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Asian Latin Americans are Latin Americans of South Asian, East Asian or Southeast Asian descent. West Asians are typically considered to be white. Asian Latin Americans have a centuries-long history in the region, starting with Filipinos in the 16th century. The peak of Asian immigration occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries, however. There are currently more than four million Asian Latin Americans, nearly 1% of Latin America's population. Chinese and Japanese are the group's largest ancestries; other major ones include Indians, Koreans and Filipinos. Brazil is home to the largest population of Asian Latin Americans, at some 2.2 million.[4][5] The highest ratio of any country in the region is 5%,[6] in Peru. There has been notable emigration from these communities in recent decades, so that there are now hundreds of thousands of people of Asian Latin American origin in both Japan and the United States.

Asian Latin Americans
Total population
c. 4,500,000
Regions with significant populations
European Languages:
English · Spanish · Portuguese
Asian Languages:
Arabic • Chinese · Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) · Tamil · Telugu · Japanese · Korean · Punjabi · Urdu · Filipino · Bengali • Vietnamese
Buddhism · Christianity · Hinduism · Islam · Shintoism · Sikhism · Taoism · Zoroastrianism · Jainism
Related ethnic groups
Latino, Hispanic, Asian, Filipinos, Spaniards, Portuguese, European Latin Americans, Asian Hispanic and Latino Americans, Latin American Asian, Asian Caribbean, Chinese Caribbeans


The first Asian Latin Americans were Filipinos who made their way to Latin America (primarily to Cuba and Mexico and secondarily to Colombia, Panama and Peru) in the 16th century, as sailors, crews, prisoners, slaves, adventurers and soldiers during the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. For two and a half centuries (between 1565 and 1815) many Filipinos sailed on the Manila-Acapulco Galleons, assisting in the Spanish Empire's monopoly in trade. Some of these sailors never returned to the Philippines and many of their descendants can be found in small communities around Baja California, Sonora, Mexico City, Peru and others, thus making Filipinos the oldest Asian ethnic group in Latin-America.

While South Asians had been present in various forms in Latin America for centuries by the 1800s, it was in this century that the flow into the region spiked dramatically. This rapid influx of hundreds of thousands of mainly male South Asians was due to the need for indentured servants. This is largely tied to the abolition of black slavery in the Caribbean colonies in 1834. Without the promise of free labor, and a hostile working class on their hands, the Dutch colonial authorities had to find a solution – cheap Asian labor.[7]

Many of these immigrant populations became such fixtures in their adopted countries that they acquired names of their own. For example, the Chinese men who labored in agricultural work became known as “Coolies”. While these imported Asian laborers were initially just replacement for agricultural slave labor, they gradually began to enter other sectors as the economy evolved. Before long, they had entered more urban work and the service sector. In certain areas, these populations assimilated into the minority populations, adding yet another definition to go on a casta.

In some areas, these new populations caused conflict. In northern Mexico, tensions became inevitable when the United States began to shut off Chinese immigration in the early 1880s. Many who were originally bound for the USA were re-routed to Mexico. The rapid increase in population and rise to middle/upper class standing generated strong resentment among existing residents. These tensions lead to riots. In the state of Sonora, the entire Chinese population was expelled in 1929.

Today, the overwhelming majority of Asian Latin Americans are of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent. Japanese migration mostly came to a halt after World War II (with the exception of Japanese settlement in the Dominican Republic), while Korean migration mostly came to an end by the 1980s and Chinese migration remains ongoing in a number of countries.

Settlement of war refugees has been extremely minor: a few dozen ex-North Korean soldiers went to Argentina and Chile after the Korean War[8][9] and some Hmong went to French Guiana after the Vietnam War.[10]

Roles in LaborEdit

Asian Latin Americans served various roles during their time as low wage workers in Latin America. In the second half of the nineteenth century, nearly a quarter of a million Chinese migrants in Cuba worked primarily on sugar plantations. The Chinese "coolies" who migrated to Peru took up work on the Andean Railroad or the Guano Fields. Over time the Chinese progressed to acquiring work in urban centers as tradesmen, restaurateurs, and in the service industry. By the second decade of the nineteenth century, approximately 25,000 Chinese migrants in Mexico found relative success with small businesses, government bureaucracy, and intellectual circles. In the 1830's the British and Dutch colonial governments also imported South Asians to work as indentured servants to places such as Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Curaçao, and British Guiana (later renamed Guayana). At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Japanese immigrants reached Brazil and Peru. Much like the Chinese, the Japanese often worked as indentured servants and low wage workers for planters. Japanese work contracts were notably more short term than those of the Chinese and the process was closely monitored by the Japanese government to dissuade abuse and foul play. In both cases, the influx of Asian migrant workers was to fill the void left in the Latin American work forces after the abolition of slavery. Employers of all kinds were desperate for a low cost replacement for their slaves so those who did not participate in any illegal slave operations turned to the Asian migrants.[11]

