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Considering China from South America

October 13, 2011

The Fulbright trip east to China will begin in early 2012, but a recent expedition to Peru gave me a chance to sharpen my photography skills while sorting out the best method of adding photos next year to the Nanjing American Studies blog. Check out the Facebook link to the right for scenes from my 2011 expedition through the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

One of the more heated questions that came up in conversations with guides on the Inca Trail was the matter of ethnic origins in South America. Specifically, the historical relationship between South American indigenous peoples and Asian ethnic groups. Did Asian peoples migrate to South America? Or did South American natives make their way to places like China? And does any of this matter for modern political and cultural issues? All of this, by the way, leaves aside the vexed identity politics of Native (North) American Indian constituencies, whose claims on authenticity and cultural status have been sensitive questions for centuries.

Most interesting of all to me during the Peru trip was the dazzling level of diversity across the country. Spanish language predominated along the western littoral, of course, thanks to the sixteenth-century imperial project of Spain, led by the Pisarro brothers and devastating to the native Inca empire. But move out of Lima, with its cosmopolitan flair and lively Japanese, German, Chinese, Spanish, and African subcultures, into the heartland of Peru, and unwritten-but-widely-spoken native languages like Quichua prevail, as among the ordinary folks of the Sacred Valley. Meanwhile, a host of native Peruvian languages persist in the mountains and jungle regions east of the coast, a remote region which had always been less interesting to the treasure seekers of Spain and thus retained their historic linguistic patterns.

This cultural and political relationship of cosmopolitan coastal languages to indigenous languages of a nation’s less-traveled interior will likely be a prominent theme of teaching in China next year.

One Comment leave one →
  1. William Spates permalink
    October 20, 2011 6:44 am

    Hello Jim! Great post; it sounds like you’ve a fantastic year ahead of you. The weight of scientific evidence suggests a trip East from Asia to the Americas, but to limit this interaction to one direction, or for that matter, one species (see for example the recent discovery of the Denisovans in Siberia whose trace DNA exists in the Australian aboriginal population threatens to overly simplify the complexity of human migration. Likewise, there is genetic evidence that Easter Island hosted both Polynesians and at the very least some South Americans visitors in Pre-Columbian times (perhaps not the best source but worth using for leads:

    I was hoping you were going to make the trip from South America to Asia yourself! It is possible to catch flights from Lima and Santiago to Easter Island then over to Papete, Tahiti and from there to Suva Suva, Fiji to Auckland or Sydney and up through New Guinea, Indonesia, etc., to SE Asia or upwards toward Somoa to the Philipines, Guam, Japan/Tawain, and China… you don’t even need to go to Hawaii! I’ve quite an interest in these things having made a similar trip this summer from Qatar to Sydney several islands in Fiji, Hawaii and then onto the Pacific NW.

    Paradoxically, when trying to plan such a trip from Lima or Santiago one can fly to Easter Island, but despite repeated efforts I couldn’t discover a flight bound west to the South Pacific, whereas it’s quite easy to get flights from Tahiti to Easter Island… History repeats itself?

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