From China to Peru and back: a family find roots in ancestral home

Updated 2016-11-23 19:29:47 Xinhua

One hundred years ago, a man disembarked at Callao port in Peru after many weeks at sea, leaving behind a homeland only for his great grandchildren to set foot on a century later.

No one knew his Chinese name. Like most Chinese peasants of his time, he could barely read or write. On the registration paper he gave his name as "Chia" -- probably a family name, which could be Xia, Xie or even Zha in today's spelling.

Starting work as a coolie, he was given a local name, Aurelio.

Chia's descendants knew very little of their great-grandfather, except that he was a native of southern China's Guangdong Province and was aged between 20 and 25 when he arrived in Peru in 1916.

Chia left behind no photo. But his descendants believe he looked like his grandson Juan Francesco Chia Junior, who has a square face, thick eyebrows and long, narrow eyes. Chia Junior, a metallurgical engineer, has just retired, and looks exactly like a Chinese.

Life was tough for first-generation immigrants like Chia. Latin America then had a severe shortage of workers at its plantations, mines and factories -- an influx of Chinese laborers filled the gap.

Chia spent many years toiling in cotton fields in Ica, and saved every spare sol he had. Eventually he saved enough to open a bakery, married an Indian woman and had eight children.

When Chia died in 1959, he was the only one in his family who could speak Chinese. He rested in solitude on a foreign land, against the Chinese tradition that "fallen leaves to return to their roots."

CHINESE BLOOD

Juan Francesco, Chia's sixth child, was born in 1925.

When he was young, the Peruvian economy suffered during the Great Depression as factories closed and unemployment soared. Juan Francesco grew up to be a taxi driver and ran a store. Though life was difficult, he secured adequate education for his 10 children, with all becoming specialists in their respective fields.

Juan Francesco's granddaughter Maria Esther Chia always felt her family was different from other Peruvian families when she was a child.

"We all preferred tea to coffee, and were always punctual whereas most Peruvians tended to be at least 30 minutes late," she said.

"Whenever guests came we insisted they join us for dinner, a gesture of Chinese hospitality," said Maria. "When I was a child, I felt strange. Why we were so different from other Peruvians?"

She found out when she set foot in China in 2007, as the first member of the Chia family to return to China.

A journalism major at the Catholic University of Lima, Maria got an opportunity to study at Peking University as an exchange student. "It was quite a coincidence," she told Xinhua. "I was planning to study in the United States but I was rejected for a visa six times. So I decided to try my luck in China and got my visa easily."

Her Chinese blood worked, and she began to learn Chinese, passing a Chinese proficiency test, the HSK, in less than two years.

Maria chose to stay in China after graduating, out of love for the country and fear that she might forget Chinese once she went back to Lima, and soon won a scholarship for an MBA at Tsinghua University.

During her MBA, she focused on China-Peru trade and economic cooperation, an area she felt seldom covered by researchers, and submitted her thesis in Chinese.

Maria also served as a freelancer for the EFE Beijing office, and covered the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, an experience she cherishes.

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