic past that I still cannot evoke without feeling sadness.”[14] The words “traumatic” and “sadness” in this passage make one consider the possibility that the writing of this text had a therapeutic effect on the author. In any case, it is important to take into account that they do not refer not to an interethnic conflict but to an intergenerational one. In this regard, Ien Ang argues that the fact that the collective identity of Chinese communities and of the Chinese diaspora is so bounded can turn into a sort of prison house for the individual: “In the case of diaspora, there is a transgression of the boundaries of the nation-state on behalf of a globally dispersed ‘people,’ for example, ‘the Chinese,’ but paradoxically this transgression can only be achieved through the drawing of a boundary around the diaspora, ‘the Chinese people’ themselves” (16).

In this claustrophobic world, we find the adventures of a Chinese teenager lost between two worlds who fears that he is destined to a life of obscure mediocrity. The main source of conflict between Héctor and Don Augusto, his very traditional father, is the former’s unwillingness to become a shopkeeper. In turn, Don Augusto considers formal education a waste of time and sees no future in working for others. Concomitantly, he projects on the boy his own frustration for not having been able to fulfill his dream of becoming wealthy by the time he turned forty. Mirroring the father-son relationship depicted in the short story “El deterioro” (The Deterioration), written in 1979 and included in El tramo final, Don Augusto’s hostility toward his son is soon made apparent. When Héctor sees that many of his schoolmates learn just the basics of the Spanish language and then drop out of school to work in their parents’ businesses, he wonders sadly: “Will I end up being another shopkeeper, like my father, Mr. Wong, and everyone we know, and like generations and generations of Chinese have been before us?”[15] Soon later, seeing his academic dreams destroyed together with having a job he despises make him a lonely, melancholic, and depressed boy. Unlike his friend Jorge and his cousin Manuel, who unproblematically accept that lifestyle, he considers it a miserable failure. In his father’s store, he works all day under suffocating heat and all he gets in return is three hundred soles on the last Sunday of each month. Héctor’s distress reaches its apex on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, when he has to stay until midnight without compensation while other youngsters party and receive presents. When Héctor finally returns home on Christmas Eve, there is no traditional Christmas dinner waiting for him: “he felt that a deep sorrow was taking over him. The image of himself eating canned food in the solitude of his bedroom had the same effect as a bad scene in a bad melodrama. Héctor realized that he pitied himself and that it was counterproductive to feel that way.”[16]

However, instead of accepting his father’s wishes as a good example of Confucian filial piety (xiao),[17] this autobiographical character fights against the destiny that has been written for him by attending a night school and by adopting Spanish (Siu Kam Wen’s third language after the Lungtu dialect of Southern China and Cantonese) as his main language. After his friend Jorge recommends him to write his short stories in Spanish so that he can reach a potentially larger readership in Peru, Héctor shifts his alliances: he buys a typing machine and a new dictionary, and begins to practice his new main language by translating the Chinese literary classics.[18] This is indeed an act of defiance if we consider Don Augusto’s insistence on the central position of Chinese languages in a well-defined Chinese identity. “Language education,” argues Huei Lan Yen, “is viewed as the best vehicle to safeguard their own existence and their cultural patrimony. The loss of the home language is equivalent to the loss of cultural identity” (152). Indeed, when Don Augusto met Héctor for the first time in Peru, he expressed his pride in his son’s knowledge of Cantonese and Mandarin, and immediately registered the boy in the Chinese school. Like several other first-generation immigrants, Don Augusto believes that their children will be ruined if they mix with Peruvian students in a non-Chinese school. After he breaks the cover of Héctor’s new typing machine in protest for the typing noise, the boy begins to spend the night at the home of Don Lorenzo, a retired Chinese shopkeeper. This new act of resistance, which Don Augusto associates with Tusán children rather than with Chinese-born sons like Héctor, only increases the father’s animosity as it makes him lose face in front of his friends and neighbors. After some time, the boy ends up feeling rejected by everyone, including his father, his uncle Don Manolo, and a Chinese girl he likes; this situation “only aggravated his feeling of being completely alone in the world, an orphan of love.”[19]

Héctor is not the only character who feels dismayed about the idea of becoming a shopkeeper. A Tusán named Maggie leaves Héctor’s uncle, Elías, because she knows that he is planning to buy a store: “I don’t want to end up being the wife of a shopkeeper; it’s enough to have been the daughter of one. I’m fed up with that miserable life. It’s a job that doesn’t leave time for anything else, that enslaves like no other; that robs us from our youth and the simplest pleasures in life….”[20] Likewise, Señor Lo’s wife despises her husband’s job as well as Peru. For that reason, she makes him spend all his savings in returning periodically to Hong Kong and China. Other characters are surprised by the life of privation adopted by Chinese shopkeepers. Thus, one of the first things that Elías notices when he arrives in Lima is the poor conditions in which his two elder brothers, Don Augusto and Don Manolo, live. Since he has been receiving remittances from them for years, he knows very well that they are far from destitute. Yet Don Manolo’s store is located on the first floor of a decrepit building and his family lives in the somber stock room: “This apparent poverty in which his two bothers lived shocked and left Elías confused. He was sure that their economic conditions were much better than the ones he could surmise there. Neither Don Augusto nor Don Manolo seemed to realize that they lived in poverty or on the verge of poverty; their material poverty did not seem to bother them at all.”[21] Then, the narrator speculates about possible explanations: 1) perhaps they felt satisfied with the feat of being able to feed their families and pay for the education of their children; 2) perhaps, being initially so poor, they were now unable to let go of the rigor of those limitations; 3) and there is a third and more convincing explanation provided by the narrator: “Outside observers call that stinginess; the brothers preferred to think that it was a prudent attitude.”[22] Elías’s girlfriend, Maggie, also disapproves of Señor Lo’s lifestyle: “She realized that they practically lived in poverty, and that the worst of all was that it was voluntary poverty, like a Franciscan monk’s poverty. The old Lo had made enough money to buy one or two apartments and even an entire house some nearby neighborhood, but he never did.”[23]

