A la portada de Ciberayllu

25 febrero 2003

The Street Signs of Downtown Lima:  Memory and Identity in Peru* 1 - I

«Why are Peruvians afraid of themselves?»

William W. Stein

The eclipse of a text.  A text is not a star.  In every way, it is never visible, never present.  Its “effectivity” (in itself already problematic, this word), its operation and the marks it leaves, are not reduced to the visibility of its phenomenal presence, its appearance.  A text will never be reduced to its (visible, sensible) phenomenon.  It is an ellipse, an ecliptic in itself. [...]  [A teleological optimism] assumes that any text, once occulted, minorized, abandoned, repressed, or censored [...] ought to reappear, if possible like a star!  Justice has to be done!  This optimism, which I have never shared, also inspires a politico-psychoanalytic concept of repression:  what was repressed is stored in the unconscious of a culture whose memory never loses a thing.  There is a political unconscious, no doubt, and also a politico-academic unconscious—we should take them into account, so as to analyze, so as to act—but there are ashes also:  of oblivion, of total destruction, whse “remains” in any case do not stay with us forever.

Not even an eclipse, then!  The body in question is not even deprived for a while of light—it is simply burned.  This incineration, this finitude of memory corresponds to a possibility so radical that the very concept of finitude (already theological) is in danger of being irrelevant.  Without it, perhaps, the violences of censorship and repression would not even be imaginable.  So, too, for the violence marking every procedure of legitimation or canonization.  Sometimes this violence is overtly political, and one could undoubtedly give examples, other than those now canonical or academic in their turn, of literatures, languages and discourses belonging to oppressed (or colonized) nations or classes, to women or blacks.  To these massive and very obvious examples, we ought to add examples less visible, less direct, more paradoxical, more perverse, more overdetermined.  (Jacques Derrida 1992:197-198.)

>to part 2>

Downtown Lima’s street signs, small texts themselves, reflect both the native past and the Spanish present.  In the city’s center  the Jirón de la Unión,  a properly Spanish designation, is flanked by the Jirones Carabaya and Camaná, then Lampa and Cailloma, Azángaro and Arica, and all of these between the Avenidas Abancay and TacnaFrom the Plaza de Armas to the Plaza San Martín, Unión is crossed by the Jirones Callao, Ica, Huancavelica, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno, and Ocoña, the names of departments and provinces.  Outside these perimeters are more such:  Chancay, Cañete, Ayacucho, Andahuaylas, Junín, Ancash, and so on, all of them place names derived from prehispanic, pre-conquest languages.  I do not have the means (access to historical sources) to account for how those streets got named, and I will not indulge in pretentious guessing about the modernization, indigenismo, and regionalism that may have inspired the change.  But—and I cannot resist asking the question—was it conceived as a response to “la crítica” que “era parte de un proyecto antioligárquico” (Elmore 1998:290) by the oligarchs themselves?  I know that in earlier times jirones did not exist but, rather, each block had its own name—which in a small city presented no great problem.  According to Eduardo Arroyo (1994:50), in 1821, for example, Lima had 63,315 inhabitants.  I recall that block designations were still in use in 1952 when I was directed to a government agency in a calle named “Zárate,” which was one small segment of Jirón Junín, between Azángaro and Abancay.  Arroyo (95-96) notes that the calles still retain their occupational and commercial identities.  Steve Stein (1986:13-14) says that a century ago people “se identifican, más que como limeños, de acuerdo a su barrio o su calle”, but things changed between 1900 and 1931 when Lima’s population grew 125 per cent, from 165,000 to 376,000.

The native Peruvian street names are well known to any student of Peruvian geography as places, and in many cases they have meaning to local people who speak the native languages from which they derive.  The original producers of these texts are long gone:  we cannot interrogate them as to their intentions or contexts.  But we can still treat the texts as writing, so that they may deconstruct themselves.  In an article appropriately entitled “Rigorous unreliability,” which we can look at as a celebration of Paul de Man’s work, Barbara Johnson (1985:74-75) advises us to change our focus:

By shifting the attention from intentional meaning to writing as such, deconstruction has enabled readers to become sensitive to a number of recurrent literary topoi in a new way.  Texts have been seen as commentaries on their own production or reception through their pervasive thematizations of textuality—the myriad letters, books, tombstones, wills, inscriptions, road signs, maps, birthmarks, tracks, footprints, textiles, tapestries, veils, sheets, brown stockings, and self-abolishing laces that serve in one way or another as figures for the text to be deciphered or unraveled or embroidered upon. [...]

