Barrio Chino

The above photo was taken by Joan Colom, an accountant born in Barcelona in 1921.  At age 36 he developed an interest in photography. (Yes, 'he'; "Joan" is Catalan for Juan.) This photo, "Barrio Chino" is from 1960. I saw it at an exhibition at the Picasso Museum here in Malaga. I was intrigued by the image. The little boy stands with a posture and an expression that seems well beyond his years. His ragged clothes contrast sharply with his dignified pose. He seems to be looking off into the distance, perhaps trying to spy a better future. A long-standing mystery for me is the term "Barrio chino" (literally, "Chinese neighborhood"), which in Spain and some other Spanish-speaking countries is used to designate a 'red light district'. Spain has never had very significant immigration from China, so the term clearly never referred to areas inhabited largely by Chinese.  Maybe 'chino' was understood to be synonymous with 'strange', 'marginal'.  

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