At eight years old my main obsession in life was to stop being ugly. The handsome men, in the Mexican soap operas that I was addicted to, were white people who married beautiful women like Verónica Castro or Lucía Méndez. They had a lot of money and lived in nice houses with an army of uniformed people at their service. I lived in a simple house in a poor district of Lima called San Juan de Lurigancho, where hundreds of thousands of families, like mine, had emigrated from the Andes because of the war and other less obvious violence. Soap operas were not only a pastime but a school of identity training and adaptation. The lessons were from Monday to Friday at dinner time. The next morning, the boys and girls played to repeat our favorite scenes and dialogues.
—”Indio, kneel before me and beg me to forgive you.”
Of the dozens of soap operas I must have seen, one that took place in a neighborhood like mine had a special impact on me. In Rosa Salvaje, Verónica Castro was a girl who sold flowers at traffic lights. The rich people who passed by made fun of her because she had dirty skin and spoke “badly”. One day, a handsome and rich man was fascinated by her when he saw her. He put her in her car, took her to her house and spent dozens of chapters turning “the wild one”, as Rosa was nicknamed, into a clean and “educated” woman. Rosa never returned to live in her neighborhood with her family. The soap opera, not only that one but most of them, seemed to suggest that people like Rosa had to stop being who we were (poor, with “dirty skin”, “savage”) and then assimilate individually among beautiful, white, delicious. Only then would happiness come.
What was the problem with not being white?
Every non-white person in Latin America sooner or later finds out what this means. From the Afro-Peruvian artist Victoria Santa Cruz to the Mixe linguist Yásnaya Aguilar, from the most sublime literature to police chronicles, only in the last century has the region produced entire libraries of evidence for anyone who wants to find out what racism is and how it operates. A fourteen-year-old Otomi boy learned the meaning of his indigenous identity when a group of classmates from his school in Querétaro, Mexico, bathed him in alcohol and set him on fire in a kind of popular trial where the crime of that bilingual indigenous boy was that he did not “speak well” Spanish. Believing that indigenous people do not deserve to live because they do not speak Spanish is not just a matter for children. In mid-January 2023, in Peru, the new government of Dina Boluarte had bloodily repressed protests in Andean regions and caused fifty deaths, among children and adolescents. A month earlier, when the victims numbered almost half, the then president of the Council of Ministers, Pedro Angulo, explained on a television program that the Army and the Police acted in this way because the agents did not understand the language of the protesters.
Episodes of this type go viral all the time thanks to the spectacular economy of social media, generating hiccups of indignation and brief discussions about the racism that plagues the region. Past the peak of reporting, the horror of racism seems to fade until a new violent act or unfortunate statement brings this word back to the news. This game of denunciation and indignation creates the deceptive feeling that racism is only an extraordinary, spectacular and condemnable event. Sometimes it even seems that racism is a matter of victims and perpetrators, and whose solution consists in the latter being punished or asking for forgiveness. But in reality it is the opposite: racism is a set of ideas and practices that order all aspects of our reality (from the economy to love), and that convince us throughout our lives of our place. in society and which of others, who belongs to the nation and who does not, who should be protected by the State and who not or not so much, who were born to command and who only to work, who are the beautiful and who are the ugly. This structural dimension of racism is the deepest and also the most difficult to denounce because there are no individual perpetrators. Here it is not so important to know who is the bad guy to be canceled but to understand who benefits and who is harmed by things being like this.
A few weeks ago I returned to Cusco, the land of my mother, and the place where I would probably live if my family had not been forced to uproot because of the war and the lack of public services. In Peru, as in much of the region, the best quality services (security, health, education) are concentrated in the few neighborhoods of the capital where the white, white-mestizo, and bleached elites live. This way of being of the country has generated that the success stories in Peru imply that people move to those areas of Lima, or at least close. Economic success for an indigenous peasant who wants to stay where he was born is unthinkable. This racist structure is so powerful that many people at the top of the pyramid claim not to see it, despite the fact that for decades it has generated an unstoppable wave of migration from the countryside to the city that, among other things, has brought the country to the brink. of infeasibility. On many of the tracks in the Sacred Valley, as a set of highly gentrified districts of Cusco is known, remains of tires burned during the most recent wave of anti-government protests still remained. The landscape was disconcerting: walking white tourists dressed in indigenous clothing were just a colorful detail in the face of the enormous number of condominiums, hotels and restaurants designed for their consumption.
What is interesting, in the Peruvian and obviously Latin American case, is that it is the white minorities —national or foreign— and white-mestizo that publicly subject the racialized majorities to ways of life, work, and repression that they themselves would not be willing to accept. . At this deep level, the racist system, today as yesterday, forces indigenous and black people to uproot themselves from their lands in order to later welcome, on those same lands, people and industries incapable of admitting the chain of previous events that make their existence possible. arrival. It is very difficult to denounce and viralize this structural dimension of racism because it requires the discomfort of criticizing, not people, but the set of ideas, norms and practices that make the inequality that surrounds us possible. In this special we are going to try it.
A production of EL PAÍS + Pictoline
Overall Edition: Eliezer Budasoff
Coordination and production: Daniela Medina | Eliezer Buddhasoff | Hector Guerrero
Art direction: Diana Peredo
visual edition: Hector Guerrero
Animations: Elisa Hernandez | Paulina Mandujano | Salvador Padilla
Illustrations: Alfredo Ríos Aldana “Teacher” | Hello About | Pamela Medina
Drafting: Carmina of the Light | Daniela Oropeza | Flora Sandoval
Editorial collaboration: Marco Aviles | Lorraine Arroyo | Natalia Algarin | Renzo Gomez Vega | Rocio Montes | Catalina Oquendo | Juliet Gore
Video images: Chelo Camacho (Colombia) | Sofia Yanjari (Chile) | Nayeli Cruz (Mexico) | Claudio Escalón (Honduras) | Angela Ponce (Peru)
Design and layout: Monica Juarez | alfredo garcia