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Asian-Latino Intermarriage in the Americas

Various groups of Asians, such as the Filipinos, Chinese and the Syrians, were said to have visited the Americas during the Pre-Columbian era. But there were no conclusive records of significant settlement and intermarriage before the 16th century, when the Spanish colonialists pressed Filipino sailors into the service of the Manila galleon trade between the Philippines and the Americas. The following sections present a brief overview of the diversity of Asian/Latino intermarriages in Latin America and the U.S.

Filipinos in Latin America

Between 1565 and 1815, when Mexico revolted against Spain, hundreds of Filipino mariners jumped ship in Mexico to escape the brutality of Spanish masters.1 Some Filipinos settled in Acapulco, married Mexican women, and introduced Filipino practices such as the coconut wine-making process of "tuba", which became a native drink whose popularity challenged the profits of Spanish imported wines.2 During the independence war, the lieutenant of Guerrero, the Afro-Mexicano leader of the revolution, was General Isidoro Montesdeoca, a Filipino.

Japanese migration to Latin America

In the late 19th century, Japanese began migrating to Latin American in significant numbers. Brazil has the highest number of ethnic Japanese outside of Japan and Hawaii. Today, there are more than a million ethnic Japanese living in Brazil. Japanese communities can be found in Columbia, Argentina, Peru, and other parts of Latin America. Contrary to the common stereotype that outmarriage is limited to Japanese women, immigrant Japanese men also married Latin America women. Some of their descendants have journeyed back to Japan in search of their Japanese roots. The Yamasa Institute in Japan features the bios of two foreign students who are the descendants of Japanese men and non-Japanese Latin American women:

A Columbian student whose grandfather is Japanese
A Peruvian student whose father is Japanese and whose mother is Peruvian

Chinese descendants in Latin America

Beginning with the coolie trade of the late 19th century, large numbers of young, male Chinese came to Latin America. The mixed offspring of Chinese men and local women call themselves the 'tusan' (derived from the Chinese term tusheng, meaning 'local-born'), and most retain their Chinese surnames even though they do not speak the Chinese language.3 In Mexico, Mexican women who married Chinese men were often counted in the census as Chinese.4 Famous mixed Chinese-Mexicans include Mexican pop star Ana Gabriel who discussed her Chinese ancestry in an interview with Asian New Yorker.5

It has been estimated that 15% of Peruvians have Chinese ancestry.6 Pedro Zulen, a key Peruvian intellectual noted for his poetry and his social critique, was of mixed Chinese/Peruvian descent. The late Zulen is honored in both Peruvian and Chinese circles. A library on the campus of Peru's Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos is named after him. His works were studied at the International Conference on the Literatures of the Chinese Diaspora.7

Another notable individual of Chinese/Latin American heritage is NASA astronaut Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, who was born in Costa Rica to a Chinese father and Costa Rican mother.

West Asian immigrants in Latin America

Jews and Arabs from from Asian countries such as Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Lebanon came to Latin America during the earlier half of the 20th century. Some intermarried with local women. A celebrity who hails from this mingled heritage is successful Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, who was born to a Lebanese father and a Mexican mother in Mexico.

Sephardic Jews from Palestine and Turkey migrated to Paraguay on the eve of WWI. Intermarriage is significant among Paraguay's Jews but most intermarried couples give their children a Jewish eduation. Argentina and Uruguay also became home to Jews from Syria, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East. The Jewish population in these countries is well-integrated and assimilation has increased. Brazil also experienced a surge in Jewish immigration after WWII - Jews from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey came to Brazil. Due to the low incidence of anti-Semitism in Brazil, assimilation is on the rise.8 In Mexico, despite the matrilineal custom of Jewish heritage, some children born to Jewish men from Asia and local Mexican women were raised as Jewish and often married back into the Jewish community.

