Sunday, July 19, 2009


Though it is far humbler than its counterparts in North America, Lima's Chinatown is significant for being one of the few, if not the only, Latin American Chinatown.

It is centered around two blocks -the seventh and eighth- of Jirón Andahuaylas in downtown Lima, a stretch universally referred to as Calle Capón, a name acquired during the Spanish Colonial period as that was where castrated pigs were sold.

In the 1860s Chinese immigrants started to cluster in the area around the Central Market, giving rise to an ethnic Chinese neighborhood. Over time, the Chinese integrated into Peruvian society and no longer clustered in the area, which nonetheless retained a distinct ethnic flavor.

In 1971 an archway, a gift from the people of Taiwan, was erected to mark the entrance to Chinatown. Even then, however, the whole area was being overrun by street peddlers, who in time set up essentially permanent stalls. The streets were so crammed with stalls and sellers that they were essentially impassable to vehicles, leading to a number of tragedies as emergency response vehicles could not enter to put out fires in surrounding buildings. The crowding also made it a haven for pickpockets and cutpurses.

Finally, in 1997 Lima's mayor cleared out the hawkers and beefed up police presence and Calle Capón was cleaned up. The street vendors were relocated from Downtown andCalle Capón, which was closed to vehicles and paved with 30,000 red bricks bearing the names of donors and benefactors (one can still pay to have one's name inscribed in a paver). Several panels were included depicting animals of the Chinese zodiac and, in the center of the street, the ideogram for "Double Happiness".

Today, though it does not attract the international tourism that, say, San Francisco's Chinatown does, Calle Capón still houses offices for several Chinese benevolent associations, is a source for rare Chinese ingredients, and is a destination point for Peruvian families looking for quality Chinese fare at any of its many long-established and well-known chifas.

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