Chinatowns in Latin America

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Chinatown, My Chinatown.pdf
Cover of sheet music, published in 1910
Chinese 唐人街
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 中國城
Simplified Chinese 中国城
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 華埠
Simplified Chinese 华埠

Chinatowns in Latin America (Spanish: barrios chinos, singular barrio chino / Portuguese: bairros chineses, singular bairro chinês) developed with the rise of Chinese immigration in the 19th century to various countries in Latin America as contract laborers (i.e., indentured servants) in agricultural and fishing industries. Most came from Guangdong Province. Since the 1970s, the new arrivals have typically hailed from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Latin American Chinatowns may include the descendants of original migrants — often of mixed Chinese and Latino parentage — and more recent immigrants from East Asia. Most Asian Latin Americans are of Cantonese and Hakka origin. Estimates widely vary on the number of Chinese Descendants in Latin America but it is at least 1.4 million and likely much greater than this.

Unlike the Chinatowns of Anglo America and Europe, pure-blood ethnic Chinese were relatively few in number but now increasing rapidly due to generally lower levels of Chinese immigration to some parts of Latin America. Residents of Latin American Chinatowns tend to be multilingual. Latin America's Chinatowns include those of Mexico City, Havana, Buenos Aires, and Lima. Some of these Chinatowns mainly serve as tourist attractions and not as true, living ethnic communities. The Chinatown of Havana, Cuba's is largely multi-generation Spanish-speaking Chinese Cuban whereas the Chinatown of the Belgrano district of Buenos Aires, Argentina consists of many first-generation Holo- and Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Taiwan.

Politically, several nations of Latin America recognize the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan. A Chinese arch was presented as a gift to the Barrio Chino of Panama City, following the visit of Panama by the then Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. After the major official visit by the Cuban Revolution's Fidel Castro to the People's Republic of China in 1995, materials were given for the new Chinese arch on Calle Dragone in Havana's Barrio Chino.


It is centered on Arribeños, Mendoza and Montañeses Streets, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Belgrano, Buenos Aires. Large numbers of recent Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese immigrants have settled in the area. Also included are ethnic Chinese from other parts of the Americas and East Asia, and Asians of non-Chinese ancestry, mainly Japanese and Korean, whose first immigrants date from WWII and the Korean war.[1]


São Paulo, Brazil, has no permanent Chinatown, but the Chinese-Brazilian community is centered on the Liberdade district. Besides being an area famous for its strong Japanese presence, a significant number of Taiwanese immigrants settled in Liberdade, and many Chinese immigrants have come to Liberdade following the Communist revolution in 1949. Many Cantonese from Hong Kong and Portuguese-speaking Macau — including some Macanese of mixed Chinese and Portuguese descent — also settled the place after their return to mainland Chinese rule in 1997 and 1999 respectively. These Macau immigrants can usually speak and understand Portuguese (and sometimes also its creole, Macanese or Patuá), allowing them to adjust more easily to life in Brazil. A very sizeable number of ethnic Chinese from Indonesia have settled the area as refugees when they were violently forced out in the 1960s. Today, Chinese Brazilians are the second largest Asian ethnic group in Brazil, after the Japanese. The Liberdade district has a distinct multi-Asian cultural presence. In addition, the Chinese community of São Paulo have centered on the 25 de Março Street, an extensive retail and wholesale shopping area in the old Downtown of São Paulo.


The majority of 20,000 Chinese people in Chile live in Santiago. Although there are many examples of classic pagodas-style restaurants and other typical ethnic features, they are not concentrated in one specific area as associated with Chinatowns around the world.

Costa Rica[edit]

Main article: Chinatown, San José

There is a sizeable Chinese community in the Puntarenas area and in San José. Recent Chinese immigrants are coming from Taiwan, many of whom have established businesses in Costa Rica.

On 5 December 2012, San José officially inaugurated its Barrio Chino in the city's Catedral district between Avenidas 2 and 14, along a street formerly known as Paseo de los Estudiantes. The new Chinatown includes a 550-meter pedestrian boulevard and a Tang Dynasty-style archway. This new Chinatown development will include restaurants serving oriental food and retail stores selling oriental artifacts, medication and other products.[1]

The project was funded by the Costa Rican government, the city of San José, and a US$1.5 million grant from the People's Republic of China. The project was announced at an official ceremony that included Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias, Municipalidad de San José mayor, Johnny Araya and the mayor of Beijing, Guo Jinlong.