But the shopkeepers’ self-exploitation reaches beyond the family circle. As we see in “El deterioro,” Sén-háks also accept this type of abnegation without hesitation:

Sén-háks were paid pretty much minimum wage, but they didn’t care too much, since most of them were more interested in learning the job and the necessary vocabulary to help the customers, which they muffed as they could, and in experimenting what it was to be a dependent of someone outside the family circle. After a year or two of apprenticeship, they quit their jobs, got a loan from their relatives, and began a business on their own or in association with other Sén-háks.[24]

In their case, therefore, this temporary self-sacrifice can be interpreted as acceptance of a delayed reward. According to the narrative voice, Don Augusto Lau had withstood the humiliations of his employers for fourteen years until the day he was able to buy his own store. The Sén-háks’ learning process, as we see in La vida no es una tómbola, begins immediately: two days after Elías’s arrival to Lima, Don Augusto takes him to do the shopping in Lima’s barrio chino (Chinatown) and in the Central Market.
Adding to the shopkeepers’ self-imposed privation and the Sén-háks’ economic insecurity, Siu Kam Wen exposes a third type of self-exploitation: that of the triad societies that extort honest shopkeepers purportedly for their own protection. In La vida no es una tómbola, these Hong-Kong-based underground societies are represented by the Chinese Bolivian tusán Rosendo Chau and by Lam Hoi-Wei, also known as Pau-Chei (Brother Cannon), who happens to be the son of the vice-president of the Beneficencia (Society of Chinese Welfare).[25] After Rosendo Chau attacks several shopkeepers, at times in their own homes, his accomplice, Pau-Chei, intimidates them into paying for their “protection.” Later, Lou[26] Chou speculates that members of the colonia china (or Chinese community) themselves were behind Pau-Chei’s assassination in prison.
Therefore, among the most important landmarks of Chinese Peruvian economic success shown in both La vida no es una tómbola and El tramo final are the migrants’ system of mutual economic support, the cohesiveness of their guilds, the extreme capacity for saving and self-sacrifice, and the parents’ high regard for education (with the exception, of course, of Héctor’s own father).[27] These works also reflect the well-known practice of sending remittances back to mainland China, which was a key source of income (at times the only one) for the relatives left behind. Another strategy for the survival and prosperity of the colonia china in Peru is the widespread practice of illegal immigration through the use of counterfeit birth certificates, which was also common in Cuba. Don Augusto himself entered the country illegally and still bribes the immigration service whenever he has to. Thus, when his younger brother asks for his help to migrate, all he has to do is contact the same old man who had sold him the counterfeit documentation when he moved to Peru and then pay the immigration agents their coima or bribe. As the narrator explains, “Until the abolition, during the late 1950s, of the restrictions originally imposed by General Odría’s government, these transactions were a very common practice among the Chinese.”[28] McKeown has pointed out the economic benefits of new Chinese immigration for the first-generation immigrants:

The influx of migrant capital and stronger connections to China reversed the gradual integration of Chinese to the coastal lower classes and pulled them into the networks of a migrant community. The owners of large businesses were able to channel and profit from the surge of new migrants after 1904. They set up steamship lines, struck deals with Peruvian officials, made special requests for new immigrants, and control the economic networks that supplied the small groceries, which were the economic mainstay of this new migration. (Chinese Migrant 141)

In Elías’s case, his voyage to Peru is an example of chain or network-mediated migration, in which the support of kinship or friendship makes the process more inexpensive and secure for individuals who travel as members of a transnational household. The other side of the coin, of course, is that once in Peru, Elías feels obliged to go against his own instincts and enter the world of shopkeepers, which will ultimately bring him to his demise. Although Elías is more inclined toward literature and the arts, he sees no alternative but to accept his older brother’s advice of becoming a shopkeeper. When he believes he has found the perfect opportunity, he convinces the Sén-hák Miguelito to buy a prosperous store with him. Soon later, however, they realize that the business had been transferred because they were building a large supermarket nearby. In the end, the depressed Elías dies from a brain hemorrhage, hence corroborating the hardships of this profession.

And just like illegal immigration keeps the Chinese community alive, re-migration is used as another strategy for survival when conditions become intolerably adverse or when they fear the advent of a new communist revolution. Several characters in the novel, including Maggie, Felipe, and his son Félix, consider migration or re-migration to the United States as an attractive option. The protagonist himself, in spite of his leftist inclinations at the time, begins to study English to prepare for an eventual migration to the United States: “The truth was that no matter how much he tried or denied it, he could not help being affected by the generalized panic that had taken over the Chinese community and half of the country; it was impossible to keep a cool head in the middle of a stampede.”[29] Others choose instead to study abroad or to take their savings to foreign banks for fear of currency devaluation or a communist takeover. These re-migration patterns, of which the author himself is a good example, call into question the widespread idea that migrant laborers are mere pawns of international capitalism. As we see in Siu Kam Wen’s writing, numerous members of this community continued to return back to China in order to find wives and were mobile enough to migrate to third countries if needed. This type of agency embodies the idea of transnationalism, which, as Caroline Brettell postulates, “emerged from the realization that immigrants abroad maintain their ties to their countries of origin, making ‘home and host society a single arena of social action’ (Margolis 1995:29). From a transnational perspective, migrants are no longer ‘uprooted,’ but rather move freely back and forth across international borders and between different cultures and social systems” (104).

