Peruvian Americans

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Author: John Packel
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 7,207 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Peruvian Americans

John Packel


Peruvian Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from the country of Peru, the third-largest nation in South America. Peru is bounded by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This picturesque land is divided into three main geographic regions: the costa, or sea coast, along the South Pacific; the sierra, or highlands, of the Andes mountains; and the selva, or the Amazon jungle, in the east. At 496,222 square miles (1,285,210 square kilometers), Peru is roughly the size of Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota combined.

According to the 2010 World Population Prospects, prepared by the United Nations, Peru has a population of about 29 million. Approximately 95 percent of Peru's population is at least nominally Roman Catholic, a legacy of the church's deep-rooted involvement in the country's affairs since the Spanish conquest. There are also small numbers of Protestants, Jews, and Buddhists; they make up about 1 percent of the population. About 45 percent of Peruvians today are of unmixed indigenous (Amerindian) ancestry, about 43 percent are mestizos (people of mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage), and about 10 percent are of unmixed European ancestry (primarily Spanish). Blacks, who are descendants of the slaves from Africa, and people whose ancestors were immigrant Chinese and Japanese laborers make up less than 1 percent of the population. Spanish colonization left a legacy of social stratification that is, for the most part, unbroken today. Traditionally, the small Spanish upper class ruled the native and mestizo underclass. In the twentieth century, a middle class of whites and some mestizos developed, but most mestizos and almost all of the indigenous population belong to the underclass. Like most other South American countries, Peru is poor, its economy hampered by the inefficiency and obsolescence of many of its social structures. Much of its food must be imported because domestic production is inadequate and because transportation is severely limited by the small percentage of roads that are paved.

Peruvians began immigrating to the United States in small numbers during the California gold rush in the mid-1800s and again early in the twentieth century, due largely to the burgeoning textile industry in New York and New Jersey. Beginning in the 1970s another wave of Peruvians arrived in the United States, most of whom were fleeing Peru's militaristic government. The 1980s and 1990s saw the most significant influx of Peruvians to U.S. shores, this time in response to political instability and to a collapsing economy in Peru.

The 2010 U.S. Census indicated that the Peruvian American population was about 531,400, although other estimates are much higher due to the large number of undocumented Peruvians in the United States. Immigrants often come from urban areas of Peru, especially Lima, and the majority settle in the New York City metropolitan area—particularly in Paterson and Passiac in New Jersey and the New York City borough of Queens. Peruvian Americans are also clustered in the metropolitan areas of Miami, Florida; Los Angeles; Houston, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Virginia.


Early History Most anthropologists believe that the first inhabitants of the Americas came from Asia about 30,000 years ago, during the last ice age, by crossing over a land bridge where the Bering Strait is now. Some of these people migrated from the area of present-day Alaska down the Pacific coast and arrived in the region of the Andes about 20,000 years ago. Little is known about this time, but the first settlements, such as Chivateros and Toquepala, were along the coast and their inhabitants relied on a diet consisting mainly of fish and wild plants and animals. Agriculture probably began around 4000 BCE, and by 2000 BCE civilization had advanced to the point where ceremonial centers were being built in coastal areas and the skill of making pottery had developed.

Until approximately 900 BCE, a number of small states in the Andean region existed relatively independently. However, advances in agriculture led to population growth and the first truly urban societies in Peru. These urban environments provided the structure and personnel required for a more specialized society. A measure of communication between neighbor societies helped provide the right conditions for expansion to full-fledged empires, and a number of these, such as the Caral and Chavin, rose and fell prior to the Inca empire.

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This tribal period ended around 1000 CE with the ascendance of the Chimú kingdom, which had grown out of the Mochica empire and spanned nearly 600 miles of coast from present-day Lima to Ecuador. The Incas of Peru were one of the most advanced civilizations in pre-Columbian America, rivaled only by the Mayans and the Aztecs of Mesoamerica. More is known about the Incas than their Andean predecessors because of their contact with the Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century. Though the Incas never developed a written language, a number of Spaniards chronicled the Incan oral history and legends, including Garcilaso de la Vega, who was born in Cuzco in 1540 to an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador.

