It’s my second Fiestas Patrias in Peru. By now I’ve been here long enough to have to remind myself it’s not also my Fourth of July. Not that I have adopted Peru as my home country; but that when living abroad you have to assimilate to a certain extent– that includes getting to know holidays, especially if you’re on vacation.
I’m traveling now. Since last Friday I’ve been to Chachapoyas and Chiclayo. The latter marked an incredible opportunity to see more of the colors that make this country so exceptionally beautiful. What a chance to learn more about its wondrous history too! The main thought lingering, though, is this: if a country is so proud of its Inka ancestry, why eschew that lovely color in your compatriots? My vacation has caused one thought to repeatedly rise to the forefront: why do many Peruvians eschew that tasty cappuccino-colored skin? That brown skin is as beautiful as the local arts & crafts I’m in the process of collecting on holiday. Why wish it away in lieu of white skin?
Ah, well, skin color is just a part of Peru’s cultural vastness. Here, in honor of Fiestas Patrias, is a little more.
“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, and Miguel Grau, a Chilean. The threesome would work with Peruvians to send the Spanish running, and on 28 July, 1821 declare the country a new republic.
It is names like San Martín, Bolívar, and Grau that are found on statues in every city and village’s Plaza de Armas. It is through these plazas de Armas, every town’s main plaza, that parades are passing right now. For now, it’s time for me to leave this hostel room and find a parade or other patriotic activity.
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.
- 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 signs saying Felices Fiestas Patrias.
- Prices go up. Last year, taxi fares went up from 10 or 11 soles (about $5 US) to 15 soles. When you make 20 soles per hour, those little pennies add up. This year I’m not seeing those rates burst, though. Phew! That’s a relief when traveling.
- Last year at this time new president Ollanta Humala officially took office. This year his approval rating is dismal, though I read in a newspaper that other contemporary presidents have endured even lower ratings.