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Frequently Asked Questions about Peru I: How does a Peruvian look like?

You should know by now that the Alternative Peru team is always happy to help anyone with questions about Peru. Because of this health crisis that you might have heard about, we’re not receiving many questions by email.

Answering questions about Peru is like an addiction to us, so we went actively looking for FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Some of the questions we found on Google are … interesting, to say the least. We’ll try our best to answer all questions about Peru in a serious way (no guarantees, though, there won’t be any sarcasm once in a while).

Apparently, many people are curious about the physical appearance of Peruvians. Let’s start by quenching their thirst in Part I.

Are Peruvians tall?

First, let’s start by stressing that Peru is a very diverse country and so is its people. You have shorter and taller people, just like anywhere else. However, it is a fact that Peruvian people are among the shortest in the world. Men average 165.3 centimeters (about 5 feet, 4 inches) tall and women 152.9 cm (about 5 feet) tall (according to 2020 research). Results of genetic research by the Harvard Medical School (among others) published in the renowned scientific journal Nature, a gene variant found in almost 5% of Peruvians reduces height by 2.2 centimeters. People who carry two copies of the gene variant — one inherited from each parent — are, on average, about 4.4 centimeters shorter than the average.

Why does this gene variant appear in so many Peruvians, you ask? This happened as a result of natural selection. It was actually better for Indigenous people in the Andes to be short in order to increase their chances to survive and thrive. Therefore, it’s also mainly people of Andean indigenous descent that are shorter on average. Peru must be one of the only places where evolution was making people shorter (in the past at least) instead of taller.

Frequently Asked Questions about Peru Part I: How do Peruvians look like?
© Alfredo Bendezú

Are Peruvians Chinese?

For this question, let’s assume the writer refers to ethnicity/race and not nationality. Because no, Peruvians are not part of the people of China. But yes, Peruvians can be of Chinese descent. Peruvians are ethnically very diverse and have been for centuries.

The first Chinese laborers arrived in the mid 1800s to Peru. Nowadays, about one million Peruvians have Chinese descent, mostly mixed with other ethnicities. This is about 5% of the population.

Are Peruvians Chinese? How do Peruvians look like?

Are Peruvians white?

Very difficult question to answer because what does ‘being white’ mean? Does it refer to one’s (European) descent or only the color of one’s skin? The best option for ethnicity or race questions is to look at self-identification. In the most recent census (2017), 5.9% of Peruvians identified as white or of European descent (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German and English among others). In reality, many of these are very likely of mixed descent and might not be considered ‘white’ in other parts of the world.

Are Peruvians Latino or Hispanic?

This question definitely came from a North-American person, because the term ‘Hispanic’ is only used there. Hispanic means Spanish-speaking, and therefore includes Peruvians. In practice, it’s mainly used in the US for immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and their descendants, including residents and citizens of Peruvian descent. Even if they don’t speak Spanish anymore. Therefore, in the US, it’s often used to indicate someone’s ethnicity.

‘Hispanic’ is often confused and interchanged with ‘Latino’, which officially means (descendants of people) from Latin America, including from Portuguese-speaking Brazil and excluding people from Spain. But in practice, it’s mainly used to indicate someone’s cultural background. Therefore including US citizens who have been living in the USA for generations but who have maintained some aspects of the culture of their ancestors.

We want to add here that we don’t really like the terms ‘Hispanic or ‘Latino’. Central- and South-Americans and their cultures are very diverse. Therefore, it’s not fair to use these generalising terms to indicate someone’s cultural background. Their diverse cultures deserve recognition just as we talk about Spanish, Polish, Finnish or German people and culture.

Questions about Peru. How do Peruvians look like?

In Part II, we’ll tackle your food-related questions about Peru. There are some good ones!