Peru’s complex social system and its hierarchical values were inherited from colonial times and continue as guidelines and principles that regulate social and interpersonal behavior that have become part of the culture of Peru.
Peruvian society is divided into three social classes. The upper class consists of approximately 3% of the population and is mostly found in urban centers. The middle class is formed by 60% of the population and includes salaried working class families, small business owners and commercial occupations, bureaucrats, teachers and professionals on a salary job. The lower class are those with low incomes usually farmers and immigrant workers who live in shanty towns around Lima and other urban areas.
Before the arrival of Europeans the territory was populated by Peru’s ethnic population known as Amerindians. Colonization brought slavery and the decline of the local population due to foreign diseases. Today Peru’s ethnic composition is mixed, the major ethnic groups are: whites of European ancestry, mestizos, Indians, Afro-Peruvians and Asian Peruvians, they all form part of the unique culture of Peru.
The Indian population also known as Amerindian is the native people of Peru and is the largest ethnic group representing 45% of the overall population. Most people of Indian descend live in the Andes and speak Quechua which was the Inca’s language. Pockets of Indian population also speak Aymara in the highlands near Lake Titicaca. Because of migration many people of Indian descend can be found in major urban centers.
Second, is the mestizo population with around 37% of the population, mestizos are a mix of white European and Amerindian. The earliest mestizos were the offspring of Spanish conquistadors and Amerindian women.
Whites represent 15% of the population and are concentrated in large cities along the coast such as Lima and Trujillo. They immigrated during the colonization and during the First and Second World Wars.
Afro-Peruvians were brought to Peru by the colonizers as slave workers. They settled in the central coast valleys, especially in Lima; Lima’s colonial population was 50% African. New ethnic terms were born as the population mixed. A Mulatto is a person of African and Peruvian descent, whereas a “criollo” originally represented Peruvian native born blacks. African Peruvians remained slaves until 1854 when Ramon Castilla abolished slavery in Peru.
Asian-Peruvians represent 3% of the total population comprised mostly of Chinese and Japanese settlers. Chinese Peruvians, also known as Tusan, are people of Chinese ancestry who live in Peru. Japanese Peruvians, known as Nisei, are Japanese born Peruvians who have settled in the country. Chinese and Japanese immigrants first arrived as indentured workers or “coolies” to work in plantations, railroad and mines. Other Chinese immigration waves followed during the Chinese Revolution in 1912, World War II and the establishment of communist rule in 1949. Japanese population slowly increased its presence in the 1970s.
Source: Discover Peru