Becoming a Peruvian-American (Latino) New Englander: Factors in Shaping Immigrant Identity

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Becoming a Peruvian-American (Latino) New Englander:

Factors in Shaping Immigrant Identity
By Michael E. Neagle1

A popular axiom maintains that all Americans are immigrants in some form or another; that either someone or someone’s family member or ancestor has come to the United States from someplace else – be it aboard the Mayflower, through Ellis Island, across the Rio Grande, or even by way of Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport. But simply getting to the United States was often just the beginning of the challenge confronting immigrants. For much of U.S. history – especially during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries – many immigrants have endured scorn for being “hyphenated” Americans.2 As scholars such as George J. Sánchez and Sarah Deutsch have shown, rapid assimilation and adaptation of “American” customs and values was expected of immigrants, as was the shedding of traditions from the homeland.3 In the face of such challenges and experiences, however, immigrants and their descendents often forged their own unique identities that blended the old with the new.

In the twenty-first century, U.S. popular culture has been much more accepting of “hyphenated” Americans – witness the popularity of those who self-identify as Italian-American, Mexican-American or Asian-American, to name but three examples. A significant part of this trend can be attributed to the path forged by immigrants and their descendents over the course of more than 100 years. In addition, the number of immigrants today is significantly increasing. For example, in 2000, the percentage of the U.S. population that was foreign born was at its highest since the 1930s. Also, more immigrants came to the United States during the 1990s than at any other time in the nation’s history.4 Moreover, immigrants’ identity as “hyphenated” Americans has been profoundly impacted by their bilingualism, networks of support, education and the age in which they migrated.

In the life of one immigrant in particular, class and community are two additional factors that have been pivotal. For “Aníbal Armas,” who was born and raised in Peru and now lives in Connecticut, these factors have been significant in the development of his identity as a Peruvian-American and a Latino New Englander.5 His class/social status helped make his transition to life in the United States much smoother. But just as important, his link to the burgeoning community of Peruvians in Connecticut has been instrumental in maintaining ties to his native land, ties that have grown stronger with time.

This paper relies primarily on an oral history interview conducted with Armas, 31, who came to the United States in 1989 at the age of 15. Another oral history was conducted with Guisella Ramirez, 36, to get the perspective of a key figure in the Peruvian community in Connecticut; also a native of Peru, Ramirez has been in the United States since 2002 working as the personal assistant to the Consul General at the Peruvian consulate in Hartford. The fact that little has been written about Peruvian-Americans both simplified and complicated this topic. On the one hand, there were fewer sources to interrogate as well as much more fertile territory for exploration and analysis. But on the other hand, it proved difficult in situating the work with that of other scholars. As a result, most of the secondary literature cited here is used as a basis for comparing the immigrant experience of Peruvians with that of other Latinos.

The story of Armas and the development of his identity as a Peruvian-American are not the norm among Peruvian-Americans in general and in Connecticut in particular. A large majority of Peruvians living in Connecticut are working class. “Peruvians working here, they have to work really hard to survive,” Ramirez said.6 In addition, many Peruvians migrate to the United States to escape extreme poverty and find jobs to support their families back home. According to a recent U.S. State Department report, 54 percent of the people in Peru live below the poverty line – with incomes of less than $58 a month – and 56 percent of Peruvians are either unemployed or underemployed.7

By contrast, Armas has three degrees from the University of Hartford and has worked as an accounting manager at a Connecticut-based company since 1998. He also works with the Association of Peruvian American Professionals (APAPRO). Nevertheless, the ranks of professional, white-collar Peruvian-American workers in the Hartford area are steadily growing. In Becoming Mexican American (from which the title of this paper is borrowed), Sánchez writes that revisionist historians criticized initial examinations of the immigrant experience because of their “tendency to collapse all groups’ migration experiences into one story [which] belittles the diversity of such events and distorts history.”8 Likewise, even within one particular group’s migration to the United States, there are a multiplicity of stories and experiences. There are many angles from which to analyze the formation of Peruvian-American identity; this study is but one example. As an immigrant, Armas did not encounter anywhere near the same type of hostility that Chicanos did in the early twentieth century, for example.9 And his experience is most certainly different than that of most other Peruvian-Americans in Connecticut. Nevertheless, his story does shed important light on how one forms an identity as a “hyphenated” American.

