It's time for this month's So Your Character is From Another Country! This is a monthly or bimonthly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last month's So Your Character is From Thailand ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!
The top things that come to my mind when I think of Peru are Machu Picchu, llamas, Incans, and Emperor's New Groove. The only connection I've had to the country are a few Peruvian coins I have. This post is enormously informative for me and let me learn so much more about this South American country!
Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.
(None of the Images are Mine)
(None of the Images are Mine)
Robb is a Peruvian college freshman and writer with terminal wanderlust and too many ideas for his own good. With interests ranging from martial arts to tabletop roleplay, from cinema to paper crafts, he’s a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, but hoping to master the one — writing.
I’m Maria Jose (nicknamed Majo for short). I live in Peru, more specifically in Lima, the capital city, located right on the central coast. I’m a psychology student, but I’m also a super geek. I’m into anything medieval (books, movies, costumes) and a huge fan of boardgames (sadly we don’t get enough variety of those where I live), but most of all, I love roleplaying (specifically D&D) and I wish there was a bigger overall geek community in Peru (we’re getting there though, slowly). My favourite thing about Peru is the food.
What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Robb: Aside from the obligatory Machu Picchu, Nazca Lines, and political climate (cue laughter), I feel like the Inti Raymi is worth mentioning. It’s an ancient Incan and Andean celebration to worship the god of the sun, but nowadays it’s mostly a reconstruction, a homage. It’s not very common to see it in urban areas, though.
In the capital, Lima, inside the province of the same name, the best architecture can be found if you’re willing to get mugged a couple of times (dimmed laughter). You can go to the Plaza de Armas and find yourself surrounded by buildings of mixed European architectures, including the Palacio de Gobierno, the Palacio Arzobispal, and the Cathedral of Lima. My personal favorite is the Museo de la Inquisición, but that might or might not be my inner sadistic writer talking. Also around that vicinity you can find the Parque de la Reserva, where you can walk around (and into!) colorful water fountains.
There’s also many celebrations at different times of the year since Peru, when conquered by the Spanish, was made Christian, so many saints and national religious heroes are celebrated. But we also have Inca ancestry so we get rituals dating from the 1200s like the Inti Raymi (winter solstice).
Of course, as a renown landmark we have the very own Machu Picchu in Cuzco (this the typical place tourists visit and go take pictures with llamas). There’s also the Nazca Lines, so mysterious, made by Nazca people or aliens? Such is the mystery.
P.S. we have a park filed with cats called the Kennedy park in Miraflores, Lima. You can see it in this video.
Robb: Something my parents always tell me is how diverse the natural environments are in here. We have coast, desert, mountains, and forests, so you can find virtually every kind of landscape if you travel smart around the country. My favorite has always been the Peruvian Amazon forest, which I visited during high school, but that’s pretty far away from the biggest establishments. Not that it’s deserted or inhabited by aboriginal people exclusively, though; the towns are pretty small but they’re fully equipped and yes, there’s WiFi.
Robb: No matter how non-patriotic, a Peruvian will always be proud of their food. It doesn’t seem special, but it is. Oh boy, it is. Lomo saltado is my personal favorite. Closely followed by ceviche, which is basically raw fish with lemon and onion and other things I’m not entirely aware of. There’s lots of carbs in every Peruvian dish, since there’s such variety of potato and sweet potato and corn, and mix that with rice. Try not to get sick from all that you eat when you visit. We also have a very tight connection to East Asian food due to an migratory wave on their part in the early 20th century. Fusion is our thing — we joke that we have better Chinese food than the Chinese.
We also eat Lomo saltado, which is like meat in a wok with Peruvian ingredients like chili are added, and it’s served with rice and potatoes. Talking about potatoes, in Peru we have over a hundred (yes, a hundred) varieties of potatoes thanks to the climate in the Andes. Have you ever tried a purple potato? Other typical dishes you’re gonna to google are seco de pollo, chicharron de calamar,, guinea pig, Juane, etc. As typical desserts we have the picarones which are like sweet potato donuts with syrup, and of course, lucuma ice cream. Lastly, because of the mixture of culture we have, many ‘fusion cuisines’ exist, such as Japaneses and Peruvians making a more savoury sushi.
Robb: Not many people speak English in Peru, really. Private schoolers, mostly, and it’s still not that good. They’ll look at you weird or pin you as a foreigner if you speak good English.
There’s some borrowed words typically used by young, middle-upper class, white city dwellers. “Fresh”, to say that something is fine or okay, sometimes exaggerated as “freshaso”. “Brother”, pronounced “bruwh-der” with soft r’s, common among males of this category and used like one would use “bro”.
Slang in Peruvian Spanish is too vast to encase in a few words, but I’ll point out a few significant ones. “Paja” in Peru means cool (e.g. “que paja”), when in most other latin countries it means “bummer” or sometimes something more obscene. “Causa”, while also being the name of a cold potato-based local dish, is a more universal way to say “brother” or “bro”. “Chamba” means work, e.g. “voy a mi chamba” = “I’m going to work”, “que tal chambasa” = “that’s so much work”, “es mi chamba” = “it’s my job”.
