Beyond Informality: How Chinese Migrants Transformed a Border Economy


ACLS Fellowship Program


International Affairs


This project is an ethnography of the struggles of Chinese migrants in the informal economy in Paraguay and Brazil. Migrants revolutionized the distribution of Chinese imports in the transnational commodity circuit from Ciudad del Este to São Paulo. However, different Chinese groups played distinct roles in this transformation. This research shows that Chinese importers used loopholes in the law and changes in economic regulation to expand South America’s largest informal economy and accumulate the wealth that Chinese vendors generate in illegal markets. Yet, it is also from the liminal space of dispossession that Chinese vendors resist the criminalization of economic activities and illegalization of immigration status, claiming autonomy of mobility and challenging stigmatizing narratives.