See also: Chinese Cuban

Chinese immigration to Cuba started in 1847 when Spanish settlers brought in Cantonese contract workers to work in the sugar fields. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers were brought in from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan during the following decades to replace the labor of African slaves. After completing 8-year contracts, the Chinese immigrants generally settled permanently in Cuba, where their descendants have since intermarried with local Cubans.

Unlike that of Argentina and other Latin American countries, the overseas Chinese population of Cuba was once large, but the now-diminished Chinese Cuban community is today clustered around the largely dying Barrio Chino — called Barrio Chino de La Habana — on Calle Zanja, in Havana. After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, many Chinese Cuban entrepreneurs fled the country for the United States. Since the 1960s, Cuba has not attracted very many, if any, Chinese immigrants (developments or redevelopments of Chinatowns tend to require much private investments for which political conditions in Cuba are not favorable).

Only one Chinese-language newspaper, Kwong Wah Po, remains in Cuba. Havana's Chinatown was formerly among the largest in Latin America as the neighborhood comprised 44 square blocks during its prime. To tie in with the Revolution's economic reliance on tourism, attempts have recently been launched to attract revitalization investment for the Chinatown from Mainland Chinese state-run enterprises and overseas Chinese private investors, particularly Chinese Canadians.

Dominican Republic[edit]

While Havana's Barrio Chino is struggling for self-preservation, a new bustling and organic Chinatown in the Dominican Republic thrives, in that country's capital city Santo Domingo, on Avenida Duarte; it was officially inaugurated as a Chinatown in 2006.[2] While serving the local Chinese community with at least 40 immigrant-run businesses, it is also promoted as a tourist attraction. The development of Chinatown is now gaining momentum, and two gateway arches have been constructed. First-generation Chinese immigrants came from Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1970s, but migrants had been coming from Asia from the beginning of the 20th century.


There is a Chinese community on "Sexta Calle" (6th. Street), between 3rd. and 4th. Avenue in Zone 1, in Guatemala City.


See also: Chinese Mexican


The first Chinese immigrants to Mexico came from China, some were Philippine-born Chinese, brought by the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade[citation needed]. However most contemporary Chinese immigrants came to Mexico during the 20th century as contract workers and political refugees. With the rise of anti-Chinese sentiment in Mexico in the 1930s under President Plutarco Elías Calles, most Chinese Mexicans, including individuals of mixed Chinese and Mexican descent, were forced out of Mexico and deported to China.

Mexico City[edit]

Mexico City's small barrio chino is on Calle Dolores in Cuauhtémoc borough in the city center.

Mexicali, a historic Chinese outpost[edit]

Main article: Chinatown, Mexicali

The border city of Mexicali, Baja California, contains the largest concentration of Chinese Mexicans in Mexico; its Chinatown, on Avenida Madero Calle Azueta, is called La Chinesca (The Chinesque one). Some of the earliest Chinese settlers who arrived in the United States eventually went south to Mexico to escape institutionalized anti-Chinese persecution in California.[citation needed] The largest number of new Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrants came mostly from the Guangzhou area around 1919. Mexicali had a local chapter of the Kuomintang. There is now a consulate of the People's Republic of China in Mexicali as well as one in nearby Tijuana. The economic problems of Mexico in the 1980s led many Chinese-Mexicans to migrate north into the United States. Today, members of the multi-generational Chinese-Mexican community own and operate many businesses across the city. One of the oldest Chinese restaurants, Restaurant 19, is named after one of the early Mexican Chinatown corridors, Alley 19, which opened December 18, 1928, and eventually closed in winter 2001. It was one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Mexico. This restaurant was utilized by many U.S. and Mexican officials and celebrities throughout the years; its end eventually came due to the devaluation of the peso in the 1980s and the new border crossing that takes tourist and locals away from the original heart of Mexicali. Currently there are more than 80 Chinese restaurants from small coffee shops (cafés de chinos) to huge 750 occupancy dining rooms. Nowadays, there are about 2,000 Chinese Mexicans living in the city; however, there are 100,000 residents more than thought who are of Chinese descent .[citation needed]


Nicaragua has no permanent Chinatown but the Chinese Nicaraguan community is centered on Managua and the Caribbean coast, most notably in Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas. Many Chinese immigrants are present, most of who are from mainland China and also from Taiwan. The Chinese first arrived in Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, where most settled in cities such as Bluefields, El Bluff, Laguna de Perlas, and Puerto Cabezas. Then in the late 19th century began migrating to the Pacific lowlands of the country, mainly Managua. Many Chinese in Nicaragua committed themselves to the commerce industry and opened up businesses. They also dedicated themselves to the candy, soap, and clothing industries.


