How many Chinese people are there in Argentina? No one really knows.

“Can you send money to her from 20,000 km away? Of course!”

One frustrating thing about doing research on the Chinese in Argentina is that no one really knows how many people of Chinese descent live in the country. We could start with the national census, which, as in many Latin American countries, is rife with methodological issues. (Then again, I live in a country that refuses to give Latinos a proper census category!)

The recently-released 2010 census results indicate that there are 8,929 persons born in China living in Argentina, and 2,875 persons born in Taiwan. The 2001 census found 4,184 persons born in China (a 2-fold increase in 9 years!) and 3,511 persons born in Taiwan. According to one of my respondents, after the Argentine economic crisis of 2001, many Taiwanese left the country, either returning to Taiwan or moving on to third countries such as the United States. Mainland Chinese, on the other hand, still see Argentina as an economic opportunity. The data reflect the growing numbers who are moving to Argentina to open supermarkets and other businesses. Some intend to stay permanently, while others are looking to get Argentine passports for easier entry to “more desirable” countries of settlement.

There may be many more Chinese immigrants in the country than the census indicates. According to an article that appeared in Clarín (the most widely read national newspaper) in 2009, there were around 70,000 immigrants of Chinese origin in Argentina that year; however, this article neither cites the source of the numbers nor indicates whether this figure includes both immigrants from both Mainland China and Taiwan.

Sassone and Mera (2006) speculate that new restrictions on immigration and the presence of undocumented immigrants may be the reason why there is no exact count of Chinese in the country. According to Argentine immigration authorities, in 2004 there were over 13,000 Chinese nationals illegally resident in the country, compared to fewer than 3,000 legal residents. A representative of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China has said that many Mainlanders enter Bolivia with valid visas and illegally cross into Argentina from there.

At least from the point of view of a researcher working on non-white immigrants to the country, another methodological issue with the Argentine census is that there is no way of tracking people of Chinese descent who were born in Argentina or other countries other than China or Taiwan. The lack of a race or ethnicity variable (which makes sense considering Argentina’s history of genocide and settlement) means that the second and subsequent generations of Chinese, Koreans, Bolivians, and other non-“white” group become indistinguishable from the rest of the native-born Argentine population.

Side note: In case you had no idea what the Argentine government’s stance on the Falklands/Malvinas conflict with the United Kingdom was, the bottom of the spreadsheet where I got the 2010 data states:

“Las Islas Malvinas, Georgias del Sur, Sandwich del Sur y los espacios marítimos circundantes forman parte integrante del territorio nacional argentino. Debido a que dichos territorios se encuentran sometidos a la ocupación ilegal del REINO UNIDO DE GRAN BRETAÑA e IRLANDA DEL NORTE, la REPÚBLICA ARGENTINA se vio impedida de llevar a cabo el Censo 2010 en esa área.”

“The Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the Sandwich Islands, and the surrounding maritime spaces are an integral part of the Argentine national territory. Since those territories are subject to the illegal occupation of THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND, the ARGENTINE REPUBLIC was unable to carry out the 2010 Census in that area.”

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