Project Description

Lima, Peru: The New Age of Tusan (2)


Fast-forward a hundred or so years, and the situation couldn’t be more different.

About an hour’s drive from the centre of Lima, driving east along a dusty potholed motorway, the Villa Tusan Club is a small haven for the Peruvian Chinese elite, eager to escape the stifling humidity of the capital. Teenagers splash around in a pool while their parents sit at the bar, ordering an arroz chaufa (fried rice, a Chinese-inspired Peruvian dish) with their pisco sour. There are several sports grounds for members to use as they wish, and over a hundred white bungalows dot the surrounding hills – a little pied-a-terre for the weekend. By the gravelly driveway that leads to the club, the committee has leased a small field of pak-choy for a lady to sell in Lima’s Chinatown, the Barrio Chino.

The teenagers swimming, their parents, and the staff are all Peruvian, but some have distinctly Chinese features. This is because one of the pre-requisites for being a member here, besides the 10,000 soles membership fee, is to be able to prove your Chinese ancestry, no matter how far removed.

This is a far cry from the racist policies and prejudices of the earlier twentieth century, when the Peru-born, but self-proclaimed ‘more Chinese’ tusan themselves looked down upon their mixed-race counterparts. In the past 50 years, the Peruvian-Chinese community has been working to change this by extending the term tusan to all descendants – regardless of their degree of “Chineseness” – and in response to growing investment by mainland China in Peru.

Today, Madam Tusan is a popular high-end Chinese restaurant in hip Miraflores, central Lima. Young tusan join social clubs to go paintballing, drinking and seeing movies together. The main Chinese Peruvian association of Lima organizes a “Miss Tusan” beauty pageant that is a big annual showbiz extravaganza. Wong supermarkets, a family-run chain that started as a small Chinese grocery store opened in 1942, evoke one tusan’s fulgurating success at breaking the mould. “Tusan” is now a powerful branding name for young and aspiring Peruvians, who see in China a land of hope, big money, and familiarity.

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