Maria Jose: Well, firstly, the official tongue of Peru, is Spanish, but we have varieties mixed with quechua, aymara, etc. due to the different tribes that were forced together in the Spanish conquest. Quechue speaker most likely interchange the E and I and the O and U, for example.
Peruvians also tend to nickname a lot of things, whether shortening the word or changing it around. Ex. Refri (refrigerator sp. Refrigerador) and yapla (sp.. playa beach). In fact, my own nickname is a shortened version of my actual name ‘Maria Jose” becoming ‘MaJo’. The people in the capital tend to have more access to English learning, and if you’re lucky enough to get educated in a school where English is dominant (like my case) you tend to get overexcited about being bilingual and start speaking “Spanglish” when talking to other English/Spanish speaker. Ex. Broder (from “brother”). Another weird thing Peruvians do to words is remove the consonants at informal time. Ex. Vamos (let’s go) turns to “vao”, or ya pues (come on) turn into ya pe’.
Robb: For me? Wake up. Shower. Go to university – and this is the interesting part, you see, the public transportation in Peru is out of control. You can take a bus, or a more raggedy bus, or a falling-apart bus, or a raggedy small van. And you’ll get stuck in traffic with all the other raggedy small vans (called ‘combis’), unless you have class at 7 am or 10 pm.
Then you go back home or to meet with friends or whatever and it’s the same deal. Hang on to your belongings tightly, and by tightly I mean duct-tape them to your bare skin. Never walk alone at night; in the “bad” areas you can be robbed and murdered, and in the “good” areas you can get kidnapped and blackmailed. But soon enough it all becomes part of daily life. It’s not that bad. It’s the kind of thing you say will never happen to you. (But my mom once got robbed right in front of our “good district” house, so there’s that.)
In winter, people tend to not leave the city on weekends as much, preferring to hang out at clubs in Barranco (A district in Lima with an old European feel as well as a little Bohème). Food is a very important part of our culture (if you haven’t noticed yet) and going out to dinner is seen as socially necessary, and is also praised as the best thing to do on dates, there’s a long range in prices of course, since there’s different socioeconomic level of the people in Peru. So basically: school/uni/work, go out to the beaches in summer, hang out at bars in winter,hang out at the mall or throw a party with lots of pisco (typical alcoholic drink).
Robb: The elections on both countries coincided this year, so imagine Trump, Cruz, Sanders, and Clinton and trace them back to when they were four years all and put them all together in a kindergarten with a caregiver that hates this job. That’s about the political climate here. On the bright side, it’s the meme equivalent of a gold mine. The meme subculture is very developed in Peru.
Economically speaking, it could be better. We’re recovering from the recession, I believe, but it’s not going as smoothly as it’s supposed to. Hopefully the presidential candidates won’t screw it up even more.
Culturally, I’d say it’s not more homogenic, but it’s a completely different set of cultures from the US. There’s stuff from all over South America plus East Asia. That said, inequality and intolerance are still some of the biggest national problems.
Bonus! Historically, it’s more complex than it might seem; since the independence we’ve had to go through cycles of aristocratic government, military government, terrorism, but I’m running out of space here so I’ll just say it’s really worth digging into Peruvian contemporary history.
It’s similar to the North American culture in the sense that we have multiple ethnic groups in the same place, naturally creating differences, sadly there’s a socioeconomic breach between our people and no politician has managed to change that. We also have our own amount of racism, from whiter and richer people in the coast, towards the more brown coloured people in the mountains or rainforest, this goes back to the Spanish conquest when Spanish enforced their European supremeness, making many dark/bronze skinned people feel the need to whiten themselves up or strive to look European (many creole kids where born back then, that’s to say, a mixture of indigenous people like the Inca culture, and Spanish people). Peruvian people in general tend to be more ‘huggy’ and are quick to make relationships more amicable.
We are not as patriotic as the United States because we don’t have that strong sense of cohesion and patriotism, the government kind of enforces the use of flags on July (otherwise you get fined) and the use of escarapelas for kids in school (little pins with a ribbon coloured in the Peruvian flag pattern)
Also, the level of education in Peru is pretty low, not many children finish school.
Finally, we have lots of region-based dances, like the marinera norteña in the northern coast and the afroperuvian dance in the middle-southern coast. But the most rare dance for me is the danza de Tijeras (guys in decorated suits dancing with scissors and using them as instrument in a ritual) the image below shows this last dance.
|Danza de Tijeras|
Robb: The independence! I feel like it’s worth noting because it was declared in 1821 (by San Martin) but it was only achieved in 1824, and the one we celebrate is the 1821 one! Also, funny enough, there was such a lack of communications and infrastructure, and such wide gaps between classes, lots of people didn’t even want an independence – it was mostly a middle-upper class movement, and heavily influenced by other recently-independent South American countries.
The war of the Pacific, between the Peru-Bolivia alliance and Chile; it was basically one big trade dispute. Reminds me a bit of the Star Wars prequels (laughs). Basically, we lost, Chile took the coast from Bolivia and some very important southern desert regions with lots of Niter. The Peruvian war hero of the time is Admiral Grau, praised even by the Chileans. It was a huge toll on all countries involved, and probably what inspired the classic Peru-Chile rivalry.
