“Somos cholos y serranos” – about discrimination in Perú

Some time ago Lorena and her two girlfriends, all coming from Cajamarca in the Andes, went to Lima. They were thirsty, so they entered a coffee place, sat down and ordered a juice. The lady at the bar looked at them, sneered and asked: “And you girls, were are you from? From the Sierra?”. (Sierra is the andean part of Peru) When Lorena and her friends nodded, the waitress said with scorn in her voice: “There is no place here for serranos, get out!”. The three cajamarquinian girls stayed a while more, but nobody came to serve them. So they left…

Lorena tells me this story with a steady voice, almost without emotion, even with a certain pride. She is just a normal girl in her late 20s, good looking,  but poorly dressed. She is shy and quiet, but also very intelligent and talking to her is a real pleasure. I am listening to her and feel more and more shocked. I always feel shocked listening about the examples of discrimination inside Perú. The only fault of Lorena is that she was born in the Andes, in Cajamarca. Her skin is dark, her hair completely black, and face has indigenous features. And she speaks with the accent from the mountains. For some, this is enough to throw her out of the bar. Or call her cholo or serrano, both offending way to call indigenous people (the first word relates actually to the times of slavery).

Peruvian actress with her indegenous fans.

Tourists coming to Perú usually leave with the impression that its people are very nice and helpful, without noticing that while the peruvians are in general friendly to foreign visitors, they are not always friendly between each other. In fact, Perú is an ethnically divided country. While the large part of the population are ‘indigenos’ and ‘mestizos’, it is the small white elite (maybe 5%) that influences the country economy and politics. Turn on the peruvian TV and you see that all the presenters are white (I was convinced I was watching a satelite tv from Spain until somebody told me it was peruvian!). The top peruvian models are white. The richest people are white..

But talking about racism in Perú is generally taboo. Neither the dicriminated nor the discriminating ones will admit it exist. That is because in reality most of the people, deep inside, believe that having lighter skin gives you right to more respect and a better social status. This kind of a cast-system is one of the sad consequences of the time of colonisation.

That is why, still, a tie and a suit will open many doors, whereas sombrero and poncho, associated here with extreme poverty, will make those door slam just in front of you.

When the child born in the campo is born with lighter skin, the women will say: “Que suerte que te ha nacido tan blanquito!“. Suerte – how lucky, in this country where having white skin will make your life easier…


6 thoughts on ““Somos cholos y serranos” – about discrimination in Perú

  1. Oh my god, that is disgusting. Not surprising, but really abhorrent…. some friends of mine (black, of course) were telling me about how they often get pulled over/stopped by police when they’re driving. In a BMW. All police assume it’s a stolen car or something, but of course never say that.

    It’s unfortunate, but they just hold their head high and make jokes about “driving black” (schwarzfahren). i can’t blame africans for being racist after everything that colonization did to them and took from them…. but the cycle has to stop somehow. johan galtung is a MAJOR role model here, i highly recommend his books, he’s very wise. the end of the cycle stops when both sides realize what’s been happening, call it out into the open, apologize for their actions and change laws to fit accordingly.

  2. talvez un dia ……los pobres ,los negros ,los ricos,los musulmanes…..nosdemos cuenta que dependemos unos de otros y que vivimos todos en la misma casa, que somos todos hermanos……talvez un dia

  3. Pingback: Día Internacional de los Pueblos Indígenas | Becoming a Cajamarquina

  4. Pingback: The mystic experience of Machu Picchu train.. | Becoming a Cajamarquina

  5. Pingback: Latino Rebels | Blackface, Brownface and Black Lives Matter in Latin America

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