Peruvian immigration

2011-02-24 10:55:04

Significant Peruvian immigration to North America began in the 1960s and reflects the unusually diverse ethnic heritage of South America’s third largest country. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 233,926 Americans and 17,945 Canadians claimed Peruvian descent. The largest Peruvian concentration in the United States is in the New York metropolitan area, particularly in Paterson, New Jersey, and Queens, New York. Ontario and Quebec both have significant Peruvian-Canadian populations.
Peru occupies 493,600 square miles on the Pacific coast of South America. Ecuador and Colombia are on Peru’s northern border, Brazil and Bolivia on its eastern border, and Chile on its southern border. In 2002, the population was estimated at 27,483,864. The people are ethnically divided among Amerindians (Quechua, 47 percent; Aymara, 5 percent), mestizos (32 percent), and Europeans (12 percent). There is a small but economically and politically prominent Japanese minority (0.5 percent). Almost 90 percent of Peruvians are Roman Catholic. Peru was dominated by the Inca Empire between the 13th and 16th centuries before Francisco Pizarro conquered it for the Spanish in 1533. Spain controlled Peru, spreading Spanish learning and culture, until 1824 when Peru finally gained its independence under the leadership of Simón Bolívar. During the 19th and 20th centuries, border disputes with Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador led to a series of wars. Peru’s export economy was devastated by the Great Depression of the 1930s, which led to the rise of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance and an ongoing period of political instability, including a long period of military rule (1968–80). The legislature was dissolved by President Alberto Fujimori in 1992 as the government sought effective measures against two rebel movements, the Maoist Shining Path and the indigenous Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. In 2000, opposition to his antidemocratic methods and political scandal rocked Fujimori’s government, forcing him to flee to Japan. In the first democratic elections following the scandals, Alejandro Toledo became the first president of Quechua ancestry to be elected in Peru.
The first Peruvians may have come to the United States during the 1848 California gold rush and a handful came throughout the 19th century, though no community was established. It is difficult to trace exact numbers, however, as South Americans were counted collectively until 1932. During World War II (1941–45), 1,800 Peruvian Americans of Japanese descent were interned with Japanese Americans, and some were eventually exchanged for American prisoners of war. Several hundred of these Peruvians remained in the United States and were, in 1990, partially compensated for their internment. Upper- and middle-class Peruvians were the first to flee the country’s political instability after World War II. From the mid–1980s, poorer Peruvians began to immigrate. Collectively they demonstrated an unusually strong sense of national identity after migration. Many estimates suggest that the actual number of Peruvians in the United States in 2000 was well over 400,000, an increasingly large number of them students seeking political and economic stability. In 2000, the Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that 61,000 Peruvians were unauthorized residents. Between 1992 and 2002, annual average legal immigration to the United States was a little more than 10,000.
Peruvian immigration to Canada began with several small groups of mainly young men in the late 1960s. Most were Peruvians of European descent, professionally trained or skilled workers seeking economic opportunities as the Canadian economy grew. At first, their numbers were small—about 400 settled in Ontario, for instance, between 1957 and 1971. During the 1970s, however, immigration dramatically increased, with close to 10,000 Peruvians entering as landed immigrants between 1974 and 1990. Of the 17,120 Peruvian immigrants in Canada in 2001, fewer than 1,000 came before 1971; 14,020 (82 percent) arrived between 1981 and 2001.