Lima-born Luis Yong is a medical doctor who took over a rundown restaurant, San Joy Lao, in the city’s Chinatown. The charming and outgoing doctor hosts Chinese cooking shows on TV and promotes the marriage of holistic Chinese medicine and health-conscious Chinese cuisine. As Peru celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Chinese coolies, and as subsequent generations of Chinese focus on the importance of education, Yong is becoming a legend in Lima’s rejuvenated Barrio Chino.
I was lying in a hotel bed on my first morning in Lima when I saw Yong cooking on Channel 2’s morning show. Thus, it was a happy coincidence when I found out later in the day that Yong is a family friend of my Chinese Peruvian contact there. Lima’s Chinatown was one of the three largest in the Western hemisphere at the turn of the century—San Francisco and Havana were the other two. And even though rejuvenation in the 1990s has made this barrio chino into a tourist destination, colourful and decaying elements of the Chinese past remain.
The taping of Yong’s cooking show was held at a nondescript, cramped studio of the local Cable Express in the suburbs. Ajay hadn’t seen such a makeshift studio since the 1980s even in his native India. But the show, hosted by amestizo named Chola, is popular daytime TV fodder, and Kwoi and I got our fifteen seconds of Andy Warhol fame on Peruvian TV. Chola invited Alfonso, my interpreter, and I to come up to join Yong as he espoused the ‘united brotherhood’ of Canada-China-Peru while Kwoi was shown filming behind the TV camera for the whole world to see.
Peru Musical Landscape, Lumb & Giancola
Garcias a la Vida, Mercedes Sosa
Gracias a la Vida is the best known composition of Chilean poet, artist and musician Violeta Parra, who helped lay the foundation for neuva canción, South American music with a socio-political message. With her roots in Argentinean folk music, mestizo Mercedes Sosa became one of the great singers and exponents of this genre. Fittingly, Joan Baez also recorded this song as the title track of her 1974 album. “Thanks to life which has given me so much…,” from the first line of the lyrics, perhaps best summarizes the life of Luis Yong, a proud mestizo Chinese Peruvian.