Politicians and “Hero Syndrome” in Peru

Apparently there are shanty towns throughout Peru, especially near Lima, where villagers from rural areas, particularly the Andes region, have left their hometowns in search of work in the capital. This migration has created several unregulated communities of makeshift homes, almost all lacking running water or electricity, among other basic needs. Also known as pueblos jóvenes, these communities were essentially created illegally and have existed for years without any government regulation — or support.

This being an election year in Peru, you can imagine the wealth of votes opportunistic politicians see in these pueblos jóvenes. For as J. Miguel told me before, the key to winning an election in Peru is winning over the blue collar voters.  Continue reading

Sundays are for Soccer

This week beat me up. Seriously. Not even my weekend was relaxing (nor the past two weekends, to be exact). But when J. Miguel asked me if I’d wake up early today to watch him play soccer in a new local league he has joined, I knew it was important for me to show my support. For the past several weeks, Sundays have been his time to be with the guys, and I’ve never objected to that. So I kind of felt it was a big deal that he was letting me in on his secret world today.

His team is mostly comprised of Colombian-Americans. J. Miguel is one of two Peruvians on the team that I know of. I think the team’s unique composition is because the coach is Colombian-American and also the owner of a local construction company (that most likely employs many area Latinos who may or may not be part of the team).

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And I have to say, the team’s coach is a pretty colorful guy. He stands on the sidelines yelling in Spanish — except when he’s yelling at the refs — and one of the most memorable English lines that came from him today was when he threatened to sue the referees for not penalizing players from the other team who were allegedly playing recklessly.

Anyway, unfortunately J. Miguel’s team lost this week (as they have every week this season). J. Miguel is pretty realistic about it all. “The average age of our team is 30 and up,” he told me today. “Many of the teams we are playing are comprised of college kids or those in their 20s. We’re all a bunch of old guys with families and beer bellies playing against kids who can run up and down this field like it’s nothing. I remember those days. I just wish I could have that same energy as I had back then.”

Me too, J. Miguel. Me too.

So even though it meant waking up super early, I’m glad I went. In a way, it was a relaxing time for me because I didn’t have to think for a change. (For example, I spent all day Saturday at a first-time homebuyer’s class — I’m glad I went, but after a demanding week at work, it was kind of the last thing I wanted to do for an entire day.)

J. Miguel has asked me to come to his game next Sunday as well to take more pictures of the team so I guess this means Sundays are for soccer now! I don’t mind — it’s a great way for us to bond and a unique opportunity for me to embed myself into the area’s Latino-American community — a community that for the most part, has been strictly J. Miguel’s, but one that he is gradually inviting me into.

Speaking Spanish

I grew up learning Mexican Spanish in high school and college because back in the 1990s, we were led to believe that it would be Mexican immigrants or those of Mexican descent who we’d be communicating with most in the future. And while that is true in some parts of the United States, it hasn’t been the case in my post high school and college life. Continue reading

Holding On and Letting Go

Today I went to the funeral of a woman who made an impact in my life through her little acts of kindness and big personality. For me and others who knew her, it was a time for letting go, sending her off, or as the pastor said today, “celebrating her homecoming” as she returned to the Lord.

And indeed, letting go seemed to be the theme for me today.

When I returned home from the funeral weary and somber, J. Miguel, who also took the day off from work but stayed home to fix things around the apartment, reminded me that we had to drop off at Goodwill our bags of unwanted items since we both finally had the time to do so. The pile had been sitting in the the corner of our living room hidden behind a Japanese rice paper screen like an embarrassing birth mark. With schedules as exhausting as ours have been, it’s been difficult to find time to drop them off.

So we loaded up his car and drove to the closest Goodwill. It must have put J. Miguel into a contemplative mood, this experience of letting go of items, because he began to tell me how his uncle and father — both who are naturalized Americans like him — tend to hold onto their things so much to the point that they have become pack rats and mild hoarders.

“It’s an old school mentality,” he told me about the mindsets of the men in his family. “Back in the day in Peru, it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor. When the government messes up your country, one of the first things to go is the economy,” he said.  Continue reading

Politics in Peru: A Love-Hate Relationship

So it looks like a contender has finally emerged for Keiko Fujimori: Pedro Pablo Kaczynski who, according to this article, is Oxford educated yet speaks Spanish with an American accent, has a U.S. passport, is married to a woman related to Hollywood actress Jessica Lange, and runs a campaign with the slogan, “Gringo on the Outside, Cholo on the Inside.”

When I asked J. Miguel if this is the candidate he voted for, he told me apathetically that he is not. While J. Miguel remains secretive about who his candidate of choice is, he did tell me in response to the Fujimori-Kaczynski runoff that “it’s the same old people running for president in Peru. They just rotate among each other year after year — no one new ever gets a chance to become a serious contender.” Continue reading

Race, Ethnicity and Identity in Peru

About 50 percent of the time, Peru’s Canal Sur is playing on our TV at home. Sometimes I watch it, but it’s really J. Miguel’s source of news and entertainment from the homeland and not something I pay much attention to. However, it doesn’t take a casual viewer to notice how Peruvian popular television under-represents the country’s actual demographic make-up.

For someone who isn’t well tuned into the broader Latino world, it would be hard to tell if Canal Sur is coming from Spain or South America. Most people on the channel’s programming are South American Caucasian, and there is almost no representation of the country’s indigenous or Afro-descendant populations. (And forget about Peru’s Asian citizens with roots from China and Japan, despite the fact they have had a Japanese-Peruvian as president whose daughter is now running for her father’s past post.) Continue reading

Ask a Peruvian: Q & A about Peru’s Presidential Elections

I posted to my personal Facebook page photos from yesterday’s Peruvian Presidential Elections in Washington, DC, along with a little description about how compulsory voting works in Peru (and for Peruvians abroad) and what’s at stake this year. My blog post about the day can be accessed here.

I was surprised at how many of my friends were interested in learning more about the elections and how many had questions for J. Miguel. I thought I’d share their questions and his (and my) answers since it ended up being a really fascinating online discussion: Continue reading