So, what is the opposite of cuy, you know, guinea pig?
That may seem a trick question, or a kind of three-year-old shredding the incongruities of the world they are coming in to.
For most people outside Peru the issue may seem to have little or no importance, since guinea pigs are cute pets but few have them.
In Peru, on the other hand, cuyes are matters of national pride. They often stand as a symbol f the country and its magnificent indigenous past, at the same time cuy is a symbolic food that is very important in much of Peru.
Certainly this is true in Cusco where oven baked or fire roasted cuy is a common dish, especially for birthdays and celebrations. At the south end of the Huatanay Valley, in which Cusco sits, the town of Tipón dedicates itself to preparing this delicacy as does the town of Lamay in the Sacred Valley. A Giant Cuy stands by the side of the road to welcome people to the town and then you will see spits of roasted cuy awaiting you. The town offers its symbol to be eaten.
Recently, the symbolism of the cuy took a political turn. The Franco-German Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ran for the country`s presidency against Keiko Fujimori. Kuczynski’s initials PPK became the initials of his parto, Peruanos para el Kambio (Peruvians for Change). Despite his looking like a foreigner and having a difficult accent and style, despite being born and raised in Peru, he became nativized when people started calling him PPCuy, that is to say Pedro Pablo Guinea Pig.
At the same time, his opponent, Keiko Fujimori became increasingly known because of the corruption of some members of her team and people feared she would follow her father and privatize monies of the state. People were afraid she was a kind of thief.
In politics, though, people often say of their leaders here in Peru, “I do not care if he (she) steals as long as they do obras”, public works.
A common word for thief is rata, which normally means rat, however this word is more negative and dismissive than ladrón. Keiko became known as a rata, as people turned against her. Corruption would not have been the issue, but people came to feel it as self-serving rather than the author of the thievery having an intention to help the public good.
There is more. During the campaign, I started hearing rumors I heard before, that a warning had gone out because a restauranteur from Huasao had been found to be serving ratas instead of cuys, rats rather than guinea pigs. People claimed various form of evidence.
It was evident you could not tell the difference between a cuy and a rata in eating alone; you required some trust of the restaurant and some guarantee by regulators. That failed and people feared the cuy they ate outside the home might not be really a cuy, but a rata, and that they might be betrayed.
There is a lot of play in this image in which the opposite of cuy is rata, whether we are talking food or politics. In it sits the idea of trust and community, versus betrayal and treachery through seeking individual benefit over the wellbeing of others.