Along with the shopkeepers’ strategies for economic prosperity, Siu Kam Wen re-creates other details of daily life in Lima’s Chinatown. He describes, for example, interethnic and intergenerational struggles at the linguistic level. In their common mother tongue several Chinese characters find a sort of portable homeland. On the other hand, first-generation immigrants often vent their disappointment at their spouses’ and children’s inability to speak Chinese. In this context, Señor Choy, who is married to a Spanish-speaking tusán, visits Don Augusto’ store every time he feels the need to speak Chinese. Tío Hung also confesses how much he misses speaking Chinese and even tries to convince the Sén-hák Elías to marry his daughter. By the same token, in “El tramo final” Ah Pó, Lou Chen’s mother, pays daily visits to the Choy family’s store where she can hold conversations in Chinese. As Huei Lan Yen points out, “For most of the members of the first generation, however, transculturation is perceived negatively; therefore, the protection and preservation of Chinese traditional customs, values, and native language contribute to the preservation and safeguarding of cultural identity” (148).

As mentioned earlier, rather than coolies, most of the Chinese characters in Siu Kam Wen’s works are either recent arrivals or their offspring. Yet in La vida no es una tómbola there is a brief reference to descendents of coolies when Tío Hung explains his own trials until he became wealthy: “I was in Oroya for three or four years. There were there more paisanos [compatriots] than I expected; most of them were descendents of the coolies that had taken refuge in the sierra because of the war with Chile; in other words, I had more competence than necessary.”[30] Here, Tío Hung refers to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), in which Peru and Bolivia fought against Chile over the nitrate-rich Atacama Region. In this confrontation, which Isabelle Lausent-Herrera considers one of the thee most important events in the history of the Chinese Peruvians, a battalion of approximately 1,500 Chinese coolies living in Peru sided with Chile in revenge for the mistreatment they had suffered (“Les Asiatiques” 33).[31] Siu Kam Wen mentions the sad consequences of this episode in three different passages. In the short story “El engendro,” from the collection La primera espada del imperio, it is mentioned in passing: “the capital had suffered considerable changes after the outrages of January 14, when they burnt the Chinese grocery stores.”[32] Likewise, in Viaje a Ítaca he explains that “a good number of Chinese had lost their life in similar incidents during the ominous days of the War of the Pacific, when eighty of them were massacred in the capital and one thousand more in Cañete.”[33] Then, he refers to it again in more detail in a chapter of this same novel entitled “A Criminal Chronology of Peru”:

1881. January 16. Sack of Lima.
After the battle of Miraflores and with the occupation troops about to enter Lima, a populace headed by army officials in retreat sacks and burns the stores of the Chinese, in revenge for the collaboration of thousands of coolies of that nationality with the invading army. According to Spenser St. John, the British envoy in the country, approximately seventy Chinese are killed during the plunder. With Lima occupied and the country in disorder, the Indian and black population of Cañete revolt to settle up an old dispute with the Chinese coolies who live and work in the valley. The excuse is the altercation of one of the Orientals and a black woman during carnival. According to Juan de Arona’s conservative estimate, about one thousand coolies are killed in on day of inordinate abuses.[34]

This massacre took place despite the fact that, as McKeown has explained, many Chinese Peruvians also sided with the Peruvian army during the war:
The laborers saw clearly that their interests were not continued stability of the Peruvian elite. Thousands of them joined invading Chilean troops, especially those led by General Lynch, who was said to have a red complexion and a smattering of Cantonese learned during a term of duty in Hong Kong, which gave him at least a passing resemblance to Guandi, the God of War. Most of the Chinese provided only logistical support, but some went into battle against the Peruvian troops, often wearing masks or painting their faces. On the other hand, Chinese merchants in Lima calculated that supporting the Peruvians was in their long-term interest and gathered a contribution to the public war fund second only to that offered by the bankers. They also formed a militia to help protect the city, as well as benevolent societies to protect their own interests, but this failed to stop the massacre of four hundred Chinese by Peruvian troops in the days immediately before the entry of the Chilean troops. (Chinese Migrant 141)

By the same token, in Viaje a Ítaca Siu Kam Wen describes Peru’s long history of xenophobia, racism, and discrimination, with a particular emphasis on the reaction of Peruvians to the unexpected rise to power of the Japanese Peruvian Alberto Fujimori: “The white elite of the country felt less offended by Vargas Llosa’s virtual defeat than by the almost absurd possibility of having a man of Asian ascendance become the first leader of a nation whose government had traditionally been in control of Creole hands.”[35] This novel reveals that after Fujimori’s advent to power, many Asians began to be discriminated and insulted more frequently in Lima.
In La vida no es una tómbola, this Sinophobia appears not only as a reaction of the masses, but also in the form of official decrees: “Those were the years of dictatorship of General Manuel A. Odría, who was a staunch enemy of accepting immigrants of Asian origin and who, among the first things he did when he had the privilege of placing his ass in the carved armchair in San Martín was banning the entrance of the Chinese to Peru.”[36] Chinese characters in the novel are, of course, aware of the discrimination they suffer. Señor Lo, for instance, does not feel accepted as a Peruvian: “Whenever it’s my turn to die, I’d like to be buried in the cemetery of my village rather than in Lima. No matter how grateful we may be to Peru, we are only passing through; we’ll never be anything more than tourists.”[37] Héctor is also the object of racial slurs when he walks around outside Chinatown and when he enters a non-Chinese school. The distrust, however, is mutual. Don Augusto and other shopkeepers refuse to hire non-Chinese Peruvians because they tend to steal their money. Interestingly, in the story “La conversión de Uei-Kuong” (Uei-Kuong’s Conversion) included in El tramo final, the narrative voice provides an explanation of the reason Chinese clerks do not steal even if they would like to do it: “They were aware of the consequences of stealing: not only would they be immediately fired, but it would be impossible for them to find any other job in the future within the perimeter of the Colonia, their only source of employment. Losing the good name among their compatriots was not only ignominious: it was suicidal.”[38] On the other hand, in his role as narrator, Héctor falls into essentialisms when he describes other ethnic groups. Thus, he insinuates that married “cholos” (Indian and mestizo peasants) attend school at night only to have the perfect alibi to go to the brothels, and then, referring to the Indian Tovar, he clarifies that “Like many of his race, he was stubborn as a mule and persistent as a blowfly.”[39]

