When the Best Choice is Only “Lukewarm”

Today was a big day in our household and not because Fox Sports finally brought in Spanish-speaking commentators from countries other than Mexico for the Copa America games (although that was a big deal, too). The headliner this Sunday was the fact that it was Election Day in Peru which meant even Peruvian nationals living abroad had to, by law, show up and vote. The Peruvian Embassy here in DC organized the whole event for our area and J. Miguel, like a good law-abiding Peruvian, did his duty and cast his ballot, even though he’s not crazy about either candidate, Keiko Fujimori or Pablo Kaczynski. (Kind of like how I feel about Clinton vs. Trump — they both stink, if you ask me.)

But since he had to vote, he decided to put his support behind the lesser of the two evils which to him, is Pablo Kaczynski. And by the way, poor Pablo Kaczynski. In some respects, at age 77, he is facing the same agism Senator McCain battled in the 2008 U.S. elections. According to J. Miguel, Kaczynski has a nickname in Peru that translates into “lukewarm,” meaning, he’s still alive, but barely. (He could turn “cold” at any minute.) And yet, J. Miguel is hoping this “lukewarm” candidate wins the election because at least, in this opinion, the man will be able to make decisions for himself whereas Fujimori, he fears, will simply be a puppet president, controlled by those who used to advise her father. And we all know how that ended for Peru.

When it comes to politics, I have always wondered if there is an advantage to being able to vote in two different elections. If one country elects a terrible leader, one always has the choice to move to the other country, assuming that place has a much better person running the show, right? In J. Miguel’s mind, however, there is no real winner in either the U.S. or Peruvian elections this time around so whichever way he looks at it, he’s screwed and will simply have to accept the outcomes.

So that is what is happening in our home tonight…we are tracking live the election results. And last I checked in, it was a damn tight race. God save Peru!

Comfort Food from Peru

There is something about food, no matter what culture you come from, that evokes such strong emotions in people. I can think of few other things that people will happily spend hours of labor preparing, only for it to be devoured in mere minutes, sometimes without appreciation for the one who cooked the meal. And what is it about cravings? What is it about cold, rainy days like today, that drive people to seek out their favorite comforts, even if they are settling for something less than the best? It may not be like how Mom or Grandma used to make it, but at this particular time, it’s somehow good enough.

Today was one of those days for J. Miguel. He took me to a hole-in-the-wall Latino restaurant in Arlington, Virginia called El Puerto Restaurant, located in the Columbia Pike area and specializing in “authentic” Bolivian and Peruvian cuisine.

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Before I go further, I have an embarrassing confession to make: I’m not a huge fan of Latino cuisine. I like Tex-Mex just fine, but I know it’s far from traditional. I think the few true Latino foods I have come to appreciate can be limited to papusas, salteñas, fried plantains and fried yuca. And trust me, I’ve been adventurous, having even tried anticuchos (cow hearts). There is that one time I had a fabulous Cuban lunch in Miami, but other than that isolated experience, I tend to like the fusion dishes, such as what José Andrés prepares, although those come with a pretty hefty price tag attached to them. Continue reading

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

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