The Fujimori government; officially the sixth most corrupt president in the world, Alberto Fujimori, ruled since 1991 to 2000. He ended the era of terrorism, so thats why people liked him, but there was so much censorship, media persecution, money laundering, espionage, and overall corruption, you might as well have called it a dictatorship. His daughter Keiko ran for president in 2011 and this year’s elections. She lost both times, but very narrowly. 2016 has been a politically charged year not just for the US.
The war with Chile is also important because Peruvians and chileans usually make fun of the other, based on tension created on the War of the Pacific were Peruvians were less ready than they thought they were, and lost two southern provinces to Chile. Nowadays they are still trying to get them back.
Another historical event I should mention; the time of terrorism, with the Shining Path (political and ideological movement inclined to a communist kind of view) group who killed thousands of people, shooting anyone who opposed them in rural areas and settings bombs in the urban capital of Lima. People were very afraid in the 80's, there were curfews, soldiers marched through the streets to keep the order, dogs were hanged next to political messages from the Shining Path, and many went missing (some were never found).
This is a relatively recent event, as the vast majority of adults living right now went through all of those hard moments, so normally people don't speak so openly about it. There was a common background for the terrorists; having indigenous factions, having parents who speak Quechua and studying in universities with radical ideology movements like Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. For this reason many were unjustly jailed, and the prejudice towards people with said characteristics still remains...
Robb: Riding llamas to school (it’s like saying riding sheep. Even in rural areas, people just don’t do that.). Macchu Picchu being the only city (this one should be obvious, come on). Everyone being a thief (ok, fine, it’s not baseless, but it’s still pretty rude). I don’t think there’s a lot of media that portrays Peru. And when there is, it’s Peruvian. The Emperor’s New Groove is a caricaturization and doesn’t count.
-Not all us off are cut off from technology, the cities do posses wifi and all those apparatuses any of you may have, but of course, you have to have enough money to buy them.
-Don’t expect us to show ourselves in public with a ‘chuyo’ (those typical hand knitted hats that cover your heand ears), they are super warm, and we rarely wear them in the coast, it’s more of an Andean thing (it’s chillier in the mountains). If you spot someone in Lima with a chuyo, it’s most likely a tourist trying to ‘blend in’
-Spanish memes tend to refer Peru as the ‘pigeon eating country’, and I mean, there are some people in Peru who eat pigeons, but we also eat alligator, alpaca meat, guinea pig, among other types of ‘rare’ meat.
There’s this Indiana Jones film, the one with the crystal skull quest, where Indiana Jones has to go to Nazca (cost/desert) but the actual place in the film looked like Cuzco (mountains) and the people ‘living there’ were Mexicans speaking their Mexican Spanish dialect.
|Indiana Jones: The Crystal Skull|
Robb: Same as before, I can’t come up with much. Try some Peruvian movies, though. Most of them suck, but I can safely recommend Mariposa Negra and El Vientre, or if you’re looking for some really bad light comedy Asu Mare is pretty iconic. As for books, try Mario Vargas Llosa’s novella “Los Cachorros” and the short stories of Julio Ramón Ribeyro, in particular “Tristes Querellas en la Vieja Quinta”. I strongly recommend reading and watching in the native language, but if you don’t speak Spanish then it’s alright to find translations (subtitles in the case of movies, I don’t think they’ve been dubbed).
Maria Jose: Disney’s Emperor’s New Groove does a great job at portraying structure, clothes, names, animals and skin colour of what it was like in the Incan Empire back in the days, they’re teaching kids how Peru looked like, with the right approximate approach. (Although sometimes things look a little Aztec instead of Incan, a common misconception). However, I know they’re cartoons, but characters like Kronk who was super buff and big were unlikely in the Incan time because Incan people where short, and not that muscly (even if they were strong), standing at approximately 1m55 in height.
Again, Disney playing it right with The Road to El Dorado, where the time of Spanish conquest is well reflected as well as the remaining indigenous tribes. It’s also historically accurate in the sense that Spanish heard rumours about an ancient city filled with gold, lost in the rainforest. (There wasn’t actually a city like that, but the Incas did hide gold when the Spanish came, although they had to hand it in to rescue the Inca leader). This film also has the Aztec looking buildings problem.
Robb: Everyone from The Emperor’s New Groove. Don’t look at me like that, I love that movie regardless of anything. (Kronk is life.)
Maria Jose: -Paddington Bear! (he’s actually Peruvian, yes) He’s such a cutie who like many Peruvians likes to travel.
-Pacha from the Emperor’s new groove, his name is accurate, his clothes are accurate and he’s also the one Kuzco needed to survive, he was a smart kind man.
Thank you, Robb and Maria Jose, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next month for So Your Character is From China ... Featuring Alyssa @ Devil Orders Takeout & Shania!
Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Liberia, Algeria, Thailand, and Peru have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.
Do you have any Peruvian characters? Did this inspire you to write a Peruvian character or set a book in Peru? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Robb or Maria Jose? Be sure to thank them!
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