Finally, it is important to note Peruvian-Americans’ significance. If Latinos are one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, then Peruvians are one of its fastest-growing subgroups. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 233,926 Peruvians living in the United States, ranking eighth among Latin American nationalities (behind only Colombia and Ecuador among South American countries).10 In Connecticut, the numbers of Peruvians are even more significant. In Hartford, for example, Peruvians comprise the second-largest Latino group – after Puerto Ricans – with approximately 1,200 in the city and another 1,800 in the suburbs.11 In light of this development, as well as the lobbying efforts of Peruvians in the area, the Peruvian government opened a consulate in Hartford in 2002, the only foreign consulate in Connecticut at the time. In addition, the influx of Peruvians in the area has resulted in an increase in the number of businesses, restaurants, clubs and festivals, the latter of which also has attracted the participation of other Latino groups in Connecticut.12 Truly, Peruvians in the area are a rapidly growing community, a brief examination of which is necessary to help better understand the “Peruvian” side of “Peruvian-American” identity.

State of the Peruvian Community

The number of Peruvian-owned and themed businesses, restaurants, clubs and festivals is substantial. The Web site for the Peruvian consulate lists many of them, including: nine restaurants across the state, four of which are in the greater Hartford area; six religious groups (one of which is in Rhode Island); four social clubs; four academic/cultural groups (including APAPRO); and two music/artist clubs.13 This abundance of organizations underscores a significant increase in the number of Peruvians in the area, a development that has been noted in recent articles by the Hartford Courant and Associated Press.14 It also shows that Peruvians are establishing roots with the intention of staying in the Untied States for the long term. One scholar has pointed out a similar phenomenon with Cubans in Florida during the 1970s, a time when many Cubans who had escaped the Fidel Castro regime not only began setting up businesses, but also were buying homes, paying taxes and sending their children to schools.15

The Peruvian community also has been vital to the spirit of latinidad in Connecticut. A recent article pointed out that Peruvians comprise a substantial number of participants in a Hartford-based soccer league, which also features players native to Mexico, Colombia and other Latin American countries.16 In addition, a Peruvian parade launched in July 2000 attracted the interest of many other Latino groups, to the surprise of organizers. “I did not know 5,000 people were going to show up,” one organizer said. “I thought, maybe, 1,000.”17

The burgeoning Peruvian community is also looking to do business – both with their new home and their old. Ramirez said that considering the United States’ commercial position worldwide, many Peruvian entrepreneurs want to do business here.18 Although Peru is suffering from widespread poverty and unemployment, its economy has been steadily improving. Its Gross Domestic Product rose an estimated 5 percent in 2004. The government has lobbied for increased private investment and it enjoyed a $2.6 billion trade surplus in 2004.19 Moreover, Connecticut-based companies have done a brisk business in Peru. One estimate stated that Peru exported more than $315 million worth of product to the state in 2002, while Connecticut exports totaled $8.2 million.20 In addition, the Consul General of the Peruvian consulate in Hartford, Jose Benzaquen, has been active in facilitating closer connections between businesses in Lima and Hartford.21 Meanwhile, Peruvian entrepreneurs in the United States are actively seeking ways to mobilize their talents, abilities and resources to not only benefit their own business, but also help Peru stay competitive on the global commercial stage. One group based in the United States, the Global Entrepreneurship Network – Peru (GEN-PERU), seeks to leverage “highly-skilled Peruvians and Peruvian-minded individuals living outside of Peru, who can and should be key components of a development strategy for Peru.”22

