The Restitution Seeker

By Carrillo, Mónica | Americas Quarterly, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Restitution Seeker


Carrillo, Mónica, Americas Quarterly


MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME to recite poetry at the age of three to help me deal with the racism she knew I would face in school. She migrated to Lima at the age of 15 from Puquiosanto, a town located on a delta where the Matagente River meets the ocean and forms an unruly lagoon. In Lima, she worked as a domestic employee. Until I turned 15, I spent four months out of the year in Puquiosanto and frequently visited El Carmen, a tourist community rich in Afro-Peruvian poetry and dance, where my father lived.

This rural experience, combined with life in a Lima neighborhood called San Martín de Porres-infamous as a center of drug trafficking-shaped my history and inspired me to find the common thread among these different geographies, people and experiences.

My mother's lessons had taught me that education was the tool necessary for advancement and poetry a defense mechanism. Through his writings, my father taught me that my African descent could be a source of power.

In 2001, together with a group of Afro-Peruvians, I formed the Centro de Estudios y Promoción Afroperuano (LUNDU) as a platform to express and react to the racism we faced every day. Our members represent many different professions: journalists, domestic employees, accountants, and doormen, to name a few. All of us share a determination to end the stereotypical image of Afro-Peruvians as entertainers.

Nevertheless, art, poetry and music are the means through which we have expressed our resilience and recovery. In 2004 we created "Aesthetic in Black," a project that seeks to create an appreciation of African aesthetics among Afro- Peruvian children and adolescents in rural and urban zones.

Education is a key to the process of reconstruction of identity and improvement. Only 28 percent of Afro-Peruvians finish middle school, and only 2 percent go on to higher education. To address this we set up a scholarship fund for higher education along with scholarships that will help younger children continue their primary and secondary studies.

Health is another major issue for Afro-Peruvians. Sickle-cell anemia, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cervical cancer strike those of African descent at higher rates than other populations. Many other Latin American countries have established programs to treat these afflictions; that's not the case in Peru. In one example, a 28-year-old Afro-Peruvian friend lost two of his brothers to unknown causes; only later were his parents diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia. Thanks to this late discovery-which could have saved my friend's brothers and is standard procedure in other countries- four more of his brothers have been diagnosed and are being treated.

LUNDU also monitors the media for examples of bias or racism. Over one three-month period, we identified 70 commercials that depict Afro- Peruvians in a demeaning manner. One health food commercial shown on local television, for instance, portrayed Africans as cannibals.

My generation of Afro-Peruvians is far more mobilized than its predecessors. We decided to take our destiny in our own hands. Thanks to globalization, it is now possible for us to compare our experiences with those of people living in other countries and come to the realization that change is feasible.

Young Peruvians of African descent have used their historical experiences to address the topic of racism in Peru and the rest of the Americas. Afro- Peruvian women have become an important and active part of this movement, defending not only their heritage but their feminism.

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