Dorcas Tang

Los Paisanos del puerto: POrtraits of the Chinese diaspora community in puntarenas, Costa Rica

Paisano means “countryman”, a term of endearment used between the Chinese community to refer to one another, while El Puerto refers to the port town of puntarenas. Los paisanos presents narratives of the descendants of Chinese immigrants (1855-1955) in Puntarenas, Costa Rica using oral interviews and photographs. Through my lens and in their own words, they assert their stories - largely forgotten and erased from national and global history despite their 160-year presence.

12.A shelf in the Sánchez-Li house..JPG
1 - 1922 Chinese registry (1).JPG
1._Retired educator Flora Ángela Li Cheng dances a baile típico with her senior dance group at a celebration for the Virgen del Mar. She is an avid dancer who enjoyed dancing paso dobles and boleros with her husband before he passed away..JPG
16. Onlookers watch the boat procession of the Virgen del Mar from the beach. The annual celebration is essential to the port town of Puntarenas as it is believed that she will bring protection and good luck to the fishermen.JPG

As diasporic citizens, the paisanos are simultaneously other-ed by anti-Chinese legislation in Costa Rica while seen as inauthentically Chinese. Normalized discrimination and harassment is a common theme that interweaves these stories.

13. The Sánchez-Li house during mass.JPG
3. Hernán (Pipe) Chan rests at his farm after hosting a procession for his Virgen de los Ángeles, which was established to bring more religious awareness. Community members gathered at his house to enjoy Chinese food provided by the Chan .JPG
8.Sonia (Muty) Hernández Lo works at her clothing store by day, but pursues her passion of coaching ping pong by night. Ping pong has a long history associated with the Chinese community.JPG
7.Marcela Hío Soto with the photo of her great-great-grandfather, José Hío. She became interested in her family’s history recently and has since amassed a collection of her family’s documents and photos and helped others with their g.JPG
4 - Asocación Chung Wah_The Chinese Association of Puntarenas.JPG
2. The Sánchez-Li family (L-R, Jose Manuel, Floriana, Mario González, Flora Ángela, Mario José, Róger) say grace before eating Chinese take out .JPG
14. La bomba Acón the oldest Chinese business in Puntarenas, founded in 1948. It is a gas station owned by the Acón family, who like many other Chinese business owners, live above their business.JPG
9.Jose Manuel (Chinito) González Sánchez plays basketball with his high school team. He dreams of playing basketball professionally in the United States.JPG
15. Iris Lam Chen, cultural and arts manager at work at the Casa de la Cultura de España in San José, Costa Rica. While she works in the capital, Puntarenas is where she feels most at home.JPG

This project highlights the intersections of Chinese and Latinx identity while seeking to question and redefine our definitions of both. While it is by no means comprehensive, it offers a glimpse what it means to navigate this complex identity.