Food and the Rise of Andean Identity in Peru

So, what do ceviche, traditional weaving, and rock music have in common?

Not a set up for a joke, this question is at the heart of an article by anthropologist Annelou Ypeij in a recent European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies. The study claims the three are part of remaking the identity of ordinary Peruvians.

In the background, Ypeij lays out the horrible years of the struggle between the Fujimori government and the Shining Path that devastated community after community in the high lands and caused large numbers of rural people to seek refuge in the city. Rural to urban migration was not new, but it took off and has continued to grow now that Peru has lived almost two decades of relative social peace.

At the same time Peruvians sought new ways of being and creating their selves and their county. Part of that effort involved openings to the outside. Tourists were invited in in very large numbers, but Peruvians also looked outward and found in that world beyond their shores a place where they could remake themselves and find value in their take on other’s eyes.

Weaving, like that organized in Cinchero outside of Cuzco, has given new value to women, especially women in traditional dress, and has allowed them an opening to the outside as well as a way to seek value through engaging foreigners, whether traveling abroad or receiving them in demonstrations within the community that is quickly moving to once upon a time with the proposed new airport.

Ypeij looks as well at the rock band Uchpa, born in Ayacucho though now located in Lima which sings in Quechua and relies on instruments and images suggestive of a deep Peru, a Peru profundo, to use the words of Mexican anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla.

The depth is symbolized in a new space of culture and being which brings tradition and modernity together, along with the Peruvian in a global space of peoples. This symbol is the Andean, lo Andino, with its new person, Andean man.

Ypeij sees this trope growing ever more common and ever stronger in its power to symbolize Peruvian-ness, to break through the old ways, and to synthesize a new way that still values the old ways.

This brings us to ceviche, and to the movement to promote Peruvian food. Ypeij sees in that movement and its crowning glory, the Mistura Festival, a set of values that typifies the new Peru. At the center of that set of values is fusion.

This is not the mestizaje of old, nor is the the cosmic mestizo race of another Mexican thinker whose thought had great weight in a Peru of an earlier time, although the differences remain to be fully clarified. Instead it is the difference of Peruvians from different places and backgrounds coming together in a world that can celebrate the Chanca roots and identity of Uchma along with the deep Cuzco heritage of weavers in Chinchero.

For this ceviche is not a bad image. Not a melting pot, nor precisely a salad, it is a dish which joins Spanish limes, although the Peruvian ones have unique qualities after 500 years and fresh fish–not unlike the sashimi of Japanese cuisine or of Fujimori’s heritage. To this is generally added the cancha–toasted corn of highland Peru and the camote, or sweet potato, which is as Peruvian as Viracocha.

This dish came together, with its diverse elements, in the land of Peru. It is this Andean-ness of the land, with its regional identities and its embrace of people from all over the world, in a global space where it is being more and more valued, that make ceviche and its peers an apt model for lo Andina.

Peru is changing and, if Ypeij is right, its food may be leading the way into its future.

Annelou Ypeij. Cholos, incas y fusionistas: El nuevo Perú y la globalización de lo andino in Revista Europea de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe / European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, No. 94 (April 2013), pp. 67-82

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