Today’s Peru’s Independence Day: Fiestas Patrias

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We interrupt our normally scheduled post on architecture to share with you today’s celebration: Peruvian Independence Day.

Peru's Flag

“Until Independence, the country was ruled by a series of Spanish-born viceroys appointed by the crown,” according to my lonely planet travel guide of Peru. Apparently those directly from Spain held the top-notch positions, while criollos (Spaniards born within what’s now Peru) were second in command. Mestizos– or half-breeds as Cher would have sung in the 1970s– occupied the next rung down. Indigenous people, or indígenas, were the lowest of these caste-like social classes, treated, speaking of castes, like East Indian untouchables.

Consider its possible origins. In 1780 the indigenous Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui who, during heightened tensions because of taxes, charged a Spanish administrator with cruelty and subsequently executed him. This set off a ball of fury throughout much of South America. The indígenas considered Condorcanqui of extreme Inca importance and set off a revolution that quickly came to a halt the following year when the Spanish drew and quartered him on a day in which he had watched helplessly as his followers and family were brutally murdered.

In 1820, Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín arrived in Peru’s port called Pisco (also a fantastic alcohol that’s more than popular here) and waged independence campaigns that would rally the country. The native Peruvians and San Martín would soon be helped by yet another revolutionary– no, not Che Guavera, but Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan. The two would work with Peruvians to send the Spanish running, and on 28 July, 1821 the country would be declared a new republic.

At this point in the story we’ll take a break for these comedic messages. I’m thinking now of Ché, of course, but also of another tale. I’m currently editing a book written (to use the term loosely) by an American who volunteered here in Peru when the Peace Corps had just formed. The book mentions his almost life-long friendship with President Fernando Belaúnde Terry, whom he met when Terry was in exhile in the US.

I’ve still got this info swirling around in my head this afternoon when I meet two European women tell me about yet another revolutionary. As it happens, they’re making a documentary about a Peruvian revolutionary who’s scheduled to be tried in a couple weeks.

Additionally seemingly half the street names here in Lima, Peru, are of revolutionaries or days of historical import to them. All this revolution is starting to make this reformed hippie feel like a lazy ass for merely loving the Mexican Muralist movement.

Now back to our program.

What is it like in the country’s capital in the days leading up to Fiestas Patrias?

  • Well, Peruvians are really mild-mannered and don’t express bursts over anything. They do, however, hang flags from their homes and businesses. Though until today I thought was was because of Peru’s endurance in the Copa América, which has had residents in my neighborhood screaming bloody murder out the windows of their homes.
  • The energy swells. Other expats warned me to do my grocery shopping well in advance as the supermarkets and other places would shut down. Every one talks about the trip they’re going on or a party someone’s throwing. Therefore it’s not unlike what I’ve seen in the US and even in China (for the 30th anniversary of Shenzhen’s opening). On certain businesses are non-descript, non-colorful, simple text, undecorated well wishes for Fiestas Patrias (Independence parties).
  • Prices go up. A taxi from Barranco to San Borja, the current district where I’ll live, should have been 10 or 11 soles (about $5 US) this evening, when cab fares are naturally a little higher. However, it cost 15 (~$6.50). When you make 20 soles per hour, those little pennies add up.
  • A massive parade was held this morning. It began around 6 AM, which is also when the country gave itself a 21-gun salute, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early or stay up that late. Families gather around the tellie for this parade, though, which kind of blurs images of American Thanksgiving and 4th of July together in my mind.
  • This is also the time when the new president officially takes office. Ollanta Humala was elected on the day I arrived here, 5 June, 2011. You’ll read more about him in later posts. Therefore businessmen are on their tip toes. Peruvians are not afraid to talk politics with foreigners (a welcome reprieve from China), and therefore I hear developers, architects, language institute owners, utility company managers, mining and refinery experts, and others ask each other about how their country’s going to change. Mostly their fear stems from Humala’s long relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

I’m looking forward to walking around my neighborhood today, though with prices high and likely throngs of people, I’m reluctant to travel across town. I’m also looking forward to how Humala fares after the long holiday weekend.

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