The Chinese Community in Latin America

Chinese community

Chinese communities have built thriving businesses across Latin America. These include restaurants, import/export companies and textile factories.

Historically, larger Chinese communities established Chinese Benevolent Associations as the apex of their organizational structures. These quasi governments provided social services, adjudicated disputes and spoke for the community. They were augmented by family societies and fraternal organizations.


In the nineteenth century, when Chinese immigrants sought work as miner and railroad builders, they often found themselves in neighborhoods that became known as Chinatowns. Initially, these enclaves were places of safety and support. But racial tensions and repressive laws eventually led to street brawls, riots, and lynchings.

Today, there are more than 50 Chinatowns nationwide. Although many are now largely tourist attractions, these communities still offer connection and solace for a diverse and growing population of Asian American families.

The National Trust is supporting heritage preservation efforts in Chinatowns through grants and convening thought leaders, archival work, mapping, and cultural events. These activities build upon our deep experience of partnership and impact in preserving and celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander historic places. This includes working with communities to address the challenges of gentrification, revenue loss, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these communities are supported by family benevolent associations, which provide social services like medical care, funeral benefits, housing and recreational activities for their members.

Chinese immigrants

Chinese immigrants are the core of every Chinatown in the United States. They come from all over the world, mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also from major urban areas in China itself, Latin America, Australia, and North America. They are the primary source of people working in restaurants, laundromats, and other small businesses in Oregon’s Chinatowns.

They are also the largest segment of the community seeking citizenship in the US. Many of these individuals are upper-middle class, and some are “super-rich.” They are primarily motivated by admiration of western lifestyles and the desire to establish political and economic independence.

Over the years, Chinese migrants have transitioned from transient migratory pioneers, constantly on the move and anticipating return to China, to long-time resident sojourners. Even so, they have not become walled off in ghettos; they still interact with mainstream white society and other ethnic groups in their communities. These interactions have contributed to the development of a unique culture for the Chinese in America.


As the economy improved, Chinese Americans grew more integrated into American society. They became doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and teachers. They were able to move out of urban Chinatowns and into suburban neighborhoods. They also had more educational opportunities, and the 1990 Census showed that nearly 41 percent of them have four or more years of college education.

The end of the exclusion laws after World War II brought new migrants to Oregon and other states. These settlers were either born in the United States or had immigrated there as children. Compared to the older sojourner generation, they had more family support and were better educated.

This group, along with their children and grandchildren, formed the majority of the Oregon Chinese community. They are a highly visible minority that is respected in business and government. They are also well-integrated into local cultures and values. This can be seen in their clothing, language, food, music and marriage rituals.

Chinese Canadians

Over 222 years after the first Chinese immigrants landed on Canada’s west coast, the majority of Chinese Canadians live in urban areas. They contribute to many areas of Canadian life, including education, business, the arts, literature, and sports. They have helped shape and define a multicultural Canada.

Traditionally, the emphasis on education has played a central role in the Chinese community. English-language education is a high priority in Chinatown schools, as well as in families with Chinese children. This has contributed to the emergence of an educated, bilingual, affluent and highly mobile population that is not dependent on the traditional values and social network of Chinatown.

Despite their economic and professional success, many Chinese Canadians are also very committed to maintaining Chinese cultural traditions. In addition, they have fought against discrimination and racism. They are active in political activities and have campaigned for redress, such as the apology by the federal government in 2006. They have also organized and supported Chinese cultural groups.

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