The Growing Chinese Community in Latin America and the Caribbean

Chinese community

Chinatowns emerged as new economic opportunities opened up in America and Europe. These included restaurants, laundromats and importing and exporting commodities like tea, silk and opium.

Immigrants from the province of Guangdong in southeast China made up the bulk of 19th century Chinese immigration. They created slow-paced, close-knit communities.

Family Life

Family is hugely important to Chinese people. While in the West we tend to see adults living with their parents as a reflection of poor parenting, for Chinese this is the preferred lifestyle. Having close ties with your family is a sign of love and respect, as is helping out with chores. In China, family members are expected to help each other out and care for elders.

Children are expected to obey their parents without question (although they have become more democratic than in the past), and it is considered a sign of filial piety to care for your elderly relatives. This is also why many seniors are looked after by their families rather than in care homes.

Kinship is very important and there is a complicated system of terms used to address each other, from the father’s older brother to one’s second maternal aunt (er-yi). When someone passes away in a Chinese household, everyone wears mourning for three years or more, which is a sign of respect.


In China, food plays an important role in the Chinese culture. Almost every meal includes rice, noodles or steam buns (bread). Handfuls of bite-sized meat and vegetables accompany these foods. Rice and noodles are very popular in southern China, while northern Chinese tend to consume more breads and steamed buns.

Unlike Western cultures, the Chinese are not as concerned about sticking to a certain five food group guideline. Rather, they focus on the texture and taste of their meals, and how the food nourishes their body.

Whether eating at home or at a restaurant, most Chinese dine around large tables of 10 to 12. This is an important aspect of family life. Sharing meals is also an important part of many Chinese festivals and social events. For example, ingot-shaped dumplings are eaten during New Year to bring good fortune. The Chinese also eat herbs and special soups to improve their strength or health. They believe this helps balance yin and yang.


Many people outside China misunderstand Chinese behavior, such as avoiding eye contact in public or keeping voices low when in a public place. These differences are partly due to cultural differences and the fact that the Chinese value their privacy, whereas Westerners value public spaces as places that are expected to be loud and bustling with activity.

Chinese values include harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and honesty. Family is highly regarded. Although gender equality has been embraced, the traditional value is for girls to marry sons so that honor can be passed on through the generations and that financial burdens can be shared.

Parents are a major influence on their children’s decisions. The interests of the family must supersede those of the individual and the family reputation is very important. It is also important to wear red for good luck on birthdays and weddings. In modern times, it is often the woman who chooses her husband.


With China’s burgeoning economy, many Chinese people feel comfortable living abroad. They are well established in Latin America, especially Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala and Panama. There are thriving Chinese businesses in these countries’ industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors.

While there are formal rules, such as term limits for state leadership positions, most politics in China is dominated by informal norms and personal connections. In addition, factions are significant and influence the political system. But it is often difficult to tell if a person belongs to a faction, as most factions prefer to keep their membership private. Observers can look for small, even seemingly trivial, clues, such as the place of birth and schools attended, to guess factional affiliations.

The older generations and rural Chinese value traditional culture and strive to uphold it, while urban youths are more open to progressive ideals. However, this is not the case in all communities, as Chinese in Xinjiang face heavy police surveillance and control of their free speech.

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