Manco Capac was the first of eight Incan rulers from approximately 1200 to 1400 CE who built a small state centered in Cuzco. The expansion to a mighty empire began after 1430, when the powerful Chanca nation to the west of Cuzco attacked the Incas. Prince Yupanqui, who had been exiled to a distant llama ranch by his father, returned and defeated the Chancas. He became the ninth Incan ruler in 1438, renamed himself Pachacuti—“he who transforms the earth”—and set about unifying the Andean tribes into a powerful empire. He expanded the empire to the point where it reached from Lake Titicaca in the southeast to Lake Junin in the northwest. Pachacuti's son, Topa Inca, expanded it northward almost to what is now Quito, Ecuador, and then turned west toward the coast. He persuaded the Chimú people to join in the empire and then continued southward along the coast beyond Lima into the northern territories of present-day Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. His son, Huayna Capac, became the eleventh Lord Inca in 1493 and pushed the boundaries of Inca control into the highlands of Ecuador. At this point, the Inca empire was at its peak, extending 2,500 miles north to south and covering 380,000 square miles. Close to twelve million people speaking twenty languages and making up at least 100 distinct Indian nations, had been unified under the all-important Inca ruler.

In 1525 Huayna Capac died in an epidemic that may have been smallpox or the measles, diseases introduced by the Spanish for which the native population had no immunity. Because the ruler had failed to designate his successor, two of his sons shared the role for a time—Atahualpa ruling the north from Quito and Huáscar ruling the south from Cuzco. Soon, however, tensions broke out between the two, and Atahualpa sent his father's army against Huáscar, who was defeated and later killed. This civil war lasted a number of years and severely weakened the empire at an inopportune time, for reports of strange white-faced, bearded men in “sea houses” were brought to the Inca, who thought it best to ignore such stories.

In May 1532 Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard seeking to conquer land and plunder gold for himself and his king, landed near the coastal city of Tumbes with a force of 180 cavalrymen and foot soldiers. He was aware of the civil war and set out toward the mountain city of Cajamarca, where Atahualpa and 30,000 Incas waited. Apparently, the Inca thought that the foreigners were there to surrender. However, a massacre ensued in which the Spaniards used crossbows, cannons, and muskets to slaughter 2,000 Incas and take their leader, Atahualpa, prisoner. Atahualpa tried to ransom himself with the promise of enough gold and silver to fill his cell. This did not help Atahualpa or the Incas, however, because the invaders feared a rebellion and thought it safer to have the ruler burned at the stake. Atahualpa objected that this would deprive him of proper burial and an afterlife, and so he was given the option of being baptized a Christian and then strangled. The last king of the majestic Incan empire was killed in this manner on August 29, 1533. For a number of years, Huáscar's half-brother and his sons battled the Spanish fruitlessly; the last resistor, Túpac Amaru, was executed in Cuzco in 1572.

Modern Era Spain ruled Peru as a viceroyalty for nearly 300 years after the conquest, regarding it more or less as a huge mine that existed to fill the crown's coffers. The Spaniards felt that they formed a superior culture and that their customs and particularly the church brought civilized society to the natives. The political and economic system they instituted to carry out their aims, called encomienda, granted soldiers and colonists land and mining permits, as well as the slave labor of the natives. Living and working conditions for the native Peruvians on the farms and especially in the mines were horrendous. Hard labor, malnutrition (exacerbated by the Spaniards' introduction of European crops and the elimination of many native ones), and disease wiped out an estimated 90 percent of the pre-conquest native population within a century.

During this colonial period, Spain passed legislation attempting to protect the native population, but it was ineffectual. Practices that were supposed to be outlawed—such as debt peonage, in which subjects were trapped in a cycle of indebtedness that could not be overcome through their labor—were, in reality, widespread. The influx of Spaniards taking advantage of these opportunities, as well as 100,000 African slaves, became part of a highly stratified society in which European-born Spaniards were at the top, followed respectively by Peruvian-born Spaniards (Creoles), the urban working poor, black slaves, and the indigenous population.

In 1780 a descendant of the last Inca took the name Túpac Amaru II and led a rebellion by the indigenous population. The rebellion began to gain wider support by condemning the corruption of colonial officials, but indiscriminate attacks on Spaniards and Creoles promptly caused the movement to lose its backing. Ultimately, the campaign for independence resulted from conditions outside Peru and was led by outsiders. When Napoleon invaded Spain and Page 469  |  Top of Articleimprisoned the king in 1808, the vacuum of authority allowed the Creoles in the colonial capitals to set up autonomous regimes. Then between 1820 and 1824, José de San Martín and Simón de Bolívar, two generals who had liberated Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador from Spanish rule, completed the process by adding Peru to the list. Bolívar, elected for life as president, attempted to modernize the country by cutting taxes, funding schools, and lifting many of the worst abuses against the indigenous population, but conservative Creole opposition forced him to leave after only two years.

