Experiences Living with my Japanese Peruvian Family in Lima
For a long time, Peru was somewhere I was curious about. I’d heard mentions of it from my dad, though he didn’t like to talk much about his years living there before moving to the US.
I’m half Japanese Peruvian. My dad was born in Lima, Peru; my grandparents are the children of Japanese immigrants to Peru who came over in the large migration from Japan and China to Peru to work as manual laborers, especially in the guano industry. My mom is American, born in upstate New York state. I was born and grew up in Northern California in a small hippie town called Fairfax about an hour and a half outside of San Francisco. I look almost exactly like my mom when she was my age, and very little like my dad.
I visited Peru once with both of my parents when I was ten but was only here for about two weeks visiting family in Lima and travelling to Machu Picchu. Growing up, Peru was a presence in the background of my life. Every Christmas we’d receive boxes of D’anafria Pannetone, because it’s traditional to exchange them with friends and family for Christmas in Peru. My dad was always on a quest to find “the right empanada,” and said that when he retired he wanted to open a food truck so that he could sell Peruvian style empanadas in San Francisco.
Every few months we’d go into the city to go to Gustavo’s restaurant for dinner. Gustavo is my dad’s friend from playing soccer, and like my dad, a Japanese Peruvian immigrant. At Gustavo’s we’d eat traditional Peruvian dishes, papa la huancaina, ceviche, chicha morada, aji de gallina, and my favorite, lomo saltado, and plates of flan. Then my dad and Gustavo would talk in Spanish. I couldn’t speak Spanish very well, since I’d barely learned it as a child, and I began to feel slightly embarrassed that I couldn’t and disconnected from that part of my family.
When asking my dad about his childhood for a project in elementary school, he told me about taking the bus for hours to get to the Franklin Roosevelt Institute and doing his homework on the bus on the way back. He told me about delivering boxes to customers on the weekends in elementary school, because his dad worked manufacturing buttons. But my mom was the one who told me about the takeover of the Japanese embassy in Lima by the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru, and that my grandparents were taken hostage but released unharmed.
Peru was a part of my life, but I also felt disconnected from it. I wasn’t fluent in Spanish, and I didn’t know what it was like to live there; I only had my imagined ideas of what it would be. I wanted to know what it was really like and become more fluent in Spanish. So, I decided I wanted to spend some time living in Lima.
My experience here has been amazing, exciting, but sometimes challenging. I grew up in a small very liberal, very progressive small town close to San Francisco in California. My family in Peru, though, is more conservative than people I’ve spent a lot of time around before.
There have been other some culture clashes as well. One Wednesday night, I had agreed with my uncle to go with him to meet an old friend of my dad’s for dinner in Miraflores but coming back home at rush hour there was a lot of traffic. My uncle called to ask where I was, and I said that I was running late, but would be there about ten minutes after we were planning to leave. When I got back to the house he was angry with me because he thought that because I’d arrived late it showed a lack of respect for him. I called my parents that night to talk about what was going on, and my dad told me that in Japan, having respect for other people’s time is a very important thing, and it’s considered very rude to leave someone waiting. However, in Peru it’s common to show up anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour late, even in classes in the university. Although my uncle just returned from living in Japan for many years, he’s still spent most of his life living in Lima. I would never have guessed that he would have had that perspective on the importance of arriving exactly on time.
The combination of both Japanese and Peruvian cultural values and practices, especially for someone who has spent all my life until living in the United States, has sometimes made it confusing for me to figure out what’s acceptable and what’s not. I sometimes feel as though I’m having to learn and adjust to two different cultures at once. It’s different as well since it’s my family: they’ve expected me to understand and have grown up in the same Japanese Peruvian immigrant culture as they live in.
Even so, I love living in Lima. Visiting the places I was curious about and that I haven’t seen for over eleven years, feeling my Spanish improve, buying chicha morada at the metro, going out to eat the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurants. These have been some of the great experiences I’ve had while here. I feel like I’m getting to know my family better, learning more about them and what it means to live in Peru, my dad’s history, culture, and family, and therefore, by extension, myself.
Kate Iida was a history major at Barnard College and studied abroad with IFSA at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Lima in Spring 2018. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study program.