Another sign of the strengthening Peruvian community in Connecticut is the consulate in Hartford. Its genesis came in 2001, when a group of Peruvians from Connecticut met with then-President Alejandro Toledo Manrique in New York. Citing the growing Peruvian population in the state and the difficulties many faced in reaching the existing consulates in New York and Boston, the group lobbied President Toledo to install one in Connecticut.23 With a staff of three, it opened its doors on 2 October 2002 as the only foreign consulate in the state. It now serves some 25,000 Peruvians in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The consulate serves many functions, but it is primarily a resource for Peruvians to get passports or licenses. Ramirez said that before the consulate in Hartford opened, many Peruvians, particularly among the working class, found it difficult not only to get to New York or Boston, but more importantly to take time off from work to do so.24 But the consulate in Hartford also has proven to be an important social and cultural center among Peruvians in the area. For example, those who wish to be married on Peruvian soil can do so there (although it is located in an office building in the middle of downtown Hartford, the consulate technically is sovereign Peruvian territory).25 It also has served as both a literal and figurative community bulletin board, where organizers from a variety of Peruvian groups and clubs come to publicize their events or businesses and to get the homeland’s support. “[I]f you’re organizing an activity and you want it to be official, you invite the Consul,” Ramirez said.26 This burgeoning tradition was evident, for example, at the opening of a Peruvian restaurant in March 2005, when Consul General Benzaquen was listed as one of the local dignitaries at the event.27 This has not been a completely seamless transition, however. Although he concurred that the consulate plays a vital role in raising Peruvian cultural awareness and has helped him in his own work with APAPRO, Armas also surmised that many Peruvians in the area approach the consulate with some trepidation. “A lot of people are afraid of them,” he said. “They just don’t know [the consulate] well. And maybe that’s one of the things that [the consulate] should be doing – going out to the public and explaining what they do, that [Peruvians] don’t need to be worried about going to the consulate. … They are there to help Peruvians and I think they need to get that message across.”28

One other indication of the development of the Peruvian community in the area is APAPRO. Now in its fourth year, the organization, which boasts 30 members, serves as a networking resource for Peruvian professionals in the United States. It also seeks to promote Peruvian culture, improve education, and perform community service both in the United States and Peru. “The main purpose is trying to improve the quality of life of Peruvian-Americans,” Armas said.29 Founded in June 2002 as the Association of Ancash Professionals of Hartford, Connecticut, the group’s initial name reflected the close ties area Peruvians had to their place of origin.30 But eager to expand its scope beyond Peruvians solely from Ancash and immigrants living only in Hartford, the group changed its name to the Association of Peruvian American Professionals in November 2002. The group, which is still in its formative stages, has been actively searching for inroads into other Peruvian-American communities in the United States, including centers in New Jersey and Florida. It also recently applied for non-profit status.31 Armas said that many of the group’s contributors are second-generation Peruvian-Americans: “[T]he people who grew up here and are professionals now … are trying to give back a little bit to the Peruvian community here or in Peru.”32

The rise of APAPRO also underscores the development of a professional class of Peruvian-Americans in the area. Armas, for example, owns bachelor’s degrees in engineering and mathematics as well as a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Hartford. Since 1998, he has worked as an accounting manager at a Connecticut-based company.33 In addition, Peruvian-American advancements have not been relegated to the realm of business and commerce. Five years ago, a Peruvian-American, Felipe Reinoso of Bridgeport, was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives and has since been re-elected twice.34

The vitality of the Peruvian-American community in the area is an important factor in the development of Peruvian-American identity. As the proliferation of Peruvian-owned and themed businesses, restaurants, clubs and festival has shown, it has helped immigrants maintain strong connections with their country of origin. But one’s connection to homelands both past and present can be affected by circumstances surrounding one’s migration, as the example of Armas’s migration demonstrates.

Push/Pull Factors

In his work examining the development of Mexican-American identity in the early twentieth century, Sánchez analyzes causes that explained why Chicanos migrated to the United States. He labeled them as “pull” and “push” factors to explain why migrants felt compelled to leave Mexico or were drawn to the United States.35 This “push/pull” approach also can be used to explain Armas’s reasons for coming to the United States. Perhaps the most significant reason for him was a “push” – his family’s run-ins with Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. This terrorist organization waged a guerrilla war with the government in the 1980s and early 1990s in an attempt to transform Peru into a Maoist-style communist nation.36 Although the movement quickly collapsed following the capture of Sendero’s leader, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso in September 1992, Sendero’s effective end could not come soon enough for Armas and his family.

Armas’s family owned and operated a small business selling agricultural goods in his hometown of Barranca, north of Lima. Business was good – perhaps too good for the family’s safety. Armas said:

[T]here weren’t too many people having a lot of businesses that were profitable … The Shining Path and MRTA [Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, another Peruvian terrorist group] would go and say, ‘You know what, who do you know that has money?’ And we used to get stacks like this of peticiones, petitions for money and at one point my dad would have to start going behind a ranch or something just to deposit, I don’t know, a couple of hundred dollars because they would threaten to kill you or they would threaten to bomb your place and things like that. It was really bad.37
Armas also told of one particularly close encounter that he said put two of his family members in grave danger and into an informal, self-imposed exile.

