||When asked why she married a Chinese man, Maria, known to us as "Apocito", (A term which combines the Cantonese word for grandmother with a Spanish ending) replied that after witnessing the physical abuse her own mother Juana Aldecoa Arrospide de Salas had endured from her Peruvian husband, she hoped that a Chinese man would make a kinder husband. And while abuse knows no boundaries, her intuition paid off.
FROM PERU TO THE U.S.
More than half of my life in Peru was spent under two military dictatorships. One of the dictators, General Juan Velasco Alvarado was a man who, like many Peruvians of indigenous decent, had "slanted" eyes and was widely referred to as "El Chino Velasco".
In 1990, Peru gained world attention by electing Alberto Fujimori, the first president of Asian descent outside of Asia. Ever since, I have had my share of public teasing being called President Fujimori's cousin, daughter or niece. In fact, in Peru, as in many Latin American countries, whether you are Koreans or Japanese, we are all called "chinos".
My memories of Peru are both sweet and sour. I remember proudly raising our Peruvian flag during holidays and singing the national anthem. Despite the racism and stereotyping that overseas Chinese faced in many countries they emigrated to, Peru being no exception, Peru is also a place where my presence was never questioned, my proficiency in Spanish and things Peruvian never doubted, where the flavorful Latin American and Chinese cuisines come together at the Chifas --Chinese Peruvian restaurants, a name from the Spanish pronunciation for "eat rice" in Cantonese.
In applying for a new Social Security card in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, where I used to live, the form instructed me to check only one racial/ethnic category. I decided to be accurate and checked both Hispanic and Asian. Minutes after turning in my form, the clerk and later her supervisor each called me to their desks to try to convince me to choose between one of the categories.
After a tiresome revision about who my parents were, what language we spoke, what our last names where, fully confused, they shrugged their shoulders and left the form unchanged. Unwilling to give in, I wanted every part of my identity, China/Peruana/Asian/Latina/American to be counted and accounted for.
Today, with a 150-year legacy in the Americas, Asian Latinos represent a unique living link between two of the largest immigrant groups in the U.S. They, like the photos found in our family albums, are a reminder of what is possible, pushing the boundaries and marking the intersections of past generations, challenging our perceptions of race and ethnicity, offering an unassuming window into a little known history, hoping to tell at least one of all too many stories still left untold.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fabiana Chiu-Rinaldi was the former deputy director at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in New York City at the time of the ANCESTORS production in New York in 1995. She was born and raised in Lima, Peru where she attended Colegio Juan XXIII, one of the schools set up by the Chinese Peruvian community there. She is currently a program officer, Museums specialist, with the New York State Council for the Arts. She lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband, David Rinaldi, her young son, Michelangelo, and their cat, Emily.