January 11, 2010

Vamos pa’ Chincha: Why the Afro-Peruvian Cultural Revival and Social Movements Have Little Relevance for Afro-Peruvians in Ingenio

Ingenio, the town where I conducted research for my dissertation and book on Afro-Peruvians, is over one thousand kilometers north of Lima, the capital of Peru. Although Ingenio is a town where most residents are of African descent, few residents of Ingenio are aware of the various cultural and social Afro-Peruvian movements that have been based in Lima since the 1940s. Their lack of awareness is indicative of the low visibility that these groups have gained in Peru overall. It is also indicative of the extent to which the overall goals of the movement are out of line with the daily reality of the people of Ingenio.

The beginnings of Afro-Peruvian social movements can be located in the black arts revival, which began in Peru in the 1940s. In 1945, the government of José Luis Bustamante y Rivera initiated a program to revalorize national folklore. Most of the funds were directed at indigenous cultural traditions, yet some black Peruvian cultural forms were promoted through these programs. Don Porfirio Vazquez, for example, was hired to teach Black Peruvian dance in a government-sponsored Limeño folklore academy. Through the connections he made there, Vasquez met José Durand and worked with him to create the Pancho Fierro Company, the first Afro-Peruvian dance company. In 1956, the Pancho Fierro Company made its public debut at the Lima Municipal Theater, bringing, for the first time, black traditions from the homes of black families to the stage. This marked the beginning of the black arts revival in Peru. The revival was strengthened through subsequent nationalist initiatives of the government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado, and the traditions brought alive through the revival remain at the core of Afro-Peruvian cultural production today (Feldman 2006).

The Afro-Peruvian cultural revival was closely followed by Afro-Peruvian social movements that sought to fight against discrimination and the invisibilization of blacks in Peru. In fact, one of the first movements, Cumanana, was both a cultural revival and a core of black activism. Nicomedes and Victoria Santa Cruz co-directed Cumanana from 1959 to 1961, and it continued for many years under the direction of Nicomedes Santa Cruz. Their productions often contested discrimination and celebrated blackness (Feldman 2006).

In the 1960s, Afro-Peruvians found inspiration in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and began to form their own organizations. One of the first was Asociación Cultural para la Juventud Negra Peruana (Cultural Association for Black Peruvian Youth) or ACEJUNEP, founded in 1972 by José Campos. It was eventually disbanded due to a lack of funding. However, in 1983, José Campos, José Luciano and Juan José Vasquez formed the Instituto de Investigaciones Afro-Peruanas (Institute for Afro-Peruvian Studies) or INAPE. With Ford Foundation funding, INAPE carried out several studies of rural Afro-Peruvian communities. The funding, however, ran out, and the organization fell through. It was soon followed by the Movimento Negro Francisco Congo (Francisco Congo Black Movement) or MNFC, created in 1986 by people from INAPE (Luciano and Rodriguez 1995; Thomas 2008).

In the 1990s, black movements in Peru began to gain access again to international funding, and became more stable. Jorge Ramirez Reyna, for example, procured funds from USAID and the Kellogg Foundation for the Asociación Negra de Derechos Humanos (Black Association of Human Rights) or ASONEDH, which he founded in 1993. In 1999, former members of MNFC formed the Centro de Desarollo Etnico (Center for Ethnic Development) or CEDET, which was successful at securing United Nations funding for the development of black communities in Peru. By 2005, there were fifteen independent Afro-Peruvian social movement organizations in Peru. Only a handful, however, were financially stable, mostly due to their ability to secure funds from international donors (Thomas 2008).

At various points, leaders of these organizations have traveled to Ingenio to gain the support of residents and to build a mass-based movement. In my conversations with people in Ingenio, I learned that most residents were unaware that there is a black social movement in Peru. Those that attended the workshops sponsored by Afro-Peruvian groups remember them fondly and tell me they learned important things about their history and about human rights. However, apart from the occasional workshop, few residents of Ingenio have these Afro-Peruvian social movements at the forefront of their minds. Instead, they are much more likely to be concerned about the selling price of rice and their ability to meet their basic needs – especially food and water. Although many of these social movements see the people of Ingenio as their constituency, much work remains to be done before the people of Ingenio could be organized as Afro-Peruvians.

The black arts revival consisted of remembering and preserving black cultural forms from Lima and southern coastal Peru, primarily Chincha. These cultural forms are distinct from those practiced by blacks in northern Peru, where Ingenio is located. Thus, although artists such as Victoria and Nicomedes Santa Cruz made great strides in the promotion of Afro-Peruvian culture, this has little to do with the black people of Ingenio. The residents of Ingenio are well aware of Afro-Peruvian music and dance, as this genre has come to be called, yet they do not see it as part of their cultural traditions, even though they do consider themselves to be black and Peruvian.

In a similar fashion, the black social movement in Peru is based in Lima and is focused on gaining national visibility and fighting against discrimination – two goals I fully support. However, the people of Ingenio tend to be consumed with day-to-day survival and are therefore disinclined to participate actively in a movement against discrimination and for Afro-Peruvian visibility.


  1. Hello,
    We both share blogger on similar subjects. I go to Perú every year(as well as other countries) to immerse myself in the language and the culture. Most of my stay in Perú is in El Carmen de Chincha as described in my blog post, “My Home Away from Home: http://ahorasecreto.blogspot.com/2010/05/el-carmen-peru-has-become-my-home-away.html

    Bill Smith
    African American-Latino World

  2. Hi Bill,
    Great to hear from you and to learn about your blog! Thanks for sharing the resource.


  3. Hola! It is so sad that President Obama has the most deportations even though people credit him for being the face of "post-racial" society in North America. I like your blog about bringing awareness to Afro-Latinos. I've never been to Peru, but I am indigenous and proud, and can relate to the historical oppression in Latin America. My cousin is Afro-Latino, but most people perceive him as Black. I am beginning to read your book Yo Soy Negro, and I wish more people understood the past and the ramifications that it has on today's world. Indigenous movements are so connected, but people in the United States are so disconnected. It is so frustrating. Keep up the good work. Keep writing history with sensitivity and compassion!