Peru's humiliating defeat by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), fought over lands with rich nitrate deposits, led many to call for an improvement in the lot of indigenous Peruvians so that they might contribute more fully to the society. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries showed evidence of efforts to modernize the society and economy. Public administration was improved, the armed forces were professionalized, public education was fostered, and modern labor legislation was enacted. These reforms contributed to the conditions that encouraged foreign investment capital in the burgeoning sugar, cotton, copper, and rubber industries. In turn, the middle class grew stronger.

In the 1930s the Great Depression had a crippling effect on the Peruvian economy, as export markets collapsed and foreign loans dried up. This situation seems to have contributed to the rise of a political movement known as the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), which was anticommunist but borrowed from the ideologies of Marxism and Italian fascism and advocated agrarian reform, the nationalization of industry, and opposition to U.S. imperialism. APRA's leader, formerly exiled student organizer Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, never won the presidency, but the party maintained a major presence on the political scene for more than forty years, both through bloody conflicts with the armed forces and congressional coalitions.

The Peruvian military had long played a large role in the state, either through generals assuming the presidency or by influencing elections. In 1962, for example, a slight plurality by the APRA brought a nullification of the results and the election of Fernando Belaúnde Terry a year later. From 1968 to 1975, General Juan Velasco Alvarado and the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces ruled in an attempt to create a new and prosperous Peru. The general forged ties with socialist countries and made Peru a voice for third-world interests. He nationalized most of the country's banks, railroads, and utilities, as well as many foreign corporations.

Central to this effort to control the economy and increase social justice was Velasco's land reform, which was among the most extensive in Latin America. Ninety percent of Peru's farmland had been owned by a landed aristocracy that made up just 2 percent of the population, so the administration appropriated twenty-five million acres of this land and distributed it to worker-owned cooperatives and individual families. This failed to achieve the far-ranging effects hoped, however, in part because of the insufficient amount of arable land relative to the large number of people and also because of the absence of policies giving the poor a greater share of the benefits.

Civilian rule returned with the reelection of Belaúnde Terry in 1980 after a constituent assembly had drawn up a new constitution. The presidency was transferred peacefully in 1985 to Alan García Perez of APRA and again in 1990 to Alberto Fujimori, a Peruvian university professor of Japanese descent who won in a run-off against the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Peru's poor economic performance, including inflation that soared as high as 2,800 percent annually, continued to wreak social havoc. After a period of accepting austerity measures as conditions for aid from the International Monetary Fund, Peru declared a severe reduction in the debt payments it would make to foreign investors and nationalized an American oil company, which resulted in a cut-off of needed credit and U.S. aid.

In addition to these economic woes, Peru suffered from social disruption caused by leftist terrorist groups and the governmental response to them. A guerrilla organization founded by university professor Abimael Guzmán Reynoso and guided by the principles of the Chinese dictator Mao Zedong, the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) specialized in assassination and the use of violent intimidation against the peasants, such as cutting off their fingers to prevent them from voting. In a period of fewer than twenty years, 30,000 people were killed. The Revolutionary Túpac Amaru Movement was another group carrying out equally vicious attacks in Peru's urban areas. The coca harvests, which supplied much of the huge cocaine market in the United States, also brought violence as U.S. pressure to destroy crops led to terrorist attacks on local officials by those profiting from the drug trade. In the midst of these social woes, the country's pride received a boost in 1981 when the United Nations elected a Peruvian, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, to a five-year term as Secretary General.

In 1992 President Fujimori responded to these economic and social crises by dissolving the congress and judiciary and consolidating power in a Government of Emergency and National Reconstruction while also promising to submit a revised constitution to a referendum and hold elections at some point in the future. Referred to as an autogolpe, or self-coup, Fujimori's takeover also involved a suspension of civil liberties. These bold moves were well-received by the public, however, and his popularity increased further when Sendero Luminoso leader Guzmán was captured and the movement's stronghold on certain rural areas, such as Ayacucho, was broken.

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After seeking a contested third term in 2000, Fujimori resigned from office in 2001, fleeing to Japan to avoid prosecution for human rights violations and corruption charges. He was arrested in Chile in 2005 and extradited to Peru, where he was convicted on various charges and sentenced to prison. Fujimori was followed in office by Alejandro Toledo, who was elected to the presidency in 2001, and by former president Alan García, who was re-elected in 2006. In 2011 Ollanta Humala became the first leftist president in several decades. While Peru has stabilized to a degree following Fujimori's departure, Peruvians continue to leave the country for both political and economic reasons.


