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Peru: Racism Debated on Social Networks

A recent incident at a Lima shopping mall has turned a spotlight on the issue of racism in Peru: Ricardo Apaza, an indigenous man from Cusco, was treated with disrespect [es] by the entrance guards of a movie theater, and was not allowed to re-enter after going to the restroom.

This was reported by some Twitter users [es] and quickly made the local news, generating different reactions from public officials, [es] social media users [es], and local and international press [es]. The movie theater was temporarily shut down by local authorities after the incident.

Twitter user Israel Astete (@Isasbo) [es] writes:

Por que tanta gente se sorprende con racismo en #Larcomar , cuando lo encuentras en todos lados? basta de mucho chamullo y más acción.

Why are so many people surprised with the racism shown in #Larcomar if you find it everywhere? Enough talking, we need to act.

Martha Elena Risco Reyes [es] writes in Facebook:

Realmente aún me sorprende que seamos capaces de discriminar, de creer que la diferencia hace que unos sean mejores que otros. Es una lástima lo sucedido en las salas de cine de Larcomar. Es alucinante cuando auténtico poblador usa su propio traje típico lo miramos raro y hasta lo discriminados, pero cuando un extranjero o algun personaje público se pone ese mismo traje “nos sentimos orgullosos”. Y eso que estamos en el boom del Perú y su diversidad. Por eso creo es importante recuperar el verdadero valor de nuestros saberes y sus verdaderos protagonistas.

I'm really surprised to see that we still discriminate, that we still believe that differences make some people better that others. It's a shame what happened in the Larcomar movie theaters. It's appalling to see that when a native Peruvian wears his outfit we sneer at him and may even discriminate against him, but when a foreigner or a public figure wears the same typical outfit “we feel proud”. And all this occurs despite the fact that we are currently experiencing a boom of Peru and its diversity. That's why I think it is important to recover the real value of our [history] and its real protagonists.

"All are welcome?" Drawing by Nestor Olivera (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Nao Flores (@nao_flores) [es] comments:

En fin !! Aqui en peru el racismo es muy fuerte ! Ojalaaaaaa algun diaaa se acabe #yodudo! Ojala soÑar no cuesta naaaa

Oh well!! Here in Peru racism is very strong! Hoooopefully someday it will end, #yodudo! [I doubt it]. Hopefully, well, dreaming is free.

However, a few bloggers, like Carlos Quiroz of Peruanista [es], wondered if this was a real case or some kind of “smoke curtain” to distract Peruvians; but he did not question the fact that the issue of racism in Peru is still very much alive:

La verdadera discriminación ocurre en los Andes con las mineras asesinando nuestra gente y destruyendo el planeta, ocurre en las calles de Lima con tanta publicidad racista.

Real discrimination takes place in the Andes, with mining companies killing our people and destroying the planet, and it also takes place in the streets of Lima with so much racist advertising.

The issue of racism became very visible during the last presidential campaign, especially after the first electoral round, when it became clear that Pedro Pablo Kuczinsky, the “white” candidate, had not made it to the run-off, losing to the “Indian” [es] Ollanta Humala and the “Jap”, Keiko Fujimori. The polarization was strikingly visible in tweets like this one by MiguelÁngel Cárdenas (@Dragonrampante) [es]:

“Voy a pagarle la multa a mi empleada para que no vote por Ollanta”, le escucho a una ppkausa. Se merecen un Humala! pero nos friegan a todos.

“I'm going to pay my domestic worker's fine so that she doesn't vote for Ollanta,” I heard a PPK-er [supporter of Kuczynski] say. They deserve Humala! but they screw us all over.

Some of the most offensive posts, like this one [es], were quickly denounced by pages like Vergüenza Democrática [es], which is also currently covering this recent case of alleged racial discrimination.