In 1992, while I was already here [in the United States], my dad and my uncle had an encounter with a few people of the Shining Path. They went into his office and my dad said, ‘You see those rifles there and you see my people outside. I’m not afraid of you.’ And the next morning, my mom flew them here [to the United States] so they had to stay here for a year, year-and-a-half until things cooled off.38

That Armas has only been back to Peru twice since he came to the United States is owed largely to the threats that he and his family faced. Initially, Armas said he believed his time in Connecticut would be brief, at least until conditions in Peru became safer. But this did not happen right away. “My parents didn’t want me to go back [to Peru] for the first couple of years because it was so dangerous,” he said. “They had threatening letters about kidnapping me. [The Shining Path] did kidnap a couple of friends of my parents’ children. It was bad.”39 The eventual collapse of Sendero Luminoso went a long way in formulating Armas’s political allegiances, though. He credited former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for having “practically eradicated the whole Shining Path” and described himself as an unabashed “Fujimorista.”40

Although it may seem as if Armas was not simply pushed but shoved toward the United States, one of the “pull” factors that influenced his decision to migrate was his older sister. She immigrated to the United States in 1988, when she, along with two cousins, left Peru to live with Armas’s godmother in Hartford. There, they attended the University of Hartford.41 When he arrived in Connecticut a year later, Armas encountered a vast network of extended family rooted by his maternal grandparents. “I’m talking about maybe 400-500 people within the Hartford County that are extended family,” he said.42 It is this network that was one of the greatest contributing factors to his adjustment to life in the United States and thus helped shape an identity as a “Peruvian-American.”

Factors in Transition/Adjustment and Development of Identity


Having a support system of family and friends was a critical factor in not just Armas’s transition to life in the United States, but also helping him to maintain – and grow – ties back to Peru. His sister blazed the trail that he was to follow – coming to the United States first, then preceding him at the University of Hartford. The siblings are still close today, living together in the same house with his sister’s husband and son.43 The family network in Connecticut runs even deeper, however, with grandparents, his godmother, aunts, uncles and cousins who all comprise his primary social outlet. Having so many familiar faces in a very unfamiliar environment was surely a soothing factor in easing the transition. But Armas admits that he did not appreciate his family much when he first came to the United States, at least not to the extent he does now. In fact, at first, he was practically dismissive of them: “From my college years I was kind of, you know, ‘Oh yes, Peru. I know I have my family, but you know what, leave me alone. I’ve got my own people besides my immediate family.’”44

Armas’s “own people” were friends he met at an English as a Second Language (ESL) program and, later, at the University of Hartford. Armas said his experience at the ESL program was important, not simply for learning the language, but for meeting other Latino immigrants who also were making the adjustment to life in the United States. This provided another network of support as he could commiserate with others of a similar age and a similar culture who were sharing a similar experience. “[The ESL program] kept me all day and kept me out of trouble until I started to realize, yes, I should be here [in the United States],” he said.45 Two years later, when he entered college, Armas said he immediately gravitated toward other South American students – “you mingle better because this is what you knew,” he said.46 It was not until he entered the engineering program that he began socializing with Americans, thus giving him two distinct, but separate, networks of friends.47

Armas said it was only after his college days that he began to connect more deeply with his family in Connecticut. That, in turn, led to connections with APAPRO. At a family party in 2003, he met one of its board members, who asked him to join. With a growing awareness of his Peruvian roots, concern for helping the Peruvian-American community and a desire to improve his own professional network, Armas said he enthusiastically accepted. “I loved the idea of having a strong, well-established organization that Peruvians can look up to,” he said.48


Considering formal education is, by its nature, a setting for learning and personal growth, it is no surprise that this aspect was instrumental in Armas’s transition to life in the United States. By the time he immigrated at the age of 15, he was already a high school graduate. But too young to work for a living or immediately matriculate to college, Armas enrolled in a high school in Hartford at the urging of his parents. His stay did not last long after he witnessed a brawl at school. “I went to Hartford high school and I saw a guy with a broken, bloody thing,” he said. “He was cut or something. I tell my mother, ‘Where are you taking me? Get me out of here.’”49 He then tried a private school in West Hartford, but his tenure there was cut short because of the expense. Instead, he enrolled in an ESL program full-time because his family thought it would be a more effective way for him to learn English. It was in this program that he made his first social connections outside the family in his new homeland.

