Intimate Spaces

36-Aurelio Pow San Chia and family
Aurelio Pow San Chia and family
37-Emilio Wong and family of San Vicente
Emilio Wong and family of San Vicente

Although most merchants contributed photographs of themselves, their employees and their commercial firms for publication in the album, a few contributed family photographs. Aurelio Pow San Chia, who is regarded as one of the founding figures of the Chinese community in Peru, set the example by prominently featuring his family and the interior spaces of his home in the introductory section of the album (Colonia 1924, 31-33). Through such pictures, Cantonese merchant elites depicted themselves as settlers, emphasizing they had established families and roots in Peru. The photographs also helped merchants lay claim to elite status, demonstrating they observed the same bourgeois lifestyles and standards of taste as Lima's upper classes. By rendering visible the domestic sphere, which was conventionally the less visible, interior and gendered sphere of women, the photographs presented Cantonese merchants’ domestic lives as a site of social, cultural and racial mestizaje and also revealed how kinship served as a mechanism of localization (Lausent-Herrera 1983; Derpich 1999; Delgado 2012).  Aurelio Pow San Chia, for example, published a picture of his mixed-race family, including his Peruvian wife and their two adopted Peruvian children, who were originally his wife's niece and nephew. His adopted daughter is also pictured with her husband Aurelio Chin Fuksan, a trusted employee of Aurelio Pow San Chia’s firm, and their mixed-race daughter, who heralded the arrival of a new generation of mixed-race Cantonese Peruvian offspring. 

By contrast, Ali Luzula, the only merchant to present a picture of his children in Hong Kong, offered the album’s readership an orientalized snapshot of respectable family life on the other side of the Pacific. The picture of Luzula's children offers us a glimpse into an otherwise eclipsed transpacific dimension of Cantonese merchants’ family life, as it was quite common for successful men to journey back to their native places to secure brides and to produce offspring. It was also common for these men to send their Peruvian-born offspring to be raised and educated in their native places, to ensure a Cantonese social and cultural upbringing. With the exception of Luzula’s family photograph, the lack of representation of this important dimension of Cantonese Peruvian life in the album reemphasized a message of settlement. It revealed that The Chinese Colony in Peru was an exercise in self-fashioning in alignment with the settler imaginaries that drove Peruvian nation making, in which the bourgeois nuclear family figured as the ideal social unit. These family pictures eclipsed but did not alter the reality that many Cantonese merchants belonged to disaporic families. In practice, Cantonese businesses, personal success and notions of respectability depended upon the maintenance of transpacific family and business networks with complex gendered, generational and translocal divisions of labor (Mazumdar 2003). This is one of many other dimensions of a broader Cantonese Peruvian ecumene missing from the album.

Intimate Spaces