The main Panamanian Chinatown is located in Panama City and is called the Barrio Chino, located in the neighborhood of San Felipe in the City of Panama. It consist of four Portals, beginning in Carlos A. Mendoza Street, covering Veraguas Street and part of the Eloy Alfaro and B Avenue. Most of the traditional Chinese shops are located in Carlos A. Mendoza Street, where you can find all kind of shops, which range from food, articles for parties and events, Chinese curiosities and a traditional Chinese food restaurante.


See also: Chinatown, Lima
Chinatown in Lima

The main Peruvian Chinatown is located in Lima and is called the Barrio Chino, located on Calle Capón (Block 7 of Ucayali Street); it is one of the two earliest Chinatowns in the Western Hemisphere, and contains various notably Chinese architectural features.

Other Peruvian cities with notable Chinese-Peruvian populations include Chimbote, Trujillo, and Chiclayo,[3] all on the north coast, where Chinese immigrants were brought to work on sugar cane plantations. Historical Chinese immigration to the Amazonian region of Peru may be documented in a small village intriguingly named "Chino" several miles outside of Iquitos.


The small country of Suriname has a significant Chinese population as well, mainly in the capital Paramaribo and the adjacent urban district of Wanica. The history of the Surinamese Chinese dates back to 1858 under Dutch colonial rule, making it one of the oldest Chinese communities in South America. These early Suriname Chinese were mainly Hakka-speaking and from the towns of Dongguan and Meixian in the Southern Chinese province of Guangdong and came to Suriname, like Indians and the Javanese, to work as contract-labourers on the plantations at the time of the abolition of slavery in 1863.

New waves of Chinese migration to Suriname followed in the 1950s-60s and again in the 1990s. This last group of Chinese migrants are mainly from northern China and speakers of Mandarin Chinese. They control a large share of the country's groceries and supermarkets.

Large numbers of Surinamese Chinese have migrated to the Netherlands after Suriname gained independence in 1975. In 2007, there were 70.000 persons with Chinese heritage in Suriname, which makes up 14% of the total population of the country.


Venezuela is also home to one of Latin America's largest concentrations of ethnic Chinese.The city of Valencia, Carabobo home of the major Chinese community hosts various markets devoted to Chinese culture where can be found from smoked ducks to authentic pottery. A local newspaper is also edited in Chinese. Not less relevant a lively barrio chino can be found on Avenida Principal El Bosque in the El Bosque district of Caracas.

Cantonese is widely spoken among Chinese Venezuelans, especially the variety commonly known as Hoisan or Toisan, but there has been recent Taiwanese immigration, adding to the linguistic and cultural diversity. Chinese from other places of the world also settled in Venezuela, especially from the Philippines, where they were experienced persecution in the 1970s under Ferdinand Marcos, and Cuba, where Fidel Castro's Communist Revolution seized their businesses.

Puerto Rico[edit]

Chinese people have lived in Puerto Rico since the 19th century. There is no Chinatown in Puerto Rico, but Chinese people and their culture have a notable presence in cities such as Bayamon, Caguas, San Lorenzo and other towns.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Costa Rica: el Barrio Chino se suma a atractivos turísticos de San José", El Comercio (Lima), 5 Dec. 2012.
  2. ^ "The Oriental Side of Santo Domingo". Diario Libre. 2005-09-20. Archived from the original on May 10, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  3. ^ Asociación Peruano-China, entry retrieved 5 Dec. 2012.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Curtis, James R. "Mexicali's Chinatown", Geographical Review (Vol. 85, Issue 3), 1995.
  • Hu-DeHart, Evelyn, and Kathleen López. "Asian Diasporas in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Historical Overview." Afro-Hispanic Review (2008): 9-21. in JSTOR
  • Hu-DeHart, Evelyn. "Indispensable enemy or convenient scapegoat? A critical examination of sinophobia in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1870s to 1930s." Journal of Chinese Overseas 5.1 (2009): 55-90.
  • López, Kathleen M. Chinese Cubans: A Transnational History (2013)
  • López-Calvo, Ignacio (June 2008). Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-3240-7. 
  • López-Calvo, Ignacio, ed. Alternative Orientalisms in Latin America and Beyond. (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007).
  • Meagher, Arnold J. The Coolie trade: the traffic in Chinese laborers to Latin America 1847-1874 (2008).
  • Young, Elliott. Alien Nation: Chinese Migration in the Americas from the Coolie Era Through World War II (2014).