Commentary, Food Culture

Where Are the People from Cuzco?

Cuzco's Plaza with Dancers in Parade (David Knowlton)

After I snuggled into the small taxi, the driver pulled out and then said “where are you from?” I answered him and then he said his brother also lived in the United States, in Los Angeles.

“He has lived there for twenty years now and is fully adapted. He bought some moving trucks and does well with that business. Every year he comes back to Cuzco.

“I used to live in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. I lived there for more than fourteen years. You can get as much money as you need in Argentina, if that is what you want, but there is nothing like your mother and father. 

“Mine are getting old. They are in their eighties, so four years ago I came back to Cuzco to accompany them. They have no other children here. My sister lives in Argentina and comes back when she can.  It is good to be close to them.

“My wife’s brothers and sisters all live in Italy. She is the only one left in Peru.” 

The driver made me think. 

It seems rare to meet someone whose entire family still lives in Cuzco. Most everyone has brothers and sisters elsewhere, not uncommonly in the United States, Italy, or Spain. Argentina also contains many, but there are also people in Brazil, Uruguay, and even in Chile. Other cities in Peru, especially the capital of Lima also draw many people from Cuzco. 

This may not seem unusual to someone from the US where people seem to move frequently. But here, up until some forty years ago, that was not true, I believe. Cuzco had a much more stable population and, as a result, had a different culture, one built on people staying put for most of their life although there were always people on the move.

Because of my curiosity and my hypothesis I decided to look to see what the numbers said.

According to Peru’s census office, INEI, in 1940 the people who emigrated from Cuzco were equivalent to 4% of its population while in 2007 they were about 22% of the total number of people found in the Department of Cuzco. 

In other words, there was not very much migration away from Cuzco in 1941 while a lot of people move these days.

Still some people did move and so about 4% of Cuzco’s population was made up people from outside the department. Immigrants and emigrants came close to balancing.

You can even see in the numbers when things started to change.

In 1961, 1.5 people left for every person who came to Cuzco. Immigration was starting to take off. 

It exploded.  By 1981 there were 3 people leaving for every one coming to Cuzco.

That number dropped back a bit in the 80s and 90s but then returned to that high level. In 2007 slightly more than 3 people left for every person who came to Cuzco. 

This meant that in 2007 there were almost as many people born to Cuzco mothers living in other parts of Peru than within it.

I do not have numbers at the moment on Cusqueños living outside the country.

We can think of Cuzco as a place that once had a very stable population, though that has changed quickly over the last few decades. Now there are as many or maybe more people from Cuzco living outside it than inside.

With Cuzco we also see a change, according to the census numbers, in the population still in the state.

If we just look at the province of Cuzco, the city and very close by towns, we see that about 49% of the population were born to mothers who lived in Cuzco Province at the time.   

Looking a bit more closely, 62% of the population of the Province of Cuzco had mothers born in the Province no matter where their mothers resided when they were born.  38% were born to women from outside the Province.

Of course the city has also received a heavy immigration from the Department’s provinces. In 2007 24% of the people of Cuzco were born to women who themselves were born in Cuzco’s Provinces. 

These numbers only give us an idea, but they confirm a radical change in Cuzco since 1941. 

The city is filled with outsiders and the people from Cuzco tend to immigrate in large numbers, meaning there are at least as many Cusqueños living outside the city as inside it. 

Even though Cuzco may seem traditional and may celebrate its Inca past and its colonial heritage, as well as its traditional cultures, in reality this is a city and a department whose people are in movement.

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