Moto taxi

Peru Post 10: Avoiding the Single Story

So, posts 8 and 9 (and even 6) weren’t the most uplifting or bright posts on Peru that I have, or could have written.  Some of my friends reminded me about the ill and mistaken perceptions that many people from the United States have concerning Latin America.  This reminded me of a great TED talk on the “single story” posted below:

So, I want to give you a little more than the single story I have been focusing on in excess for the summer.  Here are some of the things that don’t seem to me to be the common perception of Peru, as well as some of the things that seem to be the Peruvian perceptions of America.

Important Note: I was only in one part of Peru.  Indeed, most of my experiences are confined to a village of about 1,500 people just outside of the city of Piura.  Often times when I’m describing something about the people of Peru, it pertains most closely to that set of people, and different regions and individuals in Peru will think and feel differently.  So, here are my experiences with some of the people here.

Things that Yankees Don’t Know About Peru

Formality

Yankees don’t recognize this all the time, even when they spend a short amount of time in Peru.  I think this is because part of a U.S.’s perception of formality includes a strict adherence to punctuality, which isn’t really observed very strictly in Peru.  Nonetheless, Peruvians do a good job of taking certain things seriously and integrating formality into celebrations and cultural events.

For example, a couple of my other Yankee friends out here got invited to an English class that wanted to celebrate the 4th of July.  Expecting something more along the lines of a Barbecue, the Yanks went in shorts and T-shirts, to find that the Peruvians were decked out in full suits.  The celebration included a few discourses on patriotism, singing the national anthem for the United States and the national anthem of Peru, and a couple other things that didn’t fit the rootin’-tootin’ display of explosions and wild yee-hawin’ that pepper modern celebrations of American independence.

Marching in the parade

I can’t speak for them as to why they figured that the 4th of July would be celebrated in a more formal manner, but I assume that at least part of it comes from the fact that they celebrate their own independence in a similar manner.  They celebrate on the 28th of July, and the official celebrations consist primarily of the school kids marching down the street with their school’s band, as well as military marches down the street.  Basically a parade, but without as many floats, there weren’t any clowns throwing candy (shucks!).  The parade also didn’t happen on the actual 28th, it happened each day on the week leading up to the 28th as a large competition.

The march was much more serious than the normal U.S. parade as well.  There was one American marching in the parade since he was helping teach English to the kids there.  He was the only one who waved to the parade watchers, and everyone thought that was pretty funny (or weird.)

It seems that most people didn’t do anything super crazy on the actual day of the 28th either.  There seemed to be some festivities at a few places, but nothing too far out of the ordinary where I was at.  One of the biggest differences was that the mototaxi guys asked for higher rates since they were working on a holiday.

Both standards of celebration have their strengths.  The formal method obviously creating a bit more reverence and sense of respect around the sacrifices made for independence.  Or perhaps, simply a different sort of respect.

Kid Focus

I suppose that most Yankees have a perception that Peruvians would have tight families, but I have nonetheless been impressed with the level of child focus the parents have.  I think what we don’t hear about is the level of sacrifice they’re willing to endure to help their kids reach higher levels than they were able to realize.

This has become especially apparent as I’ve interviewed them and asked every question I could think of to find out their hopes and dreams and visions of an ideal world.  For a while, I thought I might have been asking the questions wrong through my imperfect Spanish skills or still juvenile understanding of their culture, but time and again these mothers affirmed that their dream jobs involve little more than something that allows them to stay at home to raise their kids while still providing enough to give them a formal education so that they can be whatever they want to be.

I don’t find quite so many aspiring doctors, lawyers, business leaders, politicians, professors, or anything else that attracts both the learned and the self-important.  Some may argue that this isn’t a virtue, that the country needs them to aspire to other professions, but I think that it’s beautiful to see parents fully committed to their children, sacrificing any sense of self to advance the human beings placed in their care.

Clothing

Traditional clothing from back in the day

Do a Google image search of “Peruvian” and you’ll mostly see people dressed in a traditional sort of colorful woolish clothing.  I’m not 100% sure what it’s made of because most people don’t actually wear that, especially out here in the Piura area.  I know that some people do wear that, and I saw a bit of it while in Cusco, but most of the people in Peru dress just like the people in the U.S.

Music

I think Yankees tend to lump the Spanish speaking countries from Chile to Mexico as having the same basic taste in music.  I think the best way to describe it is some sort of version of a mariachi band, perhaps with extra accordion.

Some of that sort of music does get played here.  Apparently people that grew up in the 80’s tend to have a think for romantic music from Spain, and I can’t hardly take a convi ride without hearing the contemporary traditional band “Corazón Serrano,” but musical tastes vary as widely here as they do back in the states.  I hear everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Spanish romance, to classical, to Imagine Dragons, to Mega Death, to 80’s rock.  They even played some 50’s swing music at a dance I went to, right after they played the Bee Gees.  In addition to Corazón Serrano, there are a host of other Peruvian artists with solid followings here, and in other Latin American countries.

Queen also has a solid following, especially with their song “I Want to Break Free.”  The phrase “I want to break free” sounds like “A Huacho me fui” which means “I went to Huacho,” which we all think is pretty funny.

School

Few people in the United States would know that in Peru, public school only goes until you’re 16.  Indeed, it seems to come to a shock to most of us Yanks the first time we find out that not every country follows the same school schedule as us.

After school ends at age 16, people that can get more education might go to a University for 5 years, an institution for 4 years, or a school for 3.  There’s room for variation on exactly how things go down just as there is in the U.S.  A University here is comparable to a University in the U.S.

More parade

I think the knee-jerk reaction to finding out that public school ends at 16 is to say that it’s not enough, that they aren’t going to learn enough.  Maybe that’s true for the people that don’t go to further schooling, but for those that go to a University, I’m not sure they have any inherit education disadvantage.  I mean, depending on the classes I took, I think one year at a University would be about as valuable as 2 in High School, so if done right, they can get done with school a year earlier than us with a comparable education.  I personally wouldn’t trade my last 2 years in High School, but that’s only because I had a few excellent teachers that made a lasting difference in how I view and handle education.  If I had run-of-the-mill teachers, I think I would take the University.

Also, you don’t necessarily need higher education to get a good job.  A university diploma isn’t quite as common in Peru as it is in the U.S., and not all occupations really require an extended stay in academics to be productive and capable.

I might also note that the U.S. is experimenting with this method through programs like “Running Start.”  At least in Spokane, Washington, students can spend their last 2 years of high school in the local community college instead of in the regular public school.  The ambitious can graduate from High School with an Associates Degree.

Things Peruvians Think About Yankees

Peruvians had some preconceived notions about those of us from the U.S. that had a clear influence on how they perceived and acted around us gringos.  Some were more accurate than others.

Wealth

I helped put up a roof.  We’re not done yet

It was no surprise that they thought that being from the U.S. meant I was rich.  Honestly, with a lot of the people I interacted with, I really am extremely wealthy in comparison, but they seemed to picture something even more grand than the truth.  This could come out in assumptions that I could pay for everyone when certain fees or costs came into a conversation, or legitimate surprise that I didn’t have a cooler phone (side note: since then, I did get a smart phone.)

Math Skills

I really don’t think this is ubiquitous, but in the village I was working in, the kids seemed to think that white kids were really good at math.  They would just yell out math problems for me to solve (just the times tables and some addition stuff.)  I kinda enjoyed it since I did know the answers and it was a break from them just yelling at me “inglés!” all the time (which meant “English!”) and asking me how to say various names in English (“how do you say Marta in English?”  “Martha.”  “They sound the same!”  “Yes, just like yesterday…”)

Effects of the Economic Crisis

I thought this one was interesting, and was quite a contrast to their perception of me being super rich.  Many Peruvians seemed to have a bleak picture of how the economic crisis hit America.  They seemed to picture huge droves of Americans homeless, in breadlines, not really making end meet at all.  I don’t want to downplay the struggle that many Americans have been going through, but the fact is that most people aren’t struggling in the same they the Peruvians pictured it.

Spanish Speakers in the United States

All but a very few were shocked to find out that I served a Spanish speaking mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States.  They didn’t think that so many people of Latin American descent would be in the U.S, especially if they didn’t speak English.  They would quickly come to the conclusion that maybe there were a lot around the borders, but their minds would blow out even more when I told them that there are significant Spanish speaking populations all throughout the country.

Places Where Peru “Beats” the United States

Having a heading like that made me think that the NSA might put me on one of their watch lists, but then I remembered that I had already seen most of the videos on the “All Time Conspiracies” Youtube channel.  If anything is going to mark me, it’s probably that.  Anyway…

I should note that when it comes to things where Peru “beats” the U.S. or where the U.S. “beats” Peru, it’s a fairly subjective measure.  Depending on what your values are (which will be heavily influenced by the culture you grew up in) you will think that some things are strengths, and others weaknesses.  These are things where, according to my still developing values, Peru may have at least a slight upper hand.

Thirst for Education

A University degree isn’t as common as candy in Peru yet, but that’s not for lack of desire.  I suppose we always want things that we can’t have, but there’s something good about meeting people hungry for knowledge.  Maybe I just have a special affinity for other who, like myself, are way too curious about the world.

I’m not saying that people in the U.S. don’t thirst for an education, but for some people out here, it’s a much stronger, nearly desperate desire to find out what’s going on inside their kid’s classrooms, or the untouchable citadels of post-secondary educational institutions.  Keep in mind that I’m working in a village where about half of the people here don’t know how to read, many of them never receiving a day of formal schooling in their life.  The younger generation is all in school, but many people 30 and older never had the chance, but really really want one.

Moto Taxis.  Transportation of choice

Public Transportation

In Peru, public transportation is ridiculously accessible.  There are taxis, moto-taxis, vans, and buses driving around all over the place ready to pick you up.  You just stand at the road for 30 seconds and something will generally pass by that you can give you a ride.

I know that some large cities in the U.S. do pretty well with public transportation (like Washington D.C.,) but to my experience, they have to be pretty big cities to have a decent system.  Here in Peru, even smaller towns are rife with chauffeurs.

Extended Family Support

All of the families with which I had significant interaction had tight and significant support within the immediate and extended family.  This stuck out most prominently when it came to finances.  It was pretty common for all of the kids to pitch in to help their parents, and sometimes siblings, cousins, and other relatives, even after they left the house.  They didn’t have the mentality that once you’re 18 (or some other age) you leave the house to be on your own.

I love the independence that comes with an attitude that the kids leave the nest to find their way, but the support that the Peruvians lended to each other was admirable, and indeed necessary given the financial circumstances of much of the people I was with.  They didn’t have retirement pay or social security to fund them.

This makes me wonder if all of the government programs to help us stay supported and independent may contribute to weakening family ties in “western” societies, but that’s just speculation so far…

Upcoming

First, you may notice that I didn’t write a section on where the U.S. “beats” Peru.  I just don’t think I have anything significant or interesting to add to that conversation, and any views I might hold in this regard have probably been inadvertently revealed in my other blog posts.

Second, you may be thirsty to find out what conceptions or ideas other countries have of the U.S., and vice versa.  Well you’re in luck!

I have asked a lot of my friends that have experience both in the U.S. and at least one other country to write a bit about the perceptions, misconceptions, and comparative advantages between the U.S and their respective country.  For the next while, I’ll be running a series where I post one of these pieces a week.  Right now, I have enough interested people to run them from next week through the end of December, and I’m pretty excited to learn how things are around the world.

If you have experience in the U.S. and another country (a minimum of 3 months in each place,) I would love to have your input as well.  Email me at thedurfblog@gmail.com, telling me the country you would like to write on, and I can add you to the schedule.

 

Keep seeking truth.

 

You may also be interested in:
Peru Trip Post 1
Peru Post 4: The Work
Peru Post 7: Food!

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