Peru's social and economic crises are at the root of internal migration from rural areas to the cities, as well as immigration to the United States. Unemployment rates of over 50 percent have left many without a means to earn the basic necessities of life, and others are chronically underemployed. An unstable political climate and especially political violence by terrorist groups have caused many to flee. Peruvians are attracted to the political and economic stability of the United States, the work opportunities, and the chance for their children to go to school and have a better future. A majority of these immigrants have family or acquaintances established in the United States who serve as intermediaries in their transition to a new culture.

Little is known about the earliest Peruvian immigrants who came to the United States during the California gold rush. Later Peruvian immigrants began arriving in the early twentieth century to work in textile mills in Paterson, New Jersey, which is now home to one of the largest Peruvian communities in the United States. Paterson has a significant number of businesses run by Peruvian Americans, as well as social and political organizations, and remains a destination for Peruvian immigrants of all social classes.

Peruvians from the upper class have benefited economically from their immigration to the United States because they generally have been able to transfer their capital and business expertise. They range from owners of factories and large stores to accountants for major banks and corporations to agro-industrial managers. However, these Peruvians have faced major obstacles to their assimilation. Although they are well off financially, they do not have the economic or political power in the United States that they had in Peru. Yet because of their background, they tend not to identify with the middle-class Americans whose status they share. Many try to compensate by joining relatively exclusive associations that have social gatherings for holidays and weddings. Peruvians from this group tend to settle in urban areas with a strong Peruvian presence or established Latino communities.

Middle-class Peruvian immigrants did not arrive in large numbers until the 1970s, when the exodus was led by doctors and engineers. Assimilation has been relatively easy for this group, and consequently it has been labeled the “children of success.” Like those from the upper class, these immigrants had been familiar with American cultural practices before their arrival. The difference is that they did not lose any

A Peruvian American shepherd prepares an innoculation for his sheep in, Bridgeport, California, 1995. A Peruvian American shepherd prepares an innoculation for his sheep in, Bridgeport, California, 1995. PHOTOGRAPH BY PHIL SCHERMEISTER. CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

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prerogatives or privileges. This group tends to maintain a stronger cultural and religious identity through participation in church and other social activities.

With the exception of those brought to work as sheep herders on ranches in the western United States, Peru's lower classes were the last to take advantage of the opportunities in the United States. Since the mid-1980s, their immigration numbers have increased. These immigrants have come from positions ranging from low-level bureaucrats to manual laborers, and they have had the most difficulty assimilating because of their lack of formal education, which has made it difficult for them to learn English. They cling more tightly to their home culture and generally live in areas of urban poverty. Many had only recently made the transition from rural to urban life in Peru prior to immigrating, and they feel great pressure to send money back to their families in their native country upon settling in the United States.

Undocumented immigrants of all but the highest social classes face obstacles in finding employment in the United States; many are forced into service and labor occupations that do not represent their educational degrees or previous career achievements in Peru. For professionals from the middle classes, this can be disruptive to concepts of personal identity.

The states with the largest number of Peruvian Americans are Florida, California, New Jersey, and New York. Texas and Virginia are also home to significant communities of people of Peruvian descent.


Spanish (commonly called Castellano in Peru) has been Peru's official language since the Spanish conquest. Approximately 80 percent of all Peruvians speak Spanish today, including some who also speak one of the indigenous languages, Quechua (“KECH-wah”) or Aymara. A language that grew out of the Latin brought to Spain by conquering Romans, Spanish has a vocabulary and structure similar to those of other Romance languages, such as French and especially Italian. Its alphabet generally overlaps with that of English and contains twenty-eight letters. “K” and “w” occur only in words of foreign origin, and additional letters are “ch” (as in “chest”), “ll” (generally pronounced like the English “y”), “ñ” (like the “ny” in “canyon,” which comes from the Spanish cañón), and “rr” (a rolled “r” sound). The “b” and “v” are interchangeable in Spanish and are a bit softer than an English “b.” The “h” is silent, and the “d” can have a soft “th” sound within a word. Spanish vowels have one primary sound, making spelling and pronunciation on sight much easier than in English: “i” (as in “feet”), “e” (as in “they”), “a” (as in “hot”), “o” (as in “low”), “u” (as in “rude”). Words ending in a vowel, “n,” or “s” are accented on the next-to-last syllable, those ending in

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Peruvian Americans have adapted to eating patterns in the United States, where dinner is the main meal and lunches are lighter. But for Peruvians the biggest meal of the day is traditionally lunch (almuerzo). On weekends Peruvian Americans often use lunch as an excuse for family gatherings and have long meals with parrilladas (grilled food) or even the more traditional pachamanca (food cooked in an open pit).

other consonants have stress on the last syllable, and any exceptions require an accent mark.