Whereas in “La conversión de Uei-Kuong” the author reveals why Chinese clerks do not steal, in several passages of La vida no es una tómbola he becomes again a cultural translator when he explains the Cantonese origin of the nickname “Hermanito Cañón,” the meaning of several Chinese words, expressions and proverbs, the Confucian mandate of filial piety, and the nature of certain Chinese games such as mah-jong. Similarly, the narrator points out Chinese men’s proclivity to remain silent, their love of games and gambling, and their tendency to judge people by their physical appearance. First, we are told that a long forehead denotes intelligence and sensitivity, and then Don Augusto distrusts Héctor’s friend because of the shape of his eyes: “with cruelty and physiologist pretensions, he described him as ‘the eyes or a rat on the head of a snake.’ The shopkeeper would warn his son that some with such features was not trustworthy.”[40] But, undoubtedly, the most extensively explored Chinese tradition is that of arranging marriages. Thus, based exclusively on their physical appearance, several characters in La vida no es una tómbola ask Maggie and Elías in matrimony (for themselves or for third persons) even though they do not know them at all. In fact, Viaje a Ítaca is in itself the story of an arranged marriage that never came into fruition. The autobiographical protagonist of this blend of travel book, autobiographical novel and memoirs, follows through with his godfather’s proposal to marry his daughter, even though the reasons provided for the engagement fall into the category of a homosocial relationship: “[My godfather] had written to my father expressing his believe that it was time to deepen the existing bonds between the two families, and that to that effect he was willing to give me one of his unmarried daughters in matrimony.”[41]

In addition, both novels re-create the tradition of returning to mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macao to look for a young wife. More importantly, they highlight the women’s side of this odyssey of self-exploitation, privation, and sacrifice when we learn about the tragedy of the invisible wives who were left behind in China with their children for years. One of these hapless victims is the autobiographical protagonist’s grandmother, who lost her mind after seeing all the male members of her family, including her husband, her three male children, and even her nephews, migrate to Vancouver and Lima: “Mother suffers as usual of mental problems, whose nature you already know. It pains me to inform you, elder brothers, that she still goes, from time to time, to the outskirts of the village to wait for your return. If you could see her disappointment when, after waiting for hours, we finally convince her to return home. If she only knew…”[42] Following this old tradition, at the usual age in which the Chinese in Peru used to get married, forty years old, Héctor’s father, Don Augusto, returned to China to meet his future wife after he selected her from the six pictures of young women that his mother had previously sent him. His new wife, who was twice his junior, became immediately pregnant but she soon joined the ranks of the virtual widows: she did not see her husband again for eight long years. As sad as the stories of these virtual widows may seem, McKeown has recorded even more tragic cases:
Alliances with non-Chinese women tended to incorporate the women into migrant networks as much as they integrated the grooms into local society, and not all non-Chinese wives realized what they were getting into. Reports of Peruvian women begging in the streets of Hong Kong in order to earn passage back to Peru caused repeated scandals in early-twentieth-century Lima. They all told stories of having married a Chinese man in Peru, accompanying him to China, and then being left there as a secondary wife when the husband returned abroad. Most of the women claimed to have been positively impressed by how diligent and considerate their husbands had been at home. They traveled to China knowing nothing of the other wife, or wives, fully expecting the same favorable treatment to continue, only to find themselves suddenly at the bottom of a spousal pecking order with no sympathy from their husbands. (Conceptualizing 318-19)
Siu Kam Wen, however, does not normally criticize the old tradition of arranging marriages. In fact, both Viaje a Ítaca and the short story “La doncella roja” (The Red Maid), from El tramo final, seem to imply that it can be a useful and successful practice still today. It is only condemned as a dangerous and unjust practice in “La vigilia” (The Wake), from the same collection, where a woman commits suicide three years after being forced to marry an older man. Although the causes of the suicide are not explained, the reader can assume that she was unhappy in her marriage since we are told that her husband was known to have a lover and that he looked sinister with his sunglasses always on his face.

All these interpersonal relations were supported by institutions, associations, and businesses that were the pillars of the successful organization of Lima’s Chinatown. Siu Kam Wen describes several of them: the Chinese societies (social clubs or associations for mutual aid and other purposes, such as the Chun Shan and the Sociedad de Beneficencia China); the two newspapers (La Voz de la Colonia China and the Man Shing Po [Journal of the People’s Awakening]); the two Chinese schools (the “Sam Men” [Diez de Octubre; directed by the Sociedad Central de Beneficencia China] or and the Catholic school “Juan XXIII”); the two Chinese bookstores; and even the two illegal brothels located in the neighborhood. The novel also portrays the Chinese community’s reactions and involvement in the political developments in China and Peru. Thus, while Lou Chou and Héctor are enthusiastic about the changes brought about by the Maoist revolution, others, such as Don Augusto, Elías and Don Lorenzo (who, during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), lost a brother who was accused of being an abusive landlord), support Chang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist China and firmly oppose any leftist regime, including that of General Juan Velasco in Peru. These passages corroborate Brettell’s idea that “Immigrants in the transnational and global world are involved in the nation-building of more than one state; thus national identities are not only blurred by also negotiated and constructed” (106).