When he enrolled at the University of Hartford a few years later, he initially gravitated socially toward Latino students. But when he entered the engineering program, he found himself in classes with mostly other Americans, his closest sustained encounter with Anglos up to that point. The experience shattered the myth he’d heard bandied about by Latino and European friends that, “Eso gringos no saben nada” (“These Americans don’t know anything”). He continued, “I sat down with 15 [American] guys and I was impressed. These were 18-year-old kids that knew what they were talking about.”50 In working closely with other American students, Armas got to know Americans better and developed friendships with them. The academic setting surely helped foster such a development.


Learning English full-time over a year-and-a-half in an ESL program certainly expedited Armas’s transition to the United States. That he was even in an ESL program can be attributed, in large part, to age and class – aspects that I will address below. Nevertheless, mastering the language is paramount if an immigrant hopes to successfully acclimate themselves to their new society. Some have even used it to their great benefit. In an examination of Cuban migrants to the United States, one scholar noted that, “bilingualism became a professional asset” in helping many exiles improve their economic position.51 Armas’s work with APAPRO underscores a similar trend within the Peruvian community. He said it has also helped him to connect with younger members of his extended family who were born and raised in the United States and do not speak Spanish.52

Ramirez, who speaks five languages (Spanish, English, French, Italian and Dutch), noted that learning the language has helped her immeasurably to learn about other cultures and adapt to life in different societies. (Before coming to the United States, she also lived in France for a time.) She said that in her observations of the Peruvian community in Connecticut, she noticed that the faster immigrants pick up English, the sooner they adjust to their new home and the more inclined they are to remain in the United States permanently. She continued that this is particularly important for the young.53


Armas attributed the relative ease of his adjustment to life in the United States to youth. As a teenager, he said he was much more impressionable and at a stage in his life when he was much more open to change. Generally speaking, it is also an easier time to learn another language. “I think people who come over when they are 26-27 years old, they don’t adapt,” he said. “I was adapting fast.”54 But considering his inclination to socialize almost exclusively with other Latinos during his first few years in the United States, Armas’s experience may not have been all that different from that of other young Peruvian immigrants, who initially struggle to adapt to their new homeland as they wrestle with a new language. “The young people, they [have] a really tough time at the beginning,” Ramirez said. “I don’t see them with American people. Most of the time, I see them with their own Peruvian friends here. So at the beginning, it’s really heard because they don’t speak the language [and] they don’t understand it, either.”55

Ramirez also said that when young immigrants adjust to life in the United States and start to identify as “Americans,” parents play a critical role in helping their children maintain ties to their native land. “When [parents] see their young kids saying that they are Americans and they don’t know anything about Peru and they hardly speak Spanish because … they want to be like their [American] friends, [parents] start saying [to their children], ‘Come with me to the Peruvian club’ and they start teaching them about their [native] culture.”56 She continued that some families travel back to Peru once a year to ensure the children do not forget about it. Others take part in Danzas Peruanas, a West Hartford-based group where Peruvian youths learn traditional Peruvian dances. This phenomenon is similar to the Cuban experience in Florida, where parents seek to “educate their children on the essentials of cubanidad” by enrolling them in after-school programs that reinforce Cuban history and culture.57


Frequent trips back to Peru and enrollment in dance clubs, however, is a luxury that not all Peruvian-Americans can afford. Nor is a year-and-a-half of full-time study in an ESL program. To that end, it is apparent that class is a major factor in determining the speed and ease in which an immigrant adjusts to life in the United States and how one negotiates an identity as a “hyphenated” American. This phenomenon is not strictly limited to Peruvians, however. The same has been noted about Dominican immigrants in which, “Those who start out with more generally finish with more.”58 Certainly, Armas came to the United States from a privileged position in Peru. His family owned its own business, which was performing well enough that it could afford its own chauffeur. “I was living such a good life,” he said.59 Armas continued that his biggest adjustment to life in the United States, at least initially, was not so much the cultural differences, but the differences with his godmother, with whom he lived. She made him do his own chores and kept a stricter eye on him than he was used to in Peru.60

