In Peru, Racism Strikes Again

Calles de Lima, Perú

The streets of Lima, Peru. Image from Flickr user Martín García, used under license CC Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0).

All links lead to Spanish-language pages, except where noted.

People say that racism in Peru is subtle, underhanded, and hidden. Despite the fact that Peru is a multiethnic [en] country, with a large indigenous and mixed-race population, racism has persisted from colonial times until today. It appears in various forms: in the tradition of powerful families hiring black people to carry the coffins of their loved ones, in ads with racist or classist overtones, in the discriminatory treatment of household workers, who are usually of Andean origin, and in the discrimination against Quechua-speaking members of Congress for their errors in writing in Spanish.

Until a few years ago, these signs of racism were accepted passively: they remained anonymous and limited to the private sphere, and the media paid little attention to the issue. But with the spread of social networks, these types of practices have become a topic of debate among the general public, fueled by human rights activists and others who refuse to put up with any more discrimination.

However, the very same social networks also serve to spread and normalize the racist and discriminatory practices that others are fighting against. In an article for the newspaper El País, journalist Jacqueline Fowks comments on a recent event online:

La polémica más fuerte se originó el sábado primero de marzo, con las reacciones racistas en las redes sociales tras la muerte de Edita Guerrero, cantante del exitoso grupo de cumbia Corazón Serrano. “Todas las cholas feas y los serranos emergentes ya estarán yendo al velorio de Edita Guerrero de Corazón Serrano. Cuiden sus billeteras”, “Falleció Edita Guerrero de Corazón Serrano. Pucha, ahora mi empleada me va a pedir descanso”, escribieron tuiteros. Emergente es el término para los migrantes o pobres que han mejorado significativamente su condición económica.

The most heated controversy began on Saturday, March 1, with racist reactions appearing on social networks following the death of Edita Guerrero, lead singer of the successful cumbia group Corazón Serrano. Twitter users posted: “All the ugly half-breeds and emerging serranos [derogatory term for people from the highlands region of Peru] must already be on their way to the vigil for Edita Guerrero of Corazón Serrano. Keep an eye on your wallets.” “Edita Guerrero of Corazón Serrano passed away. Great, now my maid is going to ask me for a day off,” Twitter users wrote. “Emerging” is the term for migrants or poor people who have significantly improved their economic situation.

Fowks also cites another case of discrimination, this time rather high-profile, and not based on skin color:

La discriminación en Perú también es socioeconómica. El domingo, un programa de televisión difundió el audio en el que el regidor de Lima Pablo Secada insultaba a una mujer policía que le imponía una sanción por infringir las normas de tránsito. “No sea babosa, ¿ha ido al colegio, la han educado, entiende lo que he dicho? En un Cenecape seguro ha estudiado leyes”. Los Cenecapes eran centros de formación técnica, estatales, que surgieron con la reforma educativa a inicios de los años 70. Secada, un destacado economista y tecnócrata, fue hasta el martes aspirante a la alcaldía de Lima.

Discrimination in Peru is also socioeconomic. On Sunday, a TV program aired an audio recording of Lima city councilor Pablo Secada insulting a female police officer who fined him for breaking traffic rules. “Don't be stupid, you went to college, you got an education, do you understand what I said? You must have studied law in a Cenecape.” The Cenecapes were state institutions for technical training that emerged as part of the education reform at the beginning of the 1970s. Until Tuesday, Secada, a noted economist and technocrat, was a contender for mayor of Lima.

Those weren't the only cases to take place this month. The return of a TV show called “La Paisana Jacinta” [The Peasant Jacinta] also provoked wide-ranging reactions. The show first came out in 1999 and 2002, with a brief return in 2005, and ever since that time has faced criticism for its exaggerated portrayal of the main character, an Andean woman. Continued reruns of the series were met with objections over the years, and the TV station found itself forced to reduce the frequency of reruns.

This new iteration of the show received a high rating. Although the character is essentially the same, some critics claim that the racist humor is now more subdued. But many are opposed to a series like this returning to primetime on free-to-air Peruvian television.

On the blog Trigo Atómico, writer Jaime Bedoya comments on the circumstances surrounding the relaunch of “La Paisana Jacinta,” which had more viewers than a new local reality show:

EN UNA DIALECTICA SINGULAR y propia del estado actual del supuesto bienestar nacional el prejuicio le ganó a la estupidez, abriendo el debate entre si el moco o la baba, la caca o la pila. La Paisana Jacinta se apropió del rating que supuestamente debería tener la madre de todos los realities. Un hombre haciendo humor rastrero disfrazado de una mujer indígena había derrotado el invencible dominio de la imbecilidad sexy.

In a peculiar debate typical of the current state of supposed national well-being, prejudice has triumphed over stupidity, launching the debate between snot and drool, between crap and piss. La Paisana Jacinta took over the rating that supposedly should have been held by the mother of all reality shows. A man disguised as an indigenous woman making sick jokes has beaten the invincible sovereignty of sexy idiocy.

The blog Colectivo Dignidad reposts an article questioning the role and the responsibility of the media:

La pregunta es ¿hasta qué punto deben los medios de comunicación dar a la gente ‘lo que quiere’? ¿Han olvidado quienes manejan los medios que además de entretener, su función también es informar y educar? En una sociedad como la nuestra, con un contexto en el que aún se soporta una pesada carga racista, ¿hasta qué punto es legítimo explotar los estereotipos como recurso humorístico?

