When June arrives and it is the time of celebration in Cuzco, the city receives thousands of visitors. In many cases they are people returning to enjoy the celebrations.
Cuzco’s June celebrations, including its Inti Raymi, are very popular throughout South America. Since before the Spanish invaded, people would come from the distant north, south, and places in between to take part in the events. This is because Cuzco was the capital of Tawantinsuyo, the great Inca Empire which connected people from Colombia to Chile in a single society. On the main day they would come to pay homage to the sun. Despite the long time between then and now, and differences in the feasts, thousands of people still come to Cuzco in June. Now, though, the popularity of the feast goes far beyond the Inca lands, to all the world.
As a result, it is not unusual for people from all over the world to meet during these days in Cuzco’s main square. There we run into people from high-end, package tours and people who travel around with their belongings on their back and trying to travel inexpensively. In Cuzco we call the back packers mochileros and those from different parts of Peru and all of Latin America are sometimes also called bricheros. These people come from all over looking for a better place in which to establish themselves.
Cuzco receives many of these singular persons. You can see them on the Plaza or nearby. Some will play music to earn some coins, generally some folklore from their country. They play in the streets and sometimes in restaurants, cafes, and cultural centers. Others will do some kind of juggling in the plazas, streets of the city, or on major roads where there is a lot of traffic and, crucially, a traffic light. Still others make handicrafts and sell them at the same time. It is not unusual to see them sitting on the ground weaving bracelets, or making earrings, pipes, or only enjoying a conversation with visitors. They may also be forming dreadlocks, braiding hair, or working a hair extension into someone’s locks.
They are very sociable persons, perhaps because of the nature of their work. They call it “salir a parchar”, “to go out to patch” or “to go out to make a patch”. They call the merchandise they display “parche” or “patch”, something that patches the holes in life to make ends meet.
There also are those who dedicate themselves to different disciplines, like yoga, capoeira, and martial arts. These latter often congregate around the Temple of the Moon to train.
Others prepare items of food, both sweet and savory, that they offer all they meet in their path, generally in the center of the city.
Almost all of these colorful persons know each other. In some cases they are roommates or live in the same inexpensive lodging. They also share the streets of Cuzco’s downtown. On many occasions they find themselves in the same chicherías (places that sell Cuzco’s indigenous drink, chicha), discotheques, markets, and sometimes police stations. They are often detained or arrested by local authorities for working in the street.
Nevertheless, the people of Cuzco are accustomed to them. But they often see them through prejudiced eyes as “bricheros” or, in the worst case, as “drug traffickers”. This is the bad image created for them since they live in certain places of the city, travel in groups, and are often surrounded by tourists. They make friends among the tourists and many times romance arises.
According to their common philosophy, love is the most natural thing in the world. This romantic ideal along with their struggle against the capitalist system in their inspiration. They express themselves strongly with lots of attitude in order to fight for their freedom. Many times they can be found celebrating in the streets with the joy that characterizes them. They “flow with good vibes”, as they say, and wander the streets of Cuzco seeking adventure and an opportunity to meet other people and other places.
Some words are just too complex. They fit in a frame with contradictory meanings laden with emotions that yet are central to understanding a place. One of these words in Cuzco is brichero. You will hear it slammed around, sometimes in warning, sometimes in insult, and sometimes in pride. Yet its meaning seems changing and unstable.
If you google the word, you will find a book of short stories in English by a Gringo author about the idea of the pesca gringas, the young Cuzco man who tries to hook up with unattached female tourists, for fun and sometime long term social mobility. If you look in Spanish, you can find a Peruvian news report that locates the brichero more in the world of alternative culture, drugs, and easy living, still with the idea of a Peruvian man who lives with or lives off of Gringas.
But there is so much more to the word. The negative, dismissive aspect of the word is about people who sexually cross social boundaries.
Behind the word is an idea of purity in clean, established boundaries, like the high walls of homes, in contrast to the mess of the street. In Cuzco there are two such important boundaries. One is the boundary between good people and not-good, or outsider people such as is expressed in the idea of being “peeled” or not properly clothed. The other is the stereotypical racial divide between “tourists” and “locals”, with tourists being typified as Europeans or White North Americans, even when Argentine, Brazilian, or Israeli.
These divides are saturated with ethical judgements and switching valences as well as desires. Sometimes the Gringo is overly esteemed and sometimes they languor in the not us and dangerous outsider category.
The poor backpackers from Peru and Latin America who come to Cuzco with alternative dress and alternative lifestyles break the ideal of the well off tourist traveling in style and, hence can be seen as social pirates or social climbers or people out of place.
Similarly the brichero is someone who in intimacy reverses the social order. Instead of being an elite man seeking liaisons with social inferiors, all the while having a proper relationship with a woman of status, it is an example of the lower turning the tables and seeking to romantically conquer the higher. In this it is subversive and seems to threaten social propriety.