Geographic distributionEdit

Four and a half million Latin Americans (almost 1% of the total population of Latin America) are of Asian descent. The number may be millions higher, even more so if all who have partial ancestry are included. For example, Asian Peruvians are estimated at 5%[6] of the population there, but one source places the number of all Peruvians with at least some Chinese ancestry at 5 million, which equates to 20% of the country's total population.[12]

Most who are of Japanese descent reside in Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, and Paraguay while significant populations of Chinese ancestry are found in Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Costa Rica (where they make up about 1% of the total population). Nicaragua is home to 12,000 ethnic Chinese; the majority reside in Managua and on the Caribbean coast. Smaller communities of Chinese, numbering just in the hundreds or thousands, are also found in Ecuador and various other Latin American countries. Most Korean communities are in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile. There are around 12,918 living in Guatemala. There is also a Hmong community in Argentina. Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela also have Asian Indian communities.

Japanese Peruvians have a considerable economic position in Peru.[13] Many past and present Peruvian Cabinet members are ethnic Asians, but most particularly Japanese Peruvians have made up large portions of Peru's cabinet members and former president Alberto Fujimori is of Japanese ancestry who is currently the only Asian Latin American to have ever served as the head of any Latin American nation. Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan, numbering about 1.7 million with ancestry alone. Brazil is also home to 10,000 Indians, 5,000 Vietnamese, 4,500 Afghans, 2,900 Indonesians and 1,000 Filipinos.

Emigrant communitiesEdit


Canada has been a destination for Asian Latin American emigration. The immigrants usually settle in the largest cities, such as Vancouver and Toronto and integrate into the overall Asian Canadian communities.


Japanese Brazilian immigrants to Japan numbered 250,000 in 2004, constituting Japan's second-largest immigrant population.[14] Their experiences bear similarities to those of Japanese Peruvian immigrants, who are often relegated to low income jobs typically occupied by foreigners.[13]

United StatesEdit

Most Asian Latin Americans who have migrated to the United States live in the largest cities, often in Asian American or Hispanic and Latino communities in the Greater Los Angeles area, New York metropolitan area, Chicago metropolitan area, San Francisco Bay area, Greater Houston, the San Diego area, Imperial Valley, California, Dallas-Fort Worth and South Florida (mainly Chinese Cubans). They and their descendants are sometimes known as Asian Hispanics and Asian Latinos.

In the 2000 US Census, 119,829 Hispanic or Latino Americans identified as being of Asian race alone.[15] In 2006 the Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated them at 154,694,[16] while its Population Estimates, which are official, put them at 277,704.[17] Some notable Americans of Asian Hispanic/Latino heritage include Harry Shum Jr., Franklin Chang-Diaz, Carlos Galvan, Kelis, Kirk Acevedo and Chino Moreno. In the United States, there are Facebook groups that are devoted to Asian Hispanics in New York,[18] California[19] and Bay Area.[20]


Asian Latin American population (incomplete data)
Country Chinese Indian[21] Japanese Korean[22] Filipino Others References
Argentina 120,000[citation needed] 4,000 35,000 22,024 15,000 2,000
Bolivia 14,000 6,040
Brazil 251,649 9,200 1,705,685 49,419 1,000 [6][23]
Chile 1,500 4,000 2,249
Colombia 30,000[citation needed] 5,000 2,980[24] 120,000 17,000 [25][26]
Costa Rica 7,873 16 351 730 [27]
Cuba 112,000[citation needed] 200 84 800
Dominican Republic 50,000[citation needed] 200 847 518
Ecuador 95,000 25,000 434 1,418
El Salvador 2,140 55 176 1,272 103
Guatemala 2,000 288 9,921 [28]
Honduras 123 160 406 1,107
Mexico 70,000[29] 2,258[30] 35,000[31] 30,000[32] 200,000[33] 1,300[34]
Nicaragua 10 145 531
Panama 135,000[citation needed] 2,164 456 306
Paraguay 9,484 5,229
Peru 1,300,000[citation needed] 145 160,000[35][36][37] 812 [6][38]
Puerto Rico >2,200 823 10,486 45 9,832
Uruguay ~100 456 152
Venezuela 60,000[citation needed] 680 2,000 1,000[39] 10,000

Notable personsEdit






Costa Rica


Dominican Republic







Puerto Rico



See alsoEdit