Armas said it was nearly a decade before the United States truly felt like “home” to him. However, that view was tied mainly to his own feelings of independence and his ability to support himself financially. “I think [it was] sometime in ’99, 2000, when I started earning money for my own. … When I got my first big job and I didn’t ask my parents for more money and I was living here, [I felt like] this was my home.”61 The relationship between Armas’s financial independence and his view of the United States as home also signifies his deepening assimilation into American culture. As Ramirez pointed out, in Peru, a family often lives together under one roof until the children are married.62 That he could strike out on his own and live financially independent of his parents before getting married illustrated – however subconsciously – a deepening link with American society and a developing identity as an “American.”

Interlocking Identities

Armas has now lived in the United States longer than he lived in Peru. That he has returned to Peru only twice – for a total of nine days, at that – since immigrating to the United States could lead one to assume that he has grown apart from his native country. As this paper has shown, however, that is not the case. Through the close connections with his extended family in Connecticut and his work with APAPRO, he is still very much in touch with his Peruvian heritage. Although he proudly stated that the United States is his home now, he held out hope that he could one day return to Peru – at least as a part-time resident. “I hope to retire in Peru, to be honest with you,” he said. “I hope to be 50-55 and able to go there and maybe do a little business, have a normal life and stay from December to April [Peru’s summertime] and then come back here [to the United States].”63 The fear that he and his family once had about living in Peru as a result of their run-ins with Sendero Luminoso – which spurred Armas’s emigration from Peru and a desire to “escape” from Peruvian culture64 – has long since vanished. In its place is a greater sense of appreciation for the place from where he came.

But during his time in the United States, Armas has developed a multiplicity of identities, not simply Peruvian or American, but a Latino sense of self, as well. These multiple conceptions are not entirely unique, even among native Peruvians. In her 1995 memoir, writer Gabriella De Ferrari, who, like Armas, lived the first 15 years of her life in Peru before coming to the United States, notes that, “Though I call myself Peruvian, I am not that alone.”65 Her reflection continues that her upbringing in Peru has left, “powerful echoes and profound longings for a place I can never leave behind.”66 These thoughts could also apply to Armas’s experience.

Throughout his oral history interview, Armas alternately described himself as Peruvian, American and Latino. When considering his work with APAPRO, his close connection with his extended family and his desire to retire to Peru someday, Armas concluded that, “I think I’m Peruvian all the way.”67

He also said that he felt distinctly American. In terms of his official living status, it was a process that took some time. He initially came to the United States on a student visa and then became a resident in 1995; in March 2001, Armas became a U.S. citizen.68 For some Latino groups, the act of becoming a U.S. citizen can be fraught with misgivings. One scholar of Dominicans living in the United States wrote that some immigrants “felt pressure not to naturalize because they did not want to be seen as vende patrias, or traitors to their homeland. … Worse still, they might be viewed as siding with the gringos …”69 In her experience, De Ferrari tells of having competing feelings of excitement and guilt in becoming a U.S. citizen.70 This was apparently not the case for Armas. He stated matter-of-factly that becoming a U.S. citizen was “the thing to do – I mean, if I’m going to be here [permanently].”71

In addition to his dual nationalities, Armas also relates to Latin America. “Yes, I consider myself a Latino,” he said. “I am Peruvian, but I’m more of a Latino than a Peruvian.” He went on to explain the distinction: “In my mind, I’m not just limited to being a Peruvian and their customs. I think that Latin people here should stick together. Their cultures are so much alike that there’s no reason why they should separate themselves into different cultures, different countries.”72 Considering that he initially socialized almost exclusively with other Latinos after he arrived in the United States, this pan-Latino identification is not surprising. As historian Ruth Glasser has shown, this hispanidad is becoming increasingly common in Connecticut, as evidenced by multi-national participation in Latino clubs in Waterbury.73 However, it does fly in the face of another scholar’s assertion that in the hierarchy of identity, most Latinos identify with their nationality first and the region second.74 Nevertheless, like a set of interlocking Olympian rings – all related, but one no more dominant than another – Armas identifies with both nation and region concurrently, as a Peruvian-American as well as a “Latino New Englander.”75