The Coreanos of Yucatan, Mexico

In 1905, 1030 Korean Christians came to Yucatan to work as coolies. They intermarried with the Mayan natives and gave birth to the Coreano community of Yucatan.9

Mexican and Asian intermarriage in the Late 19th/Early 20th Century United States

Starting in the late 19th century, people of Chinese/Mexican descent were very common in Texas, especially in El Paso and San Antonio. Chinese men from Mexico commonly immigrated to the United States through El Paso prior to 1965. A librarian in the El Paso Community College system has said she knows of probably one hundred Chinese Mexican descendants.10

During the early part of the 20th century, marriages between Asian immigrants who came to California from the Punjab region in India and local Mexican women were a regular occurence.11 Although the Mexican women who married Indians faced discrimination, the Punjabi/Mexican community built on the commonalities between the two cultures and created their own unique cuisine and culture.12 Their Mexican-Punjabi offspring share their family history in the PBS documentary "Roots in the Sand", a multi-generational portrait of pioneering Punjabi-Mexican families who settled, a century ago, in Southern California's Imperial Valley.13

Filipino men intermarried with Mexican and Mexican American women in San Diego and Imperial counties of California.14 Since both Filipinos and Mexicans have absorbed Hispanic culture, Filipinos and Mexicans were culturally quite compatible. However, white men felt threatened by the ability of Filipino men to attract Mexican women. In Watsonville, CA, the Watsonville Evening Pajaronian published an interview in which J.D. D.W. Rohrback of Pajaro was quoted as saying that Filipinos were "little brown men attired like 'Solomon in all his glory,' strutting like peacocks and endeavoring to attract the eyes of young American and Mexican girls." The general anti-Filipino mood was pushed over the edge by white men's fear concerning 'their' women. 4 days of anti-Filipino events in Watsonville culminated in the murder of a 22-year old Filipino on January 22, 1930.15

20th century and early 21st century Asian/Latino contact in the US

Filipino and Mexican farmworkers in California had a history of organizing together for better work conditions. In 1938, the Filipino Agricultural Laborers Association was formed. However, Filipino organizers believed the inclusion of all farmworkers was critical, and invited Mexican workers and other ethnic groups into their ranks. They later changed the union's name to the Federated Agricultural Laborers Association (FALA). There was a strong need for people of color to band together because non-whites were not welcome in white unions, and white vigilante mobs persecuted Filipino labor organizers. An overview of the history of Filipino cross-community organizing can be found in Filipinos Build a Movement for Justice in the Asparagus Fields. In 1965, Cesar Chavez led NFWA in joining an AWOC strike organized by Larry Itliong, a Filipino farm worker. See an excerpt from Cesar Chavez and the Unionization of California Farm Workers.

Asian-Latino unions are not uncommon in California. In fact, the Ties that Bind project, supported in part by the Animating Democracy Initiative, collected stories of Asian-Latino marriages in California.

More notable individuals of Asian-Latino heritage

David Tseng, an Asian Latino from California, served at the White House as Staff Director and Senior Policy Advisor for the National Economic Council. In 2002, Tseng was appointed as the Executive Director of PFLAG. Tseng was featured in a May 24th Washington Blade article, being the first person of color to serve as PFLAG director.

Camillo Wong Moreno, aka Chino Moreno of the hard rock band Deftones, is of Mexican and Chinese descent.

Carlos Galvan of the Korean hip-hop group Uptown is Mexican and Korean.

Further Reading


  1. Marina E. Espina, Filipinos in Louisiana, 39
  2. Fred Cordova, Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans, 1
  3. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan, p258
  4. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan, p256
  6. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, p260
  8. Jewish Communities of the World (1998-1999 edition), ed. Avi Beker
  9. "Multiracial Communities Around the World", MAVIN, Issue 8
  10. Irwin Tang, director of Asian Texans History Project
  11. Mexican Hindus (
  12. Leonard, "Making Ethnic Choices: California's Punjabi Mexican Americans" (
  13. PBS - Roots in the Sand
  14. Maria P.P. Root, "Contemporary Mixed Heritage Filipino Americans: Fighting Colonized Identities", Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity, ed. Maria P.P. Root, 84
  15. Espina, 2