Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru

Yo Soy Negro
is the first book in English—in fact, the first book in any language in more than two decades—to address what it means to be black in Peru. Based on extensive ethnographic work in the country and informed by more than eighty interviews with Peruvians of African descent, this groundbreaking study explains how ideas of race, color, and mestizaje in Peru differ greatly from those held in other Latin American nations.

The conclusion that Tanya Maria Golash-Boza draws from her rigorous inquiry is that Peruvians of African descent give meaning to blackness without always referencing Africa, slavery, or black cultural forms. This represents a significant counterpoint to diaspora scholarship that points to the importance of slavery in defining blackness in Latin America as well as studies that place cultural and class differences at the center of racial discourses in the region.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gendered Racism in Peru - Explained by Monica Carrillo Zegarra

I recently read an essay by Monica Carrillo Zegarra that I'd like to share with you because it exemplifies the constant racial micro-agressions that Afro-Peruvians experience. As I read this, it hit home how destructive racial bigotry can be and how pervasive it is in Peru.

Monica Carrillo Zegarra is an Afro-Peruvian artist, scholar, and activist. She finished university in Peru, and then went on to Oxford to complete a degree in human rights. In Peru, she founded an organization – LUNDU - that organizes and empowers Afro-Peruvian youth.

Dirigente Afroperuano en Comisión de Pueblos Andinos
Monica Carrillo Zegarra

In a recent essay, Monica described what happened to her on one, not untypical, evening in Lima, Peru. On New Year’s Eve of 2006, Monica left her home in a middle-class neighborhood in Lima to go shopping, and had the following interactions:

  • 5pm: A man walking down the street holding his five-year-old son’s hand points at Monica, and says “Monster, monster. Do you see the monster?” The boy laughs and responds “Daddy, she is burned.”
  • 6:05pm: Monica walks towards an outdoor market where women are selling earrings. The women begin to laugh. One of them says: “There goes your sister.” The other responds: “Are you crazy; she’s your sister.” And, they all laugh.
  • 6:10pm: Monica is walking down the street and a taxi driver begins to follow her. He opens the door and says “Negra: get in.” When she responds defensively, he says: “You should be happy I am looking at a woman like you.”

In her essay, Monica continues to describe the microagressions she consistently experiences. Men and women, girls and boys, shout “Negra” at her when she leaves the house. Men presume she is sexually open and offer unsolicited invitations for sexual intimacy. On one occasion, within just 30 minutes, Monica counts 11 people who verbally assault her as she walks down the street. Monica explains that, in Peru, racial aggressions are commonplace because Peruvians feel as if they can hurl insults at Afro-Peruvians with impunity. As an artist and activist, she struggles with the best ways to confront this reality and to maintain a sense of humanity in the face of constant dehumanization.

Source: Carrillo Zegarra, Monica. 2010. “Una Cronica Real de Arte, Resistencia, Feminismo y Poder” Pp. 117-124 in Insumisas: Racismo, Sexismo, Organizacion, Politica, y Desarrollo de la Mujer Afrodescendiente. CEDET: Lima, Peru.