Both Spanish and English are spoken by Peruvian Americans. In the 2011 U.S. Census Community Survey, only 14 percent of Peruvian American families reported English as the sole language spoken at home, but 60 percent of the respondents indicated that they spoke English very well. Most second- and third-generation Peruvian Americans are bilingual, especially those who live with older relatives.


The Catholic Church is one of the main social institutions that has aided the assimilation of Peruvians to American culture. The church is important to newly arrived Peruvians because of its familiarity, the services it often extends in terms of finding work and applying for citizenship, and the opportunity it affords for meeting other Peruvians, including those of higher social classes.

As in Peru, a wide range of religious commitment exists among Peruvian Americans, and women tend to be more devout than men. While middle-class Peruvians tend to be strict in their Catholic beliefs and adherence to rituals, people further down the social scale might blend elements of superstition and folk religion with formal Catholicism. Fiestas, or parties, corresponding to church holidays are among the most important social events in Peruvian American communities, with the processions associated with St. Rose of Lima (August 30), El Señor de los Milagros (October 18), and St. Martin of Porras (November 3) acting as prominent expressions of the Peruvian cultural and religious identity. Second-generation immigrants who have more contact with the larger, more secular society may be less immersed in religious life, which can be a source of conflict in families.


Peruvian immigrants generally settle in urban areas with either a strong Peruvian American or Latino presence. Many Peruvian immigrants initially stay with family or friends and may also find employment through these networks, particularly if they are undocumented. Cities such as Paterson have a Peruvian business district with restaurants and bakeries that serve as places to meet and socialize, especially for men who have come ahead of their families in order to earn money and establish homes. Paterson's business district is also a destination for Peruvian Americans living in nearby cities such as Boston and Hartford, Connecticut; they go there to stock up on supplies imported from Peru. Many Peruvian Americans also maintain close ties with family members in Peru, sending and/or receiving information, money, and goods.

Some Peruvian Americans from the middle class have appropriated elements of indigenous culture in an attempt to create a national identity distinct from that of the broader Latino community. Such appropriation has led to conflict between members of various immigrant classes about the appropriateness of middle-class Peruvian Americans self-identifying with Andean cultural symbols and, to a lesser degree, representations of the Incan tradition, both of which are more commonly associated with an ethnically and culturally distinct peasantry in Peru.

Cuisine Peruvian Americans eat many of the same dishes that are popular in their native country. Some of the most common include ceviche (raw fish seasoned with citrus), mondonguito (tripe stewed with potatoes, cilantro, and vegetables), and papa a la Huancaína (sliced potatoes layered with cheese, sliced boiled eggs, cilantro, and mild peppers). On holidays and for other celebrations, large meals are often prepared by women for extended family and friends.

Holidays Peruvian Americans celebrate major U.S. holidays, especially those associated with Christianity, such as Christmas and Easter. In addition, most celebrate Fiestas Patrias on July 28, a national holiday in Peru celebrating the country's independence from Spanish rule in 1824. This holiday is marked by Peruvian Americans with barbeques and parades, the most notable of which, the Peruvian Parade, travels a six-mile route between Passaic and Paterson in New Jersey.

Dances and Songs The marinera is a dance originating in Peru during colonial times; it was originally called zamacueca and took its current name in the late nineteenth century as a tribute to the Peruvian navy. The dance enacts a courtship ritual between a wealthy landowner and a peasant woman, and the unacceptability of the relationship is represented by the wide distance between the dancers. After falling out of fashion during the early twentieth century, the dance became popular again in Peru in the 1950s and 1960s, with the National Marinera Tournament and other contests that attracted many entrants. Tournaments have also been started in the United States. In Paterson, for example, the first tournament was staged in 1995 as part of the Peruvian Independence Day. In addition, a number of schools have opened in Paterson to teach the dance to new Page 473  |  Top of Articlegenerations of Peruvian Americans, many of whom perform it during religious celebrations such as the procession of the Lord of Miracles as well as during Peruvian Independence Day festivities.

Recreational Activities Soccer is a popular recreational activity among Peruvian Americans, and in large urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles, Peruvian American teams play against other “nations” in World Cup-style tournaments. In this sense, soccer instills Peruvian Americans with a sense of national identity, many of whom organize soccer clubs with the same names as Peruvian professional teams, such as Alianza Lima, Universitario de Deportes, and Sporting Cristal.

