Commentary

Intersections: Peru in Utah, United States

Utah's Landscape Looks very Peruvian

I am a student in Utah, attending the largest University in the state. It is interesting to me that I find so many intersections between life in Utah and life in Peru. In a series of articles I would like to explore these intersections, where Utah’s sage brush and mountains meets Peru’s altiplano and higher mountains.

I am considered a ‘non-traditional’ student, but even ‘non-traditional’ students like to do traditional things – like going out on Friday night. Last Friday, my friend suggested that we try a ‘barn dance’. I grew up in the mountains of Utah, and barns do not mean dancing to me; they are filled with tack, fodder, horses and tools of toil. This barn did not vary from that norm, except there were more electric lights, the middle had been mucked out and there were interesting and some rather disturbing items placed around the room and in the loft for decoration.

A Stuffed Indian and various tack in the loft of the barn.
A Stuffed Indian and various tack in the loft of the barn (Teresa Wilson)

My friend was excited to eat the proffered chili (a dish made with beans, tomatoes, dried chili and ground meat) cornbread and apple cider. This traditional ranch fare echoes of Latin America. That is a separate conversation.

Chili and Jalapeño at the Barn (Teresa Wilson)
Chili and Jalapeño at the Barn (Teresa Wilson)

After taking the hayride, we were ready for the dancing to begin. Choosing to watch, rather than participate, I drifted outside. There Paulo had also taken refuge. Tall, buff coat, black jeans that matched his smiling eyes, we began to talk and watch the dancers. I learned that he had come here from Arequipa, Peru. “Why Utah?” It always strikes me as odd that people from foreign places come to Utah. It is like finding an orchid amongst dandelions. Beautiful, yet out of place. The reasons were usual; because of family, because of a job, because of money. We watched.

Hay Ride in Utah (Teresa Wilson)
Hay Ride in Utah (Teresa Wilson)

The American square dance with its staid, antiquated steps, matched the dancers. With calls like ‘allemande, promenade, sashay’ the words seemed out of time with the dance music of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Our conversation drifted to governments. Paulo thought government agencies in the United States were upright, ‘doing what is right is important to them’. We watched again. He asked if I liked Salsa dancing. There was a place he knew where there would be more Latinos and the music would be lively and the dancing would be hot and spicy like a good salsa picante. The barn dance had started at 6 pm, but salsa chocolate didn’t open until 9pm. By then the line dancing and Virginia reel would have ended, the lights out early in keeping with the life of the farm, only the coals from a glowing fire remaining.

Square Dance in Utah (Teresa Wilson)
Square Dance in Utah (Teresa Wilson)

“American government is like these dances, while Latin governments are more like the salsa”, Paulo opined, as his toothy grin flashed in the half dark of the barn’s shadow. I smiled. Perhaps he was right. Americans were less involved in their government, they kept more personal space between themselves and the lawmakers that governed. The music droned on. “Bow to your Partner, do-si-do”. “How do you feel about the police?” I asked, leaving to his discretion to speak of Peru or America. The American police have been the subject of many investigations. He chose to speak of Peru. “Don’t trust anyone if you go to Peru, not your taxi driver, and definitely not the police” I thought how much it was the same in the United States now.  My eye caught a wrought iron plaque on the wall. “We don’t call 911”. Was it a critique of the police or a vigilantism that still hung in the air like the smoke from the pine fire?

Slogan at Square Dance (Teresa Wilson)
Slogan at Square Dance (Teresa Wilson)

Some of the women were in the traditional full skirts of the square dance and some even wore boots. In the end, Paulo slipped away to find a salsa while I watched the weary dancers weave their way amidst the music. America has started the dance of the presidential race, but perhaps it needs less of the Texas Playboys, but needs to go to the Haucaypata and learn salsa.

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