Peru is certainly a multicultural country with a very complex racial background (Spanish, Indian, African), and immigration (Asians, Europeans) has added to this diversity. Centuries ago, during the Spanish Vice Royalty, the dominant, Spanish/Creole elites needed to clearly state their position of privilege [es], so they established a sort of caste system, where everyone knew “their proper place”. Reviewing some of Peruvian history, it is clear that political power in Peru has been mostly in “white” hands, excluding natives and other non-white people.

In Peru, “white” basically means non-indian, non-native, non-African, non-colored. However, the real meaning of “white” (or “pituco” in slang) in Peru is much more related to economic power and to social status than to DNA, as BBC correspondent in Lima Dan Collyns explains.

As Kelly explains in the blog My Life in Peru:

“…it's not the kind of racism I’ve seen in the US, where you see an actual hatred for those of another race. Here [in Peru], it’s more of a caste type system where it’s typically assumed by people in Peru that you have – or are deserving of – a higher status in society if you have paler skin. In general, lighter skinned people (whether actual gringos or light-skinned Peruvians) are treated with more respect. And in the end, what’s the difference between that and any other type of racism?”

Despite the existence of anti-discrimination laws, including one specifically addressed to fight racial discrimination in the media, racial discrimination in Peru is evident in many places, even in public spaces, such as beaches. To mention just one example, a non-white person may be not admitted into a discotheque in a fashionable neighborhood, unless he or she is accompanied by a wealthy white person, or by a foreign tourist. The excuses will most likely be: “we are already packed”, “we're hosting a private event” or “admission is only for members”.

The blog Estamos Jodidos (“We're Screwed”) [es] asks:

En pleno siglo XXI ¿cómo es posible que sigamos siendo tan trogloditas e ignorantes para discriminar a las personas por su aspecto, origen,  vestimenta o el motivo que sea?

We live in the 21th century; how can we be so primitive and ignorant to discriminate against people based on their looks, origins, outfits or any other reason?

The situation has also drawn the attention of the Peruvian Ombudsman [es], Eduardo Vega, whose office is currently working on a strategy to fight racial discrimination. And things are slowly changing. Many still remember that in 2007 an upmarket restaurant, Cafe Del Mar [es], was shut down for two months [es] and fined US $70,000 after denying admission to a mestizo couple.

However, more initiatives and policies (laws, educational campaigns, etc.) are necessary to fight racism in Peru. The current government has to face many unfinished tasks and challenges to make Peruvian society truly inclusive.

Adapted from “Peru: Racism, still a pending issue“, originally published by Latina Lista.
  • http://www.peruvianorphanchildrensfund.org.uk Elena Day

    Unfortunately, racism is deeply rooted in most Peruvians, it happens all over Peru, not just in Lima. It’s like a war of “cholo against cholo”. Specific examples are numerous, but there are two that made my stomach churned for ages. The first conerns a senior Peruvian diplomat in London; all newly-appointed foreign ambassadors present their Letters of Credence to the Queen in a very formal ceremony at Buckingham Palace. One of the Ambassador’s most important members of his party at this ceremony is the General Consul. Well, the Peruvian ambassador in question decided not to take Luis Chuquihuara, then, the Peruvian general Consul in London, because the ambassador was too ashamed of the Andean indigenous Consul’s surname. The ambassador decided instead to take a “blanquito” diplomat, who couldn’t even speak good English!! The second example concerns our children in Puno. The headmaster at their school abused them physically and verbally, he openly removed the children from class to go and work on his farmhouse. When confronted, he alleged that it was a waste of time trying to educate campesinos cholos huanacos. Complaints to the education authorities landed in deaf ears. I had no choice but to go to the press in order to expose (and thus attempt to get rid of by public pressure) the headmaster. Racism between Peruvians, is like an incurable disease. Awfully sad.

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  • http://latindispatch.com Roque Planas

    Thanks for a great post and interesting comment from Elena. Elena, I understand your reasons for taking a pessimistic view, but wouldn’t you say that the Larcomar incident has a positive side? After all, thought the act of discrimination may be disgusting, it could the country’s attention and led people to denounce racism. This seems like a step in the right direction.

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