Among women, the main sport is volleyball, and with good reason: Peru has won many world and Latin American tournaments. Volleyball also serves as a form of entertainment at family gatherings.


All social classes and ethnicities in Peru place a great deal of emphasis on family, including distant relatives and godparents. Peruvian social life revolves around the extended family, especially among the indigenous Peruvians, who may have few important social ties beyond this unit. The extended family commonly serves an economic function, too, with members working together and pooling their resources. The nuclear family tends to be male-dominated, and fathers have great authority over their children, even into adulthood. These attitudes and practices persist in Peruvian American families as much as circumstances allow. New immigrants may temporarily live with extended family already established in the United States, and in expensive urban centers, such arrangements sometimes are permanent.

Gender Roles Conceptions of gender roles in the Peruvian American community vary between generations, much as they do in American culture in general. Older, first-generation immigrants tend to hold more traditional views of the division between male and female roles: men are expected to be the breadwinners, while women are charged with the care of the home and children. Although Peruvian American women have entered the workforce out of economic necessity, many still bear the brunt of the responsibility for childcare and the household. However, younger generations, particularly those born and raised in the United States, are likely to hold more egalitarian views. During childhood, Peruvian American females are typically more sheltered than males, and conflict is common when the girls attempt to emulate their non-Peruvian peers, who have more freedom.

Education Peruvian American families tend to emphasize education as a way to achieve a higher status in society. This, however, is not always the case among recently arrived immigrants who lack a legal status. For these people, working (often in low-paying

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1¾ pounds of white fish (corvina or sole)

1 red onion, thinly sliced

½ red chile pepper, diced

½ orange or yellow chile pepper, diced

juice of 16 key limes



Cut the white fish into small squares and mix with the red onion in a bowl. Season the ingredients with salt and the two types of chile peppers. Mix this mixture with the lime juice and let it rest for 5 minutes. If it's too acidic, add ice cubes, mixing well and removing immediately before they start to melt. Serve the ceviche in a deep dish accompanied by cooked sweet potato, corn and lettuce.

jobs) and sending money to their families back home are higher priorities. Recent statistics, however, show that a greater majority of Peruvian Americans would rather seek an education: according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 American Community Survey, 85 percent of Peruvian Americans were high school graduates or had achieved further education, and 30 percent had college degrees or higher.

Relations with Other Americans The broader Latino community in the United States is important to many Peruvian Americans, who benefit from a shared language and similar cultural traits. The travel, legal, and labor services that already exist in these communities assist newer immigrants. State social service programs are also available to the most indigent. Some, especially second-generation Peruvian Americans, self-identify as Latino rather than Peruvian American and express feelings of closer affiliation with the broader Latino community rather than with people who came from Peru specifically.


Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, many Peruvian Americans came to the United States to work in textile factories. They were relatively well-paying jobs, and workers settled in nearby communities, prompting a demand for small businesses such as Peruvian restaurants. Later waves of immigrants, especially those without documentation, were often forced into lower-wage jobs, with men typically pursuing manual labor and women taking work cleaning or in food preparation. Later generations of well-educated immigrants who have entered the country through

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Peruvian proverbs include the following:

Poco a poco, uno camina lejos.

Little by little, one walks far.

De tu casa a la ajena sal con la barriga llena.

From your own to a stranger's house, go forth with a well-filled belly.

El amor mira con unos anteojos que hacen parecer oro al cobre, a la pobreza riqueza, y a las legañas perlas.

Love looks through spectacles which make copper look like gold, poverty like riches, and foul tears like pearls.

official channels have wider prospects. In the twenty-first century, Peruvian Americans hold a wide variety of positions in business, the sciences, education, and service industries.


Peruvian Americans can attain dual citizenship, which affects the political process in Peru. If born in Peru and naturalized in the United States, they still can vote in Peruvian national elections, unless, of course, they renounce their Peruvian citizenship. If born in the United States, they can become naturalized Peruvian citizens if they follow an administrative procedure at a Peruvian consulate and show that at least one of their parents is a Peruvian citizen. This is the result of Peruvian laws passed from 1990 to 2001 by former president Alberto Fujimori, who wanted to gain the Peruvian vote from abroad.

Peruvian Americans, then, tend to participate in the Peruvian political process, particularly in cases of distress or natural disasters. For example, several action committees were formed to provide humanitarian relief during the 1988 El Niño catastrophe, when pouring rains in normally dry areas caused devastation in Peru. Other cases include the recent earthquakes in Pisco and Ica.