As this paper has shown, many factors play a role in the development of an immigrant’s identity; a view of self that is neither fixed nor static, but dynamic as one navigates through two cultures. Although the immigrant story of “Aníbal Armas” may not be typical of the majority of Peruvians living in the United States and Connecticut, it is not altogether unique either. It illustrates how community, class, supporting networks, education, language and age – as well as, implicitly, one’s own personal experience and circumstances of migration – all shape the construction of multiple, interlocking identities. What is significant in the development of Armas’s own Peruvian-American identity is not simply tied to his transition and adjustment to life in the United States. His relationship back to his roots in Peru is equally important. We have seen how the burgeoning Peruvian community in Connecticut – one that has necessitated the opening of a consulate and spurred the creation of such groups as the Association of Peruvian American Professionals – has been instrumental, as has the close connections he enjoys with his extended family in the United States. In addition, his own social status, one that allowed him to be educated and learn the language, was a significant factor in terms of how he assimilated into American society. And it was through this experience that his sense of self took on another dimension – as a Latino. Taken together, it appears as if no one category – Peruvian, American, Latino – is more important than another to Armas, yet all three are critical to his identity as an immigrant.


Oral Histories

Guisella Ramirez – 15 November 2005

“Aníbal Armas” – 17 November 2005


Associated Press

Hartford Courant
Identidad Latina

New York Times

Web sites


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U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin.” March 2001.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. “The Hispanic Population.” May 2001.
U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Intelligence and Research. “Background Note on Peru.” Electronic Affairs Publication Office. 1 April 2005.

1 I would like to thank Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, Jessica X. Garcia, Susan Silverman, Guisella Ramirez, “Aníbal Armas” and my colleagues in “Empire, Nations and Migration: History of Latino/as in the United States” for their contributions, suggestions and cooperation in this project.

2 Although considered pejorative in most historical contexts, I use the term “hyphenated” American to refer to those who identify with two nationalities – that of their (or their family’s) country of origin as well as the United States.

3 George J. Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); Sarah Deutsch, No Separate Refuge: Culture, Class, and Gender on an Anglo-Hispanic Frontier in the American Southwest, 1880-1940, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987). As a matter of expediency, I use “American” in this paper to refer to people and things of the United States. However, it should be noted that the use of this term to make exclusive reference to the United States is contested because can also apply to all nations in the western hemisphere. For a cogent synopsis of the debate about and the significance of this terminology see Mary A. Renda, Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of U.S. Imperialism, 1915-1940 (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), xvii.

4 Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882, (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 5.

5 To respect the subject’s request for anonymity, I have used “Aníbal Armas” as a pseudonym.

6 Guisella Ramirez, recorded interview by the author, 15 November 2005, University of Connecticut Graduate Student Oral History Project, 15 (draft version).

7 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, “Background Note on Peru,” Electronic Affairs Publication Office, 1 April 2005.

8 Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American, 5.

9 Ibid, 269.

10 U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, “The Hispanic Population,” (May 2001), 3.

11 Helen Ubinas and Mike Swift, “Peru to Open Consulate in Hartford,” Hartford Courant, 18 April 2002, B1. This article also reports that the gap between first and second place is indeed wide, as it counted 40,000 Puerto Ricans in Hartford.

12 Ruth Glasser, “Waterbury, Connecticut: An Evolving Multi-Latino City,” University of Connecticut Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino History Working Paper Series, 1.

13 For the complete list of Peruvian organizations registered with the consulate, see:

14 Ubinas and Swift, “Peru to Open Consulate in Hartford,” Hartford Courant, 18 April 2002, B1; “Hispanic population growing rapidly in Connecticut,” Associated Press Newswires, 26 November 2000. The Courant article notes that many Peruvian-owned businesses are centrally located on Franklin and New Britain avenues in Hartford.

15 Maria Cristina Garcia, Havana, USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 108.

16 “Hispanic population growing rapidly in Connecticut,” Associated Press Newswires, 26 November 2000.

17 Ibid. Another prominent scholar of Latinos in present-day Connecticut notes that Puerto Ricans and Dominicans take part in the Peruvian parade. Glasser, “Waterbury, Connecticut: An Evolving Multi-Latino City,” 1.

18 Ramirez oral history, 3 (draft).

19 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, “Background Note on Peru,” Electronic Affairs Publication Office, 1 April 2005.