All these representations of self-exploitation and daily life in Lima’s Chinatown ultimately lead to issues of transculturation and hybridity, as well as personal and collective identity and difference. In this sense, in several passages from Viaje a Ítaca, the autobiographical narrator provides, by negation, hints of a Chinese national psychology. For example, Siu Kam Wen negotiates race and ethnicity when he points out that, mirroring his own case, his girlfriend Rosa’s spontaneous sense of humor could not come from her parents because “the Chinese typically lack a sense of humor.”[43] Likewise, he states that no one would ever figure out that his friend Paco was half Chinese, not only because of his Western phenotype, but also because of “his exuberant personality, his direct and nonchalant manners, and somehow the sensuality of his prose.”[44] The author also explores the essence of Chineseness in the short story “La conversión de Uei-Kong,” from El tramo final, which R. A. Kerr considers a good example of “postcolonial writing’s employment of doubled, hybrid, or unstable identities” (63). In its pages, the protagonist, Lau Uei-Kuong (Manuel Lau Manrique) is a Kuei who was born and raised in Guangdong, China. In spite of the fact that when he asks Tío Keng for a job, the only language he speaks is Cantonese and the only culture he knows is the Chinese, the latter is still unsure about the true Chineseness of his identity. The only way in which Tío Keng is able to overcome his prejudice against Westerners is through language:

As long as Uei-Kuong did not stop speaking in Cantonese, Tío Keng was capable of forgetting completely his Kuei origin and treated him with the same confidence and faith as he would one of his compatriots. But Uei-Kuong could not be speaking Cantonese the whole time. When he remained quiet, with an undecipherable expression in his face, or when he expressed himself with the little Castilian he knew, Tío Keng was overcome by sudden fear and distrust.[45]

Later, when Uei-Kuong tries to borrow money from his former boss in order to open his own store, rather than his practice of Chinese customs and his believe in Chinese values, what opens the door to the old man’s heart is precisely his former employee’s inability and lack of interest in learning Spanish. If he can speak Cantonese fluently and is incapable of learning Spanish, thinks Tío Keng, he must be a true Chinese. Likewise, Lou Koc allows Uei-Kuong to marry his daughter only after he is told that the potential groom is a Tusán, and after noticing both his flawless Cantonese and his timidity, “a quality or defect that one can hardly expect from a Kuei.”[46]

Siu Kam Wen is considered, along with Alonso Cueto, Cronwell Jara, and Guillermo Niño de Guzmán, one of the best narrators of Peru’s Generation of 1980. As previously stated, his opus deserves more critical attention not only because of its intrinsic aesthetic value but also because it provides a wealth of information on the self-representation of the Sino-Peruvian community. It also proposes a reinterpretation of Peruvian history and geography (Viaje a Ítaca, in particular, provides an extensive description of Lima’s progressive physical deterioration), this time from the perspective a Chinese Peruvian. Although some of his writings are marked by the expected nostalgia from an expatriate writer, one can also perceive a certain tone of reproach and resentment against a country that forced him into a third migration. In addition, as we have seen, his re-creation of daily life in Lima’s Chinatown denounces the self-exploitation embedded in the entrepreneurship of this ethnic enclave as well as the xenophobic attitudes in both Peruvian mainstream society and the Chinese community. Equally important are the intergenerational clashes that create fissures and boundaries within communities that are widely known of their ethnic solidarity. In sum, Siu Kam Wen has found a unique voice among Latin American writers. No comparable literary heritage from first-generation Chinese immigrants can be found in Cuba, for example, where authors with more or less distant Chinese ancestry, such as Regino Pedroso, José Lezama Lima, Regino Pedroso, Severo Sarduy, and Zoé Valdés, are indeed responsible for a rich literary production.

