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Let’s Talk About Racism and Classism – Peru’s Middle And High Class View of “Disposable Human Beings”

Before I start, I’d like to add that generally, I really like living in Peru.

But this is one of the reasons I would really really like to move out. Peru can be a very oppressive, mean place at times, especially in comparison to a lot of places I have been in. There is a reason why I agree with the saying “Perro de Hortelana” with a lot of Limean psychology, which basically says that “neither will eat or let others eat”. The mind drive is very much “free for all”, “every one for his or herself”, and selfish, selfish, selfish. In general.

Before I turn this into a complaint of Limean society, which is not my purpose, because I have found great people here, both Internationals and Peruvians, and I don’t want to insult my Peruvian friends (but… you’re blind to this because it is what you have lived with all your lives…), I’ll give a bit of the general Latin American history of colonialism and oppression, racism, and the formation of the oligarchies.

As you all know, in the wonderfully gory history of colonialism, Spanish colonialists came down to Latin America began conquering both the advanced and not advanced people here. Yes, there were advanced people in Latin America, please don’t fall to the myth of “primitive savages”, and keep in mind that there has been in fact new discoveries that actually point out that the Americas had the most advanced civilizations, thanks to a few biological factors due to population density, which I will not explain. Before you argue that they can’t have been advanced, since they lost and were destroyed, let me say three magical words:

Guns, Germs, and Steel. Read that book and it will basically fully explain it to you.

Basically, about 90% of the indigenous population was wiped out due to the germs that were imported by the colonists. Part of the reason why they had never developed as much variety in strains of resistance to diseases like the Europeans, is due to the lack of domestic animals. By being closer quarters with domestic animals, Europeans were more exposed to disease, and only those who grew resistant survived. Since this did not happen in Latin America, resistance was not developed.

So basically, 90% of the people died due to disease.

Guns and steel are easy to see – for reasons I will not go through, because already I am going slightly off topic, the Europeans developed the technology and better weapons that overwhelmed the weakened indigenous Latin Americans.

So colonialism occured.

With it, grew the power base of powerful white families, that kept to maintaining their blood “pure” by marrying only white people. As the manner of power changed with governments in time, so did the manner the white descendent’s maintained power, later forming the rich oligarchies whose descendants can be seen in the white children of these families, to which I belong. These families kept the same racist and classist views and old prejudices, working only for their benefit and power. Whenever mestizos (mixing of the race) occurred, which is a lot, as you can see by the features of the people all around, the whiter ones where typically favored. This is a pretty standard pattern around Latin America, and is still in force.

You now have the historic background. Let me tell you the modern situation.

While rich people here still maintain the general power, I am happy to report that more social inclusion is occurring… kind of. There is a strange double standard in place. White people can be prestigious based on actual wealth and status, or previous familial prestige or wealth. Basically, you kind of have a decadent charm to you if you are not rich, but rather middle class, but your family was one of the Big Families. They keep the status and respect, are part still, of the social group. However, I have heard a saying that “cholo para siempre”, basically, “one always stays cholo”. (Cholo is often used as a derogatory term for mestizos or those of darker skin. Some people deny this, and say it really only means to a people of a specific area, but whether that is the actual dictionary definition, the social and popularly used term, which is what I am talking about society, is definitely a derogatory term, racist laden and prejudice driven and – whoops, long sentence.) Basically, the dark skinned, no matter how much wealth they gain, will always be excluded, based on the racial and class based prejudice that there is against them.

But the really bad point that brought me to write this first, to talk about disposable human beings, which is not something that exist, but that some people (or maybe many, I’m not going to pretend to know) here believe. I’m going to talk about an anecdote.

Now, my mother has a childhood friend that lived here until last year. She lived in an apartment complex, middle class, that was right on Javier Prado, a very very busy avenue. Across the street and up two blocks, lies a Wong, which is basically the biggest supermarket chain in Peru. Now, there isn’t a bypass on this avenue, or at least, at all nearby. And crossing the avenue is pretty damn risky and scary- I know because when I first started going to my school, we were staying at this friend’s house, and I’d walk to my school.

That avenue is friggin deadly.

Now, a lot of the middle class people have maids. Middle class families are also usually and in their great majority, Caucasian. Maids are in the great majority (Actually, I would be surprised to find a single white maid, though it is statistically necessary) darker skinned, mestizas. Maids are easy to come by, and pretty cheap – there are many women desperate for jobs, flocking this city, which is huge, and probably accounts for over half the population of the country – and basically every middle class family has one. Now, these maids often have to go shopping for the family they work for, crossing the deadly avenue back and forth.

So, my mom’s friend thinks about this, and decides she ought to appeal to get a bypass built. She does some research, learns she needs to get some signatures or a petition signed by other people who think this is a good idea, and puts up the paper in the notice area of the building complex/building condominium/call it what you will. She keeps this up for about a month, and I think she barely got two signatures in total. Finally, she got very politely told by the gate keeper (also a mestizo) to please take it down. The friend expressed confusion at the few signatures, when a neighboring lady passing by said “But it’s no problem, we can drive across to buy anything we want!”. The friend explained that it was mostly for the maids that she was worrying about. “Oh, don’t worry, one dies, and a million come in her place.”

This was one of the most chilling anecdotes I’ve heard, and one of the first I heard when arriving to Peru.

This lady considers these maids as disposable human beings for her convenience. Why should she bother to protect their life and interests? To her, I must assume, they are less then human. And it is based on this historical prejudice and context of racism and classism, (both are related since the darker skinned races are of the lower and poorer classes, and suffer both), that they are viewed as inhuman, as commodities.

No human is disposable. No human is a commodity. Not for convenience.

That such a mindset, subconscious or conscious, is even possible today, disgusts me.

But hey, I’m just that naive globe trotter. This is condoned here, what can we change? This society accepts it, I mean, why bust your ass or conscience over something you are not guilty of?*

That still does not mean that it isn’t wrong. And because it is unethically wrong, it has to change.

If anybody wants to discuss why the mindset they have is justified, I hope you like teeth.

*Actually, I have a guilty feeling due to heritage. I am a white descendant of the oligarchy. My father’s paternal family owned mines. My father’s maternal family is from Belgium. My mother’s family on both sides, is definitely part of the old families of white supremacy that existed here (NOT going into details). I am one of the highly privileged people in Latin America: I was born into a family that had far better opportunities, gave me these opportunities, a safe life, free of most prejudice, especially that of racism and classism. Because my father’s job made me see the problems, people go through, I felt obliged to help other people – because this isn’t fair. It isn’t my fault, but I also have a privilige that is constantly undermining these people. I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution.