Up Against It

Fr. Peter Woodruff
February 1, 2010
Rural Peruvians Face Difficulties After Migrating to Lima

A group of Andean friends spoke about arriving in Lima, Peru, for the first time: “When we arrive in Lima, we feel depressed and in a way inferior to others.

It’s because we have no work, no money, no support and no education.

The mass media bombards us with stuff that is foreign to the reality of our lives.

Some years ago the future was a challenge to be taken up, but now it threatens, frightens and upsets people.” This puts pressure on rural migrants to Lima to give up on their values and accommodate to something less demanding, but many continue to search.

Peruvians wearing Andean clothing

Peruvians wearing Andean clothing

One person asked: “How might we recover our values and pass them on to our children in the face of the bombardment from the consumer society?” Another added a further twist to the question: “How might we recover our values in a society that excludes and discriminates?” Still another asked: “How should one proceed with those who mock, and then mock the one who dares defend the victim of the mockery?” And another expressed an even more desperate, but quite common, plight: “How might I strengthen my values when survival is what I have to face up to on a daily basis? How might we face up to a frightening future?” Others raised the problem of those who, on arrival in Lima, appropriate the city prejudices against other Andean migrants: “What might we do to change the negative attitude towards migrants, especially when it is precisely those who arrived earlier who take it out on the recently arrived?” Frustration did not lessen their determination to do something about changing negative attitudes to Andean culture.

They posed questions in favor of positive change: “How might we motivate others to cultivate Andean values and customs? Is it only because of lack of values that we Andeans do not recognize Peruvian achievements?” They recognized that there is something radically wrong in society and correcting it depended to a large extent on people like themselves.

Some wanted to help the youth appreciate their Andean roots even though they are swamped by foreign music, clothes and lifestyles.

Others thought that municipal leadership could foster an appreciation of ancestral values, but they were well aware that the push would have to come from people like themselves.

Some wondered how to reach out to relatives and friends who had decided to remain in their hometown.

They questioned the education system but did not situate themselves outside the problem.

One said, “Racism continues to exist because we allow it to do so.

There is a real lack of education as regards values and identity.

We are always excluding each other.

Peruvians carry their flag during a fiesta

Peruvians carry their flag during a fiesta

Children feel ashamed of their provincial parents.” Others wondered: “What needs to be done in our educational institutions in order to include our cultural heritage? At school, how might we overcome the cultural discrimination of some teachers?” My friends did not have clearcut or easy solutions, but raising the issue was for them a spark lighting a fire within.

The Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, empathizes with them: “…a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves.

Non-recognition or misrecognition can inflict harm; can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.” Taylor points out that we are formed by recognition, individually and as a people, and highlights the fact that the major weapon of colonizers was the imposition of their demeaning image of the colonized on the subjugated people.

In order to be free, the oppressed must purge themselves of these depreciating images.

Richard Webb, a well known Peruvian columnist, writing in El Comercio, the main national daily newspaper, on February 20, 2006, referred to mass migration to Lima with hope for a more human future: “… school texts will celebrate the drive, the sacrifice, the will-power, the genius and the communal organization of the pioneers who, leaving their land, families and memories, set out to forge a better life for themselves, but especially for their children.

Adult confirmation class

Adult confirmation class

It will be a positive history and a source of pride, not only for the descendants of the migrants but, eventually, for every Peruvian.

On that day we will be able to say that in Peru it is not all violence and exclusion.

What was pictured as a very worrying ‘overflow,’ with the suggestion of an all-destroying avalanche, will be seen in the future as an extraordinary act of inclusion and of social rectification.

Perhaps it might even be seen as a reconquest.” Columbans have been standing in solidarity with indigenous Peruvians since our arrival in Peru in 1951.

While great strides have been made, there is more work to be done.

After many years in Peru, Fr. Peter Woodruff now resides in Australia.