Works Cited

Ang, Ien. On Not Speaking Chinese. Living between Asia and the West. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
Brettell, Caroline B. “Theorizing Migration in Anthropology. The Social Construction of Networks, Identities, Communities, and Globalscapes.” Migration Theory: Talking Across Disciplines. New York: Routledge, 2000. Eds. Caroline Brettell and James Frank Hollifield. 97-135.
Cáceres, Béatrice. “De Zulen à Siu Kam Wen: Cent ans de littérature sino-péruvienne.” Exils et Créations Littéraires. Cahiers du Cirhill 24. Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2001.
- - -. “Siu Kam Wen entre la Chine et l’Occident.” Les Écrivains de l'Exil:
Cosmopolitisme ou Ethnicité. Cahiers du Cirhill
25. Université Catholique de l’Ouest, Angers. Paris: L'Harmattan, 2002.
Derpich, Wilma E. El otro lado azul. Empresarios chinos en el Perú. Lima: Fondo Editorial del Congreso del Perú, 1999.
Dubs Homer H. and Robert S. Smith. “Chinese in Mexico City in 1635.” The Far Eastern Quarterly 1.4(Aug. 1942):387-9.
Gates, Hill. “Dependency and the Part-Time Proletariat in Taiwan.” Modern China 5.3 (1979): 381-407.
Hu-DeHart, Evelyn. “Opium and Social Control: Coolies on the Plantations of Peru and Cuba.” Journal of Chinese Overseas 1.2 (Nov. 2005): 169-83.
Kam Wen, Siu. Cuentos completos. Morrisville, North Carolina: Diana, 2004.
- - -. La estatua en el jardín. Morrisville, North Carolina: Diana, 2004.
- - -. Viaje a Ítaca. Morrisville, North Carolina: Diana, 2004.
- - -. La vida no es una tómbola. Ewa Beach, Hawaii: Abajo el Puente, 2007.
Kerr, R.A. “Lost in Lima: the Asian-Hispanic Fiction of Siu Kam Wen.” Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana 28.1 (1999): 54-65.
Krutz, Gordon V. “Chinese Labor, Economic Development and Social Reaction.” Ethnohistory 18.4 (Autumn 1971): 321-33.
Lausent-Herrera, Isabelle. “Les Asiatiques au Pérou.” Espacios Latinos (June-July 1997): 33-35.
- - -. “Constitution et processus d’intégration socio-économique
d’une micro-colonie chinoise dans une communauté andine à la fin du XIXe siècle-Acos, vallée de Chancay, Pérou.” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Etudes Andines IX.3-4 (1980): 85-106.
- - -. “La cristianización de los chinos en el Perú: integración, sumisión y resistencia.” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Etudes Andines. 21.3 (1992): 977-1007.
- - -. “Division des activités économiques entre chinois, ‘injertos’ et métis dans la communauté d’Acos (1920-1950), vallée de Chancay, Pérou (2 partie).” Bulletin de l’Institut Français d’Etudes Andines X.1-2 (1981): 1-22.
- - -. “L’Emergence d’une élite d’origine asiatique au Pérou.” Caravelle 67 (1996): 127-53.
Lee Chan, Alejandro. “Chinos de la diáspora en las novelas de Isabel Allende, Mayra Montero y Cristina García.” Doctoral Dissertation. University of California, Los Angeles, 2005.
López-Calvo, Ignacio. Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2008.
McKeown, Adam. Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, Hawaii, 1900-1936. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.
- - -. “Conceptualizing Chinese Diasporas, 1842 to 1949.” The Journal of Asian Studies 58. 2 (May, 1999): 306-37.
Pieke, Frank, Pál Nyíri, Mette thuno and Antonella Ceccagno. Transnational Chinese. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
Rodríguez Pastor, Humberto. Herederos del dragón. Historia de la comunidad china en el Perú. Lima: Fondo Editorial del Congreso del Perú, 2000.
Stewart, Watt. Chinese bondage in Peru. Durham: Duke University Press, 1951.
Yen, Huei Lan. “Identity, culture, and resistance in two stores of Siu Kam Wen.”
Alternative Orientalisms in Latin America and Beyond. Ed. Ignacio López-Calvo. Newcastle, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007. 146-55.


