Project Description

Lima, Peru: Tusan and Half-bloods (1)


More than 100,000 coolies arrived in Peru between 1849 and 1874, and almost all of them were men. As indentured labourers, they suffered harsh conditions in the haciendas, and people cared more about Indigenous people’s rights as a minority than the amarillos (‘yellows’) or macacos (‘monkey’ or ‘lemur’), as they were often called in the papers.  Most of them took up relations with Indian or black women, but their children did not qualify to be referred to as mestizo, the term usually used for children born of Indian and Spanish parents; instead, the first generation of Chinese-Peruvians had to make do with injerto – ‘transplant.’

With constant new arrivals of Chinese migrant workers, girls born of such marriages were a very desirable party, as marrying a half-Chinese was always better than a Peruvian. But because they did not understand Chinese, these young daughters of successful merchant families were sent to China by their husband-to-be in order to learn the language and the culture. If the men could not find a mixed-race wife in Peru, they would send for a wife from China instead. As a result, there were less and less mixed blood members within a community of Peru-born Chinese or tusan – from the Chinese tusheng, ‘native-born.’


Despite anti-Chinese riots breaking out into the twentieth century, the tusan continued to affirm their Chinese identity: they started clan associations, returned to China to find a wife, and sent their children to boarding schools in Canton. And when immigration laws in 1909 prevented them to do so, they simply opened a Chinese school in Peru. The Colegio Diez de Octubre was built in 1924 for Chinese-Peruvians, with a syllabus in Cantonese and Spanish. To find a nice pure-blood wife, they would employ a bilingual matchmaker or casamentera – an elderly tusan woman who received a portion of the bride-to-be’s dowry and an instalment for each time they bore children.

Photo credit to Mey Joy Choy, 1964.


If you liked this, you will also like…