The question is, up to what point must the media give the people “what they want”? Have the media moguls forgotten that besides entertaining, their job is also to inform and educate? In the context of a society like ours, which still carries a heavy burden of racism, up to what point is it legitimate to exploit stereotypes as a comic device?

On the blog Feministas, psychology student Gonzalo Meneses recounted what his little brother says takes place in his classroom:

hay una pequeña y tímida niña chaposa de apellido Ñaupari, a la que ya algunos empiezan a llamar “Jacinta” […] Me cuenta que a los profesores parece no importarles. Me cuenta que no pasa nada, porque cada salón tiene su Jacinta o su Jacinto (o su Huasaberto). Cuando le pregunto, “¿qué te parece gracioso de la paisana?”, sus respuestas son directas: es bien cochina; es bien estúpida; es bien fea (y él no deduce que es fea, se lo dicen en el programa, y él aprende que ese cuerpo es un cuerpo feo); por cómo tiene los dientes; por las cosas que le hacen; por cómo habla; cómo camina; por cómo se viste, por cómo se orina en las calles. En resumen, por cómo es. Por lo que es.

There's a shy, ruddy little girl with the last name Ñaupari. Some people are already starting to call her “Jacinta” […] He tells me that the teachers don't seem to care. He tells me that it's no big deal, because every classroom has its Jacinta or Jacinto (or its Huasaberto). When I ask him, “What do you think is funny about the peasant girl?”, his answers are straightforward: she's really ugly, she's really stupid (it's not that he's figured out that she's ugly – they say that on the show, and he learns that that body is an ugly body); the way her teeth are, the things she does, how she talks, how she walks, how she dresses, how she urinates in the street. Essentially, how she is. What she is.

Facebook user Qullana Qhapaq Amaru writes about a girl, imaginary but very real at the same time. Because of these jokes, this little girl will grow up thinking “that she's ignorant, stupid, that she doesn't know how to speak Spanish […] She'll believe that she's dirty, unkempt, that her clothing is a cause for shame.” And when this girl grows up, she will have three options: passively accept the discrimination, isolate herself, or rebel.

Ella no renegará de su identidad, la reafirmará tercamente, estudiará, investigará y descubrirá la verdad, la terrible verdad, de todo un pueblo subyugado política, económica, social, cultural y religiosamente desde hace 500 años. Ella luchará por cambiar el actual estado de cosas, la sociedad colonial la odiará: la llamarán “terrorista, chola rebelde” “el mejor indio es el indio muerto” le dirán que es una radical que busca el caos, el atraso, la llamarán “resentida social” “fronteriza.”

She won't deny her identity. She'll stubbornly reaffirm it. She'll study, investigate, and discover the truth: the terrible truth of an entire people subjugated politically, economically, socially, culturally, and religiously for the past 500 years. She'll fight to change the current state of things. The colonial society will hate her. They'll call her “a terrorist, a rebel half-breed.” “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” They'll say that she's a radical who's looking for chaos and backwardness. They'll call her “a social reject” and “backwards.”

But not everyone is opposed to the show. On the blog Sin Sentido, Arturo, who likes the show, argues that it's a classic of Peruvian television and says that he's hoping for a full season, not just a pilot. Arturo adds:

Como es obvio, este anuncio causará el enojo de aquellos sectores acomplejados que se niegan a reconocerse tal como son, porque la Paisana Jacinta es sin duda alguna, la típica representante de la mujer peruana que vemos en las calles de Lima, Es mas, ese personaje habría sido inspirado en una vendedora de golosinas del cruce de las avenidas Las Palmeras y Javier Prado, tal como confeso su creador en una reciente entrevista.

Obviously, this announcement will anger those complex-ridden people who refuse to face the reality of the way they are, because La Paisana Jacinta is without a doubt the typical example of the Peruvian woman we see in the streets of Lima. Furthermore, this character was inspired by a candy vendor at the intersection of the avenues Las Palmeras and Javier Prado, as its creator confessed in a recent interview.

Racism in Peru was the subject of a recent article in the Spanish version of National Geographic. Although the article mainly dealt with the case of the late singer Edita Guerrero, it also mentioned what took place during the Copa Libertadores club football competition. During a match between the local Real Garcilaso and the Brazilian team Cruzeiro, fans began to make monkey sounds every time the black Brazilian player Tinga touched the ball.

El racismo está lleno de paradojas. Ese partido se jugó en la ciudad andina de Huancayo y la mayoría de asistentes eran mestizos con marcada esencia indígena, es decir, esos mismos que sufren la discriminación y los insultos de los “blancos”. Siempre aparecerá uno más oscuro para burlarse y tomarse revancha, explican expertos. Sociólogos, antropólogos y demás estudiosos coinciden en que el racismo está fuertemente instalado en Perú, quizás con pocos similares en América Latina.

Racism is full of paradoxes. That game took place in the Andean city Huancayo and the majority of attendees were mixed-race, with significant indigenous blood. That is to say, the very same people who suffer the discrimination and insults of the “whites.” There will always be someone darker to make fun of and take revenge on, experts explain. Sociologists, anthropologists, and other academics agree that racism is firmly embedded in Peru, perhaps with few similar cases in Latin America.

National Geographic recently published a global DNA study [en] showing that the inhabitants of Lima have 68% indigenous blood.

The quest to improve the current situation has yielded some interesting but unrealistic suggestions, like an anti-racism attorney general. Some actions are being taken, including a petition in protest of the show La Paisana Jacinta, though this may seem like armchair activism. Nothing will change overnight.


Post originally published on the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano.


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