[1] “Lorsqu’il compose les neuf contes sur la vie du quartier chinois de Lima, il souhaite que ce soit presque un témoignage” (“Siu Kam Wen” 126).
[2] The chifa is one of the key elements of Chinese Peruvian culture. The term is also used in Ecuador. Watt Stewart, in his 1951 Chinese Bondage in Peru states that these restaurants were initially called chinganas and fondas (126).
[3] Siu Kam Wen has also published a book titled Deconstructing Art (Morrisville: Lulu, 2004) and the one-act drama ¿Vino alquien después del funeral? (Debate XIII.65 [1991]: 57-64). The following short stories included in Cuentos completos were previously published in different Peruvian journals: “El viajero,” in La Casa de Cartón 3.II (1981), “La vigilia,” in Lluvia 8-9.III (1981), “Los compadres,” in Oráculo 5 (1982), “Azucena,” in Caretas 787 (1984), “La primera espada del imperio,” in La Casa de Cartón 7.V (1985), and “Ilusionismo,” in Renacimiento-Revista de Literatura 31-34 (2002). He was awarded an honorable mention at the 1981 Copé contest with “A Story of Two Old Men” and a similar one at the 1983 A-Thousand-Word Short Story contest with “Azucena.” He also has an unpublished novel entitled “Gottschalk y el Pishtaco” (1997).
[4] “The pejorative term ‘coolie’ referred to unskilled hired workers in India, China and eastern Asia, but it was later applied to Chinese and other Asian contract emigrant laborers employed by colonial powers in their colonies, particularly after the abolition of the black slave trade under British pressure (Encarta Encyclopedia). The Spanish derogative term culí or culi is a derivative from English ‘coolie’ or ‘cooly,’ which in turn comes from the Hindi word kuli, meaning “day laborer” (Diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua). […] I am aware of the derogative origin of the term, I write it in quotations only the first time I use it in the study” (López-Calvo 167).
[5] The Peruvian government suspended the trade from 1856 until 1861.
[6] “In the 1830s, Chinese men began to migrate in massive waves as a result of several push and pull factors. Among the latter were the increasing need for cheap labor in different parts of the world and the shifting of power relations between China and Western influential nations. Domestic problems, however, were equally important. Overpopulation, natural catastrophes, and the dreadful economic conditions of the country made the prospect of migration more attractive. Along with these factors, the political instability invited workers to dream about a better life elsewhere. Wars and rebellions plagued China during the nineteenth century: the Opium Wars with Great Britain (1839-1843, 1856-1860), the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864), the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), and the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1900) against the imperial government of the last Chinese dynasty, the Manchu (also Ch’ing or Qing; 1644-1912)” (López-Calvo 4).
[7] Set in nineteenth-century France, this novel narrates the French doctor Charles Beauclair’s efforts to control his own dreams (with the help of the professional entertainer Joseph “Le Pétomane” Pujol) in order to fulfill his amorous fantasies.
[8]Lima’s Chinatown, which began to be built in 1860 (Cáceres “De Zulen” 133), is the second oldest in the Americas after the one in Havana, which, as I have pointed in my Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture (in press; 2008), began to be built in the 1850s. According to Homer H. Dubs and Robert S. Smith, there was also a Chinatown in Mexico as early as in 1635: “By 1635 there was already at least the beginnings of a Chinese colony in Mexico City” (189).
[9] Although 48 percent of Peru’s population is under the line of poverty, the gross national income has grown over 5 percent in the last seven years. In 2007 the growth was 8,2 percent.
[10] I took this translated line from the website . All the other translations from Spanish and French are mine.
[11] “La vida de los tenderos, por supuesto, es cualquier cosa menos una tómbola” (326).
[12] The term Huaqiao has also been translated as “sojourners” or “temporary workers.”
[13] “La cabeza profundamente enterrada en la arena” (27).
[14] “Es básicamente un disfraz que me puse a fin de tomar distancia con un traumático pasado al que todavía no puedo evocar sin sentir tristeza” (325).
[15] “¿Terminaré siendo otro tendero, como lo son mi padre, el señor Wong y todo el mundo que conocemos, y como lo han sido generaciones y generaciones de chinos antes que nosotros?” (24).
[16] “Sintió que una pena profunda se apoderaba de él. La imagen de sí mismo comiendo de una lata de conserva en la soledad de su cuarto le produjo el mismo efecto de una mala escena en un mal melodrama. Héctor se daba cuenta de que era lástima por sí mismo lo que sentía y que era contraproducente sentir de esa manera” (55).
[17] In the thirty-fifth chapter the protagonist claims to have received a Confucian education (232).
[18] This anecdote is, in fact, autobiographical. As Béatrice Cáceres explains, the author translated and annotated twenty Chinese classical poemas in “Poemas chinos: traducción y notas de Siu Kam Wen,”published in Kuntur, revista de la Asesoría Cultural de la Presidencia de la República, 4 (March-April 1987) (“Siu Kam Wen” 118).
[19] “Sólo agravó su sensación de estar completamente solo en el mundo, un huérfano de cariños” (167). This same intergenerational conflict is also depicted in “El deterioro” (The Deterioration), a short story in which Héctor, an initially submissive boy who turns into to a defiant son, ends up dying and his father, Don Augusto, feels guilty for the loss.
[20] “No quiero terminar siendo la mujer de un tendero; es suficiente haber sido la hija de uno. Estoy harta de esa vida miserable. Es un oficio que no da tiempo para nada, que esclaviza como ningún otro; que roba de nosotros la juventud y los goces más simples de la vida….” (177).
[21] “Esta pobreza aparente en que vivían sus dos hermanos chocaba y dejaba confuso a Elías, quien estaba seguro de que sus condiciones económicas eran mucho mejores que las que dejaban entrever. Ni don Augusto ni don Manolo parecían darse cuenta de que vivían en la pobreza o al borde de la pobreza; su miseria material no parecía molestarlos en absoluto” (73).
[22] “Los observadores de afuera llamaban a eso tacañería; los hermanos preferían pensar de eso como una actitud de prudencia” (73).
[23] “Se dio cuenta de que vivían prácticamente en la pobreza, y lo peor de todo era que se trataba de una pobreza voluntaria, como la pobreza de un monje franciscano. El viejo Lo había hecho bastante dinero como para adquirir uno o dos departamentos y hasta una casa entera en algún barrio cercano, pero nunca lo hizo” (11).
[24] “A los sén-haks se les pagaba con poco menos que el sueldo mínimo fijado por la ley, cosa [a la] que los mismos sén-háks no prestaban demasiada importancia, ya que a la mayoría de ellos les interesaban más aprender el oficio, el vocabulario necesario en la atención al público, que chapuceaban como mejor podían, y experimentar lo que es ser dependiente de alguien fuera del círculo familiar. Al cabo de un año o dos de este tipo de aprendizaje, los sén-háks renunciaban a su trabajo, conseguían algún préstamo de sus familiares y empezaban un negocio por su propia cuenta o en asociación con otros sén-háks” (21).
