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International migrations as a driver of development in Peru - Part 1

From the point of view of international migrations, republican Peru is divided into two quite marked stages. The first, which goes from 1821 to approximately 1970, in which immigration predominates. The second, from 1970 to today, in which emigration prevails. Until approximately 1970, there were more foreigners entering than Peruvians leaving; Since that year, Peru became a country that expels emigrants at the same time that the number of immigrants fell sharply. This fact has been related to the rapid demographic growth that has occurred in the country since the 1940s.

How many immigrants have entered Peru?

There are no precise statistics that allow us to say exactly the number of immigrants who entered the country between 1821 and 1970. However, it is possible to make an estimate “with a good eye”: considering those from the Asian continent, we have to In the 19th century, approximately 100,000 Chinese entered (most of whom were coolies, that is, semi-free labor). In the 20th century, another 100,000 entered the country (including Chinese and Japanese) and until 1970, about 200,000 Asians had entered the country. As for Europeans (the second most important immigration component), we can affirm that between the 19th and 20th centuries a number that we could estimate at no more than 150,000 people have entered. The number of immigrants from other countries on the American continent can be estimated at no more than 100,000. So we have that in the Republican period, until today, around 450 thousand immigrants have entered the country.

Of the approximately 450,000 immigrants, we do not know how many settled permanently in the country. We can assume, given the insertion patterns indicated by the studies carried out, that the majority of these immigrants stayed here and formed families that left descendants. Considering a moderate rate of return, we can presume that those who settled permanently in Peru have been around 400 thousand. The vast majority of the families formed by these immigrants have been Peruvian families; that is, of mixed composition, or that have become Peruvian families in the turn of a generation. No statistical estimate has been made, but it can be presumed that currently no less than 3 million Peruvians are descendants of immigrants who arrived in the Republican period. It is a considerable figure, even if we consider that the immigration flow that arrived in the country has not been massive, but it has been constant (despite the ups and downs) and, above all, early; that is, it began in the mid-19th century, more than 150 years ago. For this reason, the majority of Peruvians descended from immigrants have been descendants for more than 4 generations. In other words, not many immigrants came here, but they came from the beginning.

Impact of immigration

The presence of these immigrants, as a whole, has meant a considerable boost to the economic progress of Peru. This is related to the fact that most of them have been related to the development of modern activities (businesses). All studies carried out on immigration to Peru indicate this. Of course, there have been exceptions, for example the Chinese who were brought to work as laborers on haciendas or to work on the guano islands. However, as soon as these workers could, they became independent and migrated to the cities, where they dedicated themselves to small businesses and gradually to other urban activities, almost always as independents, since there has never been the capacity to massively wage these immigrants. We then have that the absence of a labor market conditioned the fact that immigrants could only progress through the creation of their own company, which generally began small. This has happened not only with the Chinese, but also with the Japanese, who initially worked in the countryside, but were barely able to migrate to the cities. With the Europeans this was even clearer: no colonization project based on European peasants was successful, with the sole exception of the Germans in Pozuzo who remained in that area of ​​the high jungle because they were isolated. It was the forced isolation in which they found themselves that explains why they remained an agricultural colony. Almost all Europeans arrived as independent workers, to a lesser extent as artisans or professionals.

The fact that the vast majority of immigrants in Peru have dedicated themselves to their own companies is not only due to the impossibility of finding employment as dependent workers, but also to the fact that the economic expansion and modernization of the country demanded a layer of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. All historians of the Peruvian economy indicate that a high percentage of the companies created in the country have been created by foreigners, until the 1930s at least. Hence, the main Peruvian business groups are made up in a good proportion of descendants of immigrants; at least, in a greater proportion than that which has existed between immigrants and the entire Peruvian population.

In my opinion, this phenomenon has conditioned the fact that, for many Peruvian intellectuals, business and “capitalism” have been associated with foreign. Perhaps that is why Peruvian nationalism has had a strong anti-business content.

Now that we already have enough native business layers, especially after the boom in the emergence of a popular business community, we can affirm that in Peru there is an overcoming of the identification of business with foreign affairs. Looking at it in the long run, perhaps anti-business nationalism has been a way to overcome the stigmatization of business as synonymous with foreign.

Part 2 >>

* This article is published under the San Marcos Foundation Agreement for the Development of Science and Culture of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and the Japanese American National Museum, Discover Nikkei Project.

© 2008 Giovanni Bonfiglio

About the Author

Giovanni Bonfiglio is a sociologist and researcher, specialist in European and Italian immigration in Peru and author of the books: Italians in Peruvian Society. A historical vision. Lima, 1993; The European presence in Peru. Congress Editorial Fund. Lima, 2001; The trunk of memory (co-published with Federico Croci). Congress Editorial Fund. Lima, 2002; Antonio Raimondi, the current message. University of Lima, 2004; Peru is not a beggar, nor is it sitting on a golden bench. Ministry of Education, Promolibro. Lima, 2006.

Last updated December 2009

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