20 Port Connecticut: International Trade Newsfolio, “The Peruvian Consulate: Open for Business in Hartford,” Fourth Quarter, 2003.

21 Ibid.


23 Background for the consulate’s opening taken from Ubinas and Swift, “Peru to Open Consulate in Hartford,” Hartford Courant, 18 April 2002, B1. To underscore the consulate’s necessity, the article states that Boston had approximately 800 Peruvians in the city at the time of the 2000 census, compared to roughly 3,000 in Hartford and its suburbs.

24 Ramirez oral history, 4 (draft).

25 Ibid, 7 (draft).

26 Ibid, 7-8 (draft).

27 Armando Zarazu, “Se inauguro restaurant peruano en Hartford,” Identidad Latina, 24 March 2005,

28 “Aníbal Armas,” recorded interview by the author, 17 November 2005, University of Connecticut Graduate Student Oral History Project, 12.

29 Ibid, 10.

30; Ramirez oral history interview, 6 (draft). Among Latino immigrants, this pattern of migration from one specific town or region to another specific town or region in the United States is not unique. This has been documented in the work of Peggy Levitt – of Dominicans from the town of Miraflores to the Jamaica Plains section of Boston – and Ruth Glasser – of Puerto Ricans from the province of Ponce to Waterbury, Conn. Levitt, The Transnational Villagers, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), and Glasser, Aqui Me Quedo: Puerto Ricans in Connecticut, (Hartford: Connecticut Humanities Council, 1997).

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid, 9

34 “Hispanic population growing rapidly in Connecticut,” Associated Press Newswires, 26 November 2000;

35 Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American, 19-21.

36 For a Peruvian journalist’s account of Sendero’s guerrilla war, see Gustavo Gorriti, The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru, translated by Robin Kirk, (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1999). For a series of essays about Sendero’s impact on Peruvian society, see Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995, Steve J. Stern, ed., (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998).

37 Armas oral history, 3.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid, 17.

40 Ibid, 3, 14. Fujimori was president for 10 years beginning in 1990, until he left office amid charges of corruption and abuse of power. Wanted on charges, he fled Peru for Japan, where he has dual citizenship. Eager to return to Peru and run for president again, Fujimori in November 2005 flew to Chile, where he was jailed for six months. He was released on the condition that he remain in the country. Juan Forero, “Court in Chile Refuses to Free Peru’s Ex-Leader,” The New York Times, 9 November 2005, A3; Juan Forero, “Fujimori's Detention in Chile Was Just Part of His Plan, Allies Say,” The New York Times, 10 November 2005, A10; “Conditional Release for Fujimori,”

41 Armas oral history, 3, 5.

42 Ibid, 5.

43 Ibid, 3.

44 Ibid, 6.

45 Ibid, 4.

46 Ibid, 5.

47 Ibid, 6.

48 Ibid, 9-10.

49 Ibid, 7.

50 Ibid, 8.

51 Garcia, Havana USA, 89. In contrast, Sánchez writes that nearly a century ago English was often used as a tool to keep immigrants subordinate. In the case of many Chicanos in the early twentieth century, “The most potent weapon used to imbue the foreigner with American values was the English language.” Sánchez, Becoming Mexican American, 100.

52 Armas oral history, 13.

53 Ramirez oral history, 5-6 (draft).

54 Armas oral history, 6.

55 Ramirez oral history, 9 (draft).

56 Ibid, 6 (draft).

57 Garcia, Havana USA, 91.

58 Levitt, The Transnational Villagers, 200.

59 Armas oral history, 4.

60 Ibid, 7.

61 Ibid, 15.

62 Ramirez oral history, 1 (draft).

63 Armas oral history, 15.

64 Ibid, 6.

65 Gabriella De Ferrari, Gringa Latina: A Woman of Two Worlds, (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995), 2.

66 Ibid, 3.

67 Armas oral history, 17.

68 Armas e-mail to author, 1 December 2005. Technically, Armas holds dual citizenship.

69 Levitt, The Transnational Villagers, 147.

70 De Ferrari, Gringa Latina, 153.

71 Armas oral history, 16.

72 Armas oral history, 14.

73 Glasser, “Waterbury, Connecticut: An Evolving Multi-Latino City,” 28.

74 Arlene Davila, Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 144-145.

75 Armas oral history, 16.

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