- Toma y Daca: Transculturación y presencia de escritores chino-latinoamericanos [Give and Take: Transculturation and the Presence of Chinese-Latin American writers] by Huei Lan Yen
At the age of two, Manuel was taken from Peru to China by his step-father, Lau. Manuel’s mother and absent biological father were Kueis, a term used by the Chinese in Peru for non-Chinese Peruvians. Lau gave Manuel a Chinese name, Uei-Kuong, and raised him in China. At the age of 22, Lau was executed during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and his son Uei-Kuong decided to return to Peru, the country of his birth. He spoke very little Spanish and was not familiar with Peruvian culture. Chinese Peruvians were astonished at someone speaking fluent Cantonese with Uei-Kuong’s physical characteristics: “los ojos hundidos, la piel cobriza, la nariz muy pronunciada” [End Page 83] [deep-set eyes, copper skin, very pronounced nose] (83). To them, he looked like a Kuei, and they had trouble trusting him in everyday and business life. He seemed equally strange to other Peruvians because although he looked like them, he couldn’t speak Spanish and his mannerisms seemed odd. This short story, “La Conversión de Uei-Kuong” [The Conversion of Uei-Kuong] by Peruvian author Siu Kam Wen is one of many culturally-focused examples of Chino-Latin American literature from the late 1800s to the present analyzed by Huei Lan Yen in Toma y Daca.
Yen employs a transcultural framework to interpret the “La Conversión” short story which indicates that the main character, Manuel (Huei Lan), has to face “doble impedimientos” [double impediments] of his physical appearance and language/mannerisms as he seeks to develop his identity among both Chinese and Kuei communities in Peru (83–84). Yen defines the process of transculturation as “la interacción y el diálogo entre lo uno y lo diverso como claro reflejo de una sociedad multicultural” [the interaction and dialogue among the one and the many as the clear reflection of a multicultural society]. The term was first conceived by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in 1947. Throughout, Yen explores the transcultural merging and converging of thought and experience, seeing it as “una clave” [a key] for understanding Chinese Latin-American literature and cultural/national identity (1–2).
Transculturation begins with contact among cultures. Latin America’s rich diversity includes indigenous, Africans, Europeans, Criollos (from Spain), and mixtures of these and other groups. Yen laments how the contributions of Chinese Latin-Americans have been so greatly overlooked. The subtitle emphasizes their significant “presencia” [presence] in life and literature. How and when did they arrive? The most significant movement of the Chinese into Latin America occurred during the 1800s when slavery was gradually being abolished, but there was still a great demand for cheap labor for mining, railway construction, and cotton and sugar plantations. Chapter One reviews the history of Chinese laborers called culíes [coolies], a disparaging term identifying indentured laborers. Although considered extremely loyal and hard-working, they suffered severe hardship and maltreatment. From 1847 until the early 1900s, over 160,000 Chinese arrived in Cuba and forced to work up to 21 hours a day, often tortured by palo, cuchillo, y látigo [stick, knife, and whip]; those too weak or sick to work were abandoned in the streets as beggars (25). Yen considers the work of the following significant authors: Regino Pedroso, Cuba; Siu Kam Wen, Peru; Óscar Wong, Mexico; [End Page 84] and Carlos Francisco Changmarín, Panama.
Orientalism is an outsider discourse based on naive, stereotypical observations of the East, while portraying the West as a superior civilization (18). Regino Pedroso turns these observations of the “exotic other” around through a transcultural process of auto-orientalism (much like the term autobiography), telling his own story and the story of the Chinese people in Cuba as an insider. Yen sees Pedroso’s 1933 poem “El Heredero” [The Heir...