Academia José R. Deustua (1954–), a Peruvian American historian and sociologist, received bachelor's and master's degrees in Peru at the Catholic University of Lima and then a doctorate at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 1989. In the 1990s he moved to the United States, where he was a professor at Stanford University, the University of Miami, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Eastern Illinois University. He is the author of several books, including The Bewitchment of Silver: A Social and Economic History of Mining in 19th-Century Peru (2000).

José Luis Rénique (1952–), historian and social scientist, was born in Lima, Peru. He studied at the Catholic University and then pursued a master's degree and a PhD at the University of Columbia in New York, where he graduated with a dissertation on the rural changes and the indigenista movement in the region of Puno in southern Peru. His books include La Voluntad Encarcelada: Las Luminosas Trincheras de Combate de Sendero Luminoso del Perú (2003), La Batalla por Puno: Conflicto Agrario y Nación en los Andes Peruanos (2004), and, in collaboration with Carmen Mc Evoy, Soldados de la República: Guerra, Correspondencia y Memoria en el Perú, 1830–1844 (2010).

Art Carlos Llerena Aguirre (1952–) is an artist and educator born in Arequipa, Peru. He received a bachelor's degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1979, a master's from Hunter College in 1982, and a master's from the University of Illinois in 1994. He taught at the School of Visual Arts, Philadelphia University of the Arts, Syracuse University, California College of Arts and Crafts, the University of California at Berkeley, Ringling School of Art and Design, the University of Illinois, Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and the University of Miami. A member of the Society of Newspaper Designers, he has had exhibitions of his woodcuts and engravings in Urbana, Illinois; Lima; and London.

Government and Politics Ian Vásquez was the director of the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and previously worked on inter-American issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Caribbean/Latin American Action. He earned his bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and a master's from the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Journalism Marie Arana (1949–) is a writer at large for the Washington Post and a senior consultant to the U.S. Librarian of Congress, as well as a novelist, essayist, and biographer. An active spokesperson on Latin America and biculturalism, she earned a bachelor's degree in Russian language and literature at Northwestern University, a master's in linguistics and sociolinguistics at Hong Kong University, and a certificate of scholarship (Mandarin language) at Yale University in China.

Pedro M. Valdivieso (1932–) was the editor of the paper Actualidad in Los Angeles. He was born in Piura, Peru, and studied journalism and public relations at San Marcos University and Lima University, respectively. He edited newspapers in Lima before moving to the United States and editing Noticias del Mundo (Los Angeles) and El Diario de Los Angeles. Valdivieso also reported for channel 34-TV in Los Angeles and was a member of the Association of Journalists in the Spanish Language and the Federation of Journalists from Peru.

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Literature Daniel Alarcón (1977–) is a fiction writer whose short story collection War by Candlelight was a finalist for the 2005 PEN-Hemingway Award. He also was an associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, a quarterly literary publication in his native Peru, and a contributing editor to Granta, another literary journal.

Isaac Goldemberg (1945–), poet and novelist, was born in Peru. He became a distinguished professor of humanities at Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, where he was also the director of the Latin American Writers Institute and the editor of the Hostos Review, an international journal of culture. His novels include La Vida Contado (1992), Tiempo al Tiempo (1984), and La Vida a Plazos de Jacobo Lerner (1980). In addition, he published books of short stories and poetry, as well as plays. He was the recipient of the Orden de Don Quijote (2005), the Lluvia Editores Short Story Award (2000), the Nathaniel Judah Jacobson Award (1996), and the Nuestro Award in Fiction (1977).

Medicine and Health Graciela Solís Alarcón (1942–) is a physician and educator who was originally from Chachapoyas, Peru. She earned her MD in Peru in 1967 and an MPH from Johns Hopkins University in 1972. She then did her residency in Baltimore and in Peru and became a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 1980. A member of the American College of Rheumatology and the American College of Physicians, she authored a number of articles in her field. In 2009 she was named professor emerita of medicine at the UAB School of Medicine.

Carlos Castaneda (sometimes spelled Castañeda) (1925–1998) is perhaps the best-known Peruvian American. While attempting a thesis on medicinal plants for the University of California, Los Angeles, in the late 1960s, he met a Yaqui (Mexican) brujo, or medicine man, living in Arizona and became heavily influenced by his way of life. Castaneda wrote a series of best-selling books based on these experiences, beginning with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge in 1976. The books relate a hallucinogen-induced search for a nonrational reality and an attempt to become a Yaqui warrior. The author considered them anthropological field studies, and indeed they served as his master's and doctoral theses, though critics within the field of anthropology say they are more properly regarded as fiction. While Castaneda seemed to have been purposely elusive regarding his biographical details, he is thought to have been born in Cajamarca, Peru.

