We drove south of Lima with the expectation of visiting Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira. Little did we know of the land that we were visiting. The trip took approximately two hours and our eyes soaked in the scenery. Dry desert hills and flat lands all designed the coast of Peru. Little neighborhoods built on the hills mimicked shanty towns with many houses that were partially completed. Luxurious apartments were built along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The highway we drove on separated the two sides while grandiose billboards decorated the road. Giant three-dimensional billboards like I have never seen before. From Inka Kola advertisements to designer brands and fashions. Such marketing emphasis caused me to wonder about the designated audience. Who lived in the province of Cañete?
Helado (ice cream) stands, one after the other, lined part of the highway. The occupants of each stand were eager for customers to pull over and purchase their product. This business is one indicator of the climate of Cañete. A province that experiences two seasons: sunny and sun-less. We were lucky to visit during the sunny season that lasts from January to April. The sun-less season, from May to December, means that the clouds simply block the sun. Random plots of agriculture also piqued my interest. Due to the majority of the land being dry, the vegetation on agricultural land stood out like a sore thumb in its rich, healthy color. Cañete’s topography is unique in nature just like the people that dwell within its boundaries.
Before reaching Susana Baca’s and Ricardo Pereira’s house we detoured through a small town. The dirt road through the town made it somewhat difficult for the vans to maneuver. We could feel every bump, bend, or rock on the path. The homes in this neighborhood looked like two-story apartment townhomes. I eagerly looked out of the window to observe the inhabitants of the town. A small group of children played soccer in front of the buildings. Other residents tended to their own agendas as they walked about the streets. At this point my curiosity was still piqued because I desired to know more about the people of Cañete.
Upon reaching our destination we drove past a farm with cows, bulls, chickens, horses, and other animals. Susana Baca’s house met our gazes as the vans entered through the gates. The lengthy one-story house next to the large museum warehouse had an open courtyard space with a beach in the backyard. Beautiful pink trees adorned the yard and complimented the bamboo wood on the house. Ms. Baca’s house was absolutely lovely. The farm, beach, museum, and acres of land all made up this unique establishment.
We were welcomed with opened arms and smiling faces. The next order of business was lunch. We all enjoyed “pollo a la brasa,” also known as Peruvian charbroiled chicken, rice, potatoes, salad, Inka Kola, and chicha morada (purple corn) juice. For dessert we ate mangoes and grapes. After chatting, walking around, and exploring the place we all gathered together for discussion and what felt like story time. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira began to share their experiences and describe the land of Cañete.
Twenty-five years ago, when Peru faced turmoil due to the Shining Path revolution, droves of Andean people migrated to the coast. The Andean people encountered Afro-Peruvian, Chinese, and Japanese people in the region of Cañete where they chose to dwell alongside them for refuge. In years past, three cycles of agricultural development described the reasons for each ethnic group’s settlement. One cycle being the cultivation of sugarcane by Afro-Peruvian slaves. The second cycle was the production of other food products by Chinese workers. The final cycle was cotton cultivation by the Japanese. Cañete is now the home of an abundant mestizo culture.
Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira spoke highly of awakening memories in order to re-establish a sense of identity in the people of Cañete. Memories that are triggered by food, music, rhythm, and movement. This need for a recovered identity bridges the gap between cultures and unifies the land. Now you may be asking yourself, why does Cañete’s culture need revival? One reason is portrayed through the illusions that are displayed throughout the land. Remember when I referenced the ginormous and elegant billboards? Those billboards facilitate the illusion of a wealthy society as a whole when in fact poverty is directly across the street from those same advertisements. Many shanty towns built on the hills and within the desert lands are without a proper road system for safety measures. Those same roads, for example, are what the poorer citizens have to travel on and across in order to clean the houses or the beaches of the rich. The same beaches where the poorer citizens that clean them are not allowed to swim. Words from Susana Baca -“that is discrimination” (translated).
In the land of Cañete, the color of your skin often determines your financial status. The darker one’s skin the poorer one is and the lighter one’s skin the better-off one may be financially. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira both believe that the possibility of development lies within one’s roots and identity. If one’s identity can be recalled, and the gap across cultures bridged, then an identity as a whole will define the land and be the catalyst for change and advancement. But what does that look like? The answer to the question is continuously being unveiled. For example, many people in the land are finding that they enjoy playing the cajón drum that originates in Afro-Peruvian culture but dancing to it with Andean dance movements. The government of Peru has to realize what Cañete is experiencing in regard to a mix and blend of cultures, a drastic divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the disunity throughout the land.
The province of Cañete is known for its delicious food and melodious music. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira both have realized Cañete’s potential and have decided to use its assets to revive its rich mixed culture in order to invoke prosperity. Before visiting Cañete we were unaware of its background and history. Now we have a better understanding of the land and its people and I am interested to know how things will unfold. A policy analysis or discussion can be formed on this very topic.
– Beverly Luckett