[25] The Sociedad de Beneficencia China is an umbrella organization that unites all the Chinese societies and represents all the members of this ethnic group in Peru. According to Béatrice Cáceres, it was “created in 1881 and it became a central organism in charge of the integration of the new arrivals and of the relationship between the Chinese and Peruvian governments.” [Crée en 1881, devint un organisme central chargé de l’intégration des nouveaux arrivants et des relations entre les gouvernements chinois et péruvien” (“De Zulen” 135-36). Isabelle Lausent-Herrera dates the creation of the Beneficencia China in 1885 (“La cristianización).
[26] As the author explains in the glossary, the term “Lou” literally means “old man” and is used as a term of endearment among family members.
[27] Referring to the academic success of Chinese Peruvians, Isabelle Lausent-Herrera explains: “La situation des Péruvens d’origine asiatique est-elle réellement exceptionnelle? Par rapport au passé, il s’agit en vérité d’un changement total dans les comportements que lón doit sans doute à l’origine du president [Fujimori] mais aussi au fait que cette partie de la population, que oscille entre la petite et la grande bourgeoisie, a recçu une éducation de bonne qualité et que son intégrations est arrivée à maturité. La majorité des jeunes issus de ces communautés fréquentent dans la primaire et le secondaire des établisements ‘communautaires’ de très bon niveau qui dispnesent un enseignement bilingüe. Dans le supérieur, ces étudiatns ont the meilleurs résultats” (“L’emergence” 151).
[28] “Hasta la abolición, durante los años postreros de los cincuenta, de las restricciones impuestas originalmente por el gobierno del General Odría, estas transacciones eran una práctica muy común entre los chinos” (27). Since the documentation that Don Augusto buys for his brother has the name Elias Chan Rios on it, that is the name he leaves on the tombstone for fear of legal complications.
[29] “Lo cierto era que, por más que intentó y por más que lo negaba, no pudo evitar que se contagiara también del pánico generalizado que se había hecho presa de la colonia y de medio país; era imposible tener la cabeza fría en medio de una estampida” (258).
[30] “—Estuve en Oroya por tres o cuatro años. Había allí más paisanos de lo que pensé; la mayoría eran descendientes de los culíes que se habían refugiado en la sierra por culpa de la guerra con Chile; en otras palabras, tenía más competencia de la que me convenía” (78).
[31] According to Lausent-Herrera, the other two important events, besides the participation of the Chinese coolies in the siege of Lima, are the 1870 coolie revolt in the Araya hacienda (in the northern valley of Pativilca) in which three hundred of them were killed, and the Treaty of Tientsin in 1874, which ended the coolie trade (33-34).
[32] “La capital había sufrido considerables cambios a raíz de los desmanes del 14 de enero, cuando incendiaron las pulperías de los chinos” (185).
[33] “Un buen número de chinos ha perdido su vida en incidentes parecidos, durante los nefastos días de la Guerra del Pacífico, cuando 80 de ellos fueron masacrados en la capital y más de mil en Cañete” (53).
[34] “1881. 16 de enero. Saqueo de Lima.
Después de la batalla de Miraflores y con las tropas de ocupación a punto de entrar a Lima, un populacho encabezado por oficiales del ejército en retirada saquea e incendia las tiendas de los chinos, en venganza por la colaboración que miles de culíes de esa nacionalidad prestan al ejército invasor. Según Spenser St. John, el enviado británico en el país, unos 70 chinos son muertos en el curso del saqueo.
1881. Febrero. Saqueos y matanzas en Cañete.
Con Lima ocupada y el país en desorden, la población india y negra de Cañete se alza para saldar una vieja cuenta con los culíes chinos que viven y laboran en el valle. El pretexto es el altercado entre uno de los orientales y una morena durante el carnaval. Según el cálculo conservador de Juan de Arona, unos mil culíes son muertos en un día de desmanes desaforados” (99).
[35] “La elite blanca del país se sintió menos ofendida por la virtual derrota de Vargas Llosa que por la posibilidad, casi absurda, de un hombre de ascendencia asiática convertido en el primer mandatario de una nación cuyas riendas políticas habían estado tradicionalmente en manos de criollos” (19).
[36] “Eran los años de la dictadura del General Manuel A. Odría, quien era enemigo acérrimo de aceptar inmigrantes de origen asiático y quien, entre las primeras cosas que hizo cuando tuvo el privilegio de sentar su culo en el sillón tallado de San Martín, fue prohibir la entrada de los chinos al Perú” (14-15).
[37] “Yo sé que a mí me gustaría que me enterraran en el cementerio de mi aldea natal y no en el de Lima, cuando me llegue el turno de morir. Por más agradecido que estemos del Perú, estamos sólo de paso por sus tierras; nunca seremos algo más que turistas” (67).
[38] “Eran conscientes de lo que un acto como el hurto pudiera significarles: no sólo su despido inmediato, sino la imposibilidad de hallar en el futuro cualquier otro trabajo dentro del restringido perímetro de la Colonia, su única fuente de empleos. Perder el buen nombre entre sus propios compatriotas no sólo era ignominioso: era suicida” (76).
[39] “Y como muchos de su raza, era terco como una mula y persistente como un moscardón” (198-99).
[40] “Con crueldad y pretensiones de fisonomista, describía como ‘los ojos de una rata en la cabeza de una culebra’. El tendero solía advertir a su hijo que alguien con semejantes facciones no era de fiar” (37).
[41] “Había escrito a mi padre expresando su creencia de que era tiempo de profundizar los ya existentes lazos de amistad entre las dos familias, y que a ese efecto estaba dispuesto a darme en matrimonio a una de sus dos hijas no casadas” (15).
[42] “Madre sufre como siempre de sus problemas mentales, cuya naturaleza ya conocen. Me duele decir que todavía va, de tiempo en tiempo, hasta las afueras de la aldea a esperar por el regreso de ustedes mis hermanos mayores. Si vieran su desilusión cuando, después de estar esperando por horas, la convencemos finalmente a volver a casa. Y si ella sólo sospechara…” (30).
[43] “Los chinos carecen típicamente del sentido del humor” (81).
[44] “Su exuberante personalidad, sus maneras directas y despreocupadas, y hasta cierto punto la sensualidad de su prosa” (45).
[45] “En tanto Uei-Kuong no dejara de hablar en cantonés, el Tío Keng era capaz de olvidarse completamente de su origen kuei y lo trataba con la misma confianza y la misma fe que a un compatriota suyo. Pero Uei-Kuong no podía quedarse hablando en cantonés todo el tiempo. Cuando permanecía en silencio, inexcrutable la expresión de su rostro, o cuando se expresaba con lo poco que sabía del castellano, al Tío Keng le asaltaban temores y recelos repentinos” (78-79).
[46] “Cualidad o defecto que difícilmente puede esperarse de un kuei” (83).

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