Science Jaime A. Fernandez-Baca (1954–) is a physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He earned his BS degree in Lima in 1977 before coming to the United States for an MS (1982) and a PhD (1986) at the University of Maryland. Fernandez-Baca did his research at the Instituto de Energía Nuclear in Peru and at the University of Maryland. He was awarded a fellowship by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1977 and published numerous technical articles.

Fiestas, or parties, corresponding to church holidays are among the most important social events in Peruvian American communities, with the processions associated with St. Rose of Lima (August 30), El Señor de los Milagros (October 18), and St. Martin of Porras (November 3) acting as prominent expressions of the Peruvian cultural and religious identity.


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A scholarly journal covering Latin American literature.

David William Foster, Editor
Arizona State University School of International
Letters and Cultures
Tempe, Arizona 85287-0202
Phone: (480) 965-3752

El Diario La Prensa

Founded in 1913, El Diario La Prensa is the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States. It has coverage of Peru in its international pages.

Erica Gonzalez, Executive Editor
1 MetroTech Center
18th Floor
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone: (212) 807-4785

El Nuevo Herald

Spanish-language daily that includes Peru in its coverage of South America. It was founded in 1976 and has a circulation of 98,000.

Manny Garcia, Director
1 Herald Plaza
Miami, Florida 33132
Phone: (305) 376-3445


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Association of Peruvian American Professionals

Works to promote education, professional development, and cultural awareness in the Peruvian American and broader Latino communities.

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593 Farmington Avenue
Hartford, Connecticut 06105

Peruvian American Dental Association

Nonprofit organization founded in 2006 and dedicated to promoting oral health throughout the Latino community.

1744 University Avenue
Riverside, California 92507
Phone: (951) 742-8112
Fax: (951) 782-9808

The Peruvian-American Medical Society

Professional organization of Peruvian American doctors that raises money for equipment needed by Peruvian hospitals.

Ana May Salgado
6488 Tamerlane Drive
West Bloomfield, Michigan 48322
Phone: (248) 851-2709


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American Museum of Natural History

Landmark museum in New York City with a wing dedicated to South American peoples that features Peruvian civilizations, especially the Incas.

Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, New York 10024
Phone: (212) 769-5100

Center for Latin American Studies

Founded in 1956 at the University of California, Berkeley. Incorporates social sciences and the humanities in its scope and gives particular emphasis to the native populations of South America.

Harley Shaiken, Director
2334 Bowditch
Berkeley, California 94720-2312
Phone: (510) 642-2088
Fax: (510) 642-3260

Institute for Latin American Studies

Located at the University of Florida in Gainesville and founded in 1931, the institute features studies in the humanities and social sciences and has a project on Aymara language and culture.

Philip J. Williams, Director
319 Grintner Hall
P.O. Box 115530
Gainesville, Florida 32611-5531
Phone: (352) 392-0375
Fax: (352) 392-7682

Latin American Institute

Located at the University of California, Los Angeles, the institute coordinates research on the region's socio-politics, environment, technology, literature, and arts.

Kevin Terraciano, Interim Director
10343 Bunche Hall
Box 951447
405 Hilgard Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90095-1447
Phone: (310) 825-4571
Fax: (310) 206-6859


Cameron, Maxwell, and Philip Mauceri. The Peruvian Labyrinth: Polity, Society, Economy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

De Ferrari, Gabriella. Gringa Latina: A Woman of Two Worlds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

Degregori, Ivan Carlos. How Difficult It Is to Be God: Shining Path's Politics of War in Peru, 1980–1999. Ed. Steven Stern. Trans. Nancy Appelbaum. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

Dostert, Pierre Etienne. Latin America 1994. Washington, D.C.: Stryker-Post Publications, 1994.

Monaghan, Jay. Chile, Peru, and the California Gold Rush of 1849. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Paerregaard, Karsten. “Inside the Hispanic Melting Pot: Negotiating National and Multicultural Identities among Peruvians in the United States.” Latino Studies 3 (2005): 76–96.

The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics. 2nd ed. Ed. Orin Starn, Carlos Iván Degregori, and Robin Kirk. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

Takenaka, Ayumi, and Karen Pren. “Leaving to Get Ahead: Assessing the Relationship between Mobility and Inequality in Peruvian Migration.” Latin American Perspectives 137, no. 5 (2010): 29–49.

Wright, Ronald. Cut Stones and Crossroads: A Journey in the Two Worlds of Peru. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300143