From Factory Workers to Owners: Informality, Recurseo, and Entrepreneurship in the Formation of the Peruvian Community of Paterson, New Jersey 1960-2001



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Latino immigrants have been largely overgeneralized as low-income, subservient laborers. However, entrepreneurship and informality have been used by Peruvians as vehicles to forge economic independence in the United States. This dissertation demonstrates how Peruvians in Paterson, New Jersey have utilized entrepreneurship to establish the first and most visible enclave of Peruvians in the United States since the 1960s. Central to the story of entrepreneurship and community development is the concept of recurseo, a slang word used to describe the informal and creative means in which working class Peruvians utilize their labor experiences and kinship ties to acquire better economic opportunities. By using informal mechanisms and strategies of recurseo, Peruvian migrants in Paterson were able to leave their blue-collar jobs and establish their own businesses. These entrepreneurs opened restaurants, insurance offices, travel agencies, and small corporations that created an emergent ethic market for products and services that would permanently alter the social and economic landscape of Paterson. This investigation reveals that Peruvians relied principally on informal and resourceful mechanisms to become businessmen, organize themselves as entrepreneurs, and contribute to the development of a thriving ethnic enclave. Through fifty oral history interviews and the use of archival material from consulates and county tax offices, this project challenges the oversimplified portrayal of Peruvian immigrants, demonstrating their use of alternative economic strategies to achieve wealth, stability, and cultural continuity. Bourdieusian perspectives on immigration, particularly the concepts of habitus and capital, are utilized to frame Peruvian migrants’ experiences with informality and ethnic entrepreneurship in the process of community building.



Peruvian Immigration History, Immigrants, Entrepreneurship, Immigration, Peru, Informality, Latin America, Labor History, Paterson, New Jersey, Peruvians in Paterson, Latin American studies, Latina/o Communities, Latin American Immigration, Latino migrants, Peruvian Food, Food Studies, Resourcefulness, Alternative Immigrant Economies, Latino studies