In addition, by seeking interpretation itself as a fiction-making activity, deconstruction has both reversed and displaced the narrative categories of “showing” and “telling,” mimesis and diegesis.  Instead of according moments of textual self-interpretation an authoritative metalinguistic status, deconstruction considers anything the text says about itself to be an allegory of the reading process.  Hence, the privilege traditionally granted to showing over telling is reversed:  “telling” becomes a more sophisticated form of “showing,” in which what is “shown” is the breakdown of the show/tell distinction.  Far from doing the reader’s work for her, the text’s self-commentary only gives the reader more to do.  Indeed, it is the way in which a text subverts the possibility of any authoritative reading by inscribing the reader’s strategies into its own structure that often [...] ends up being constitutive of literature as such.

Thus, while the “intentional meanings” of the original authors are unrecoverable—that is, they are not simply repressed, a repressed that can or might return—deconstruction reveals, in Derrida’s terms, that these texts are ashes.  Cinders, the remains of a Peruvian Holocaust of peoples that had done no wrong.  Their bodies burned by the fevers of the European diseases their conquerors breathed on them, like the bodies of the Eastern European Jews cremated by the Nazis in recent times.  The living spirits that made the words work and connect with other words, consumed.  Derrida (1991:53-54) again:

But the urn of language is so fragile.  It crumbles and immediately you blow into the dust of words which are the cinder itself.  And if you entrust it to paper, it is all the better to inflame you with, my dear, you will eat yourself up immediately. [...]  I see the tomb of a tomb, the monument of an impossible tomb—forbidden, like the memory of a cenotaph, deprived of the patience of mourning, denied also the slow decomposition that shelters, locates, lodges, hospitalizes itself in you while you eat the pieces. [...]  An incineration celebrates perhaps the nothing of the all, its destruction without return but mad with its desire and with its cunning (all the better to preserve everything, my dear), the desperately disseminal affirmation but also just the opposite, the categorical “no” to the laborious work of mourning, a “no” of fire.  Can one ever accept working for His Highness Mourning.

The Spanish conquerors were violent people.  If the term “sociopaths” is applicable, it fits them well.  Gonzalo Portocarrero (2001:559, note 19) says what is necessary in few words:  “Al venir a América los españoles cometieron crueldades sin término:  violaciones masivas, torturas, asesinatos, robos.  Se vive la fantasía de ser dios y los indígenas no llegan a ser reconocidos como seres humanos.  Entonces nada está prohibido.”  The survivors, perhaps a tenth (the word “decimate” takes on a concrete meaning here) or less of the original population, had to construct themselves into the Viceroyalty.  As Karen Graubart (2000:84) observes, “while subalterns [could not] ‘escape’ this hegemonic political culture, they [did] indeed manipulate and possess it, within the context of the emerging colonial system.”  Indeed, many of them passed into it.  Karen Spalding (1974:181-182) describes the results two centuries later:

Es evidente que hubo casos de indios que “pasaron” a la sociedad europea.  Los miembros de la sociedad india, especialmente después de doscientos años de miscegenación, no podían distinguirse fácilmente de aquellas personas que se consideraban como descendientes de los europeos.  A fines del siglo XVII, administradores frustrados que trataron de mantener el reclutamiento de trabajo forzado, se quejaron de que un indio que se escapaba de su provincia donde su posición social era generalmente conocida, si cambiaba su modo de vestirse y hablaba español, hacía imposible el distinguirlo de las masas que no estaba sujetas a los servicios de trabajo.  Un español en el siglo XVIII afirmaba categóricamente que el “indio no puede ser distinguido del español por su configuración o por sus facciones”, a pesar de que se podía argumentar que a un peninsular le sería difícil reconocer las claras diferencias que percibían los residentes de la colonia, o que se convencían a sí mismos que lo hacían.  El mismo español afirmaba que las categorías raciales correspondían a las características socio-económicas.  Si un individuo se cortaba el cabello, ingresaba al servicio de un español, cambiaba su vestimenta y aprendía castellano, se volvía indistinto del mestizo, y si aprendía una profesión, podían [sic] pasar por mestizos e incluso por españoles.

Those who passed did not retain markers of the other, and most certainly did not pass them on to their children.  But apparently, some changes in appearance had been going on in the “Spanish,” i.e., the  criollo, part of the Peruvian population to match passing from the “indio” part.  Pierre Chaunu (1972:139) notes:

Los criollos de América, los de la América española, y también los del Brasil, no son blancos sino en forma aproximada ante los ojos de las clasificaciones indulgentes de la administración colonial, en razón del muy débil nivel (3% al comienzo, en la primera mitad del siglo XVI) de emigración femenina.  Por eso, las afirmaciones evidentemente contradictorias que muy a menudo se encuentran en las pretensiones criollas que, de una parte, aspiran a una ascendencia europea pura y, de otra, a la de un cacique indio.  Si es, a la vez, título e Inca.  Sin tener en cuenta su arrogancia, la familia criolla más pura es, sin embargo, un poco más blanca que el más humilde de los gachupines salido del corazón de Galicia.  Se puede afirmar, sin paradoja, que es la misma sociedad criolla la que, impulsada por su vanidad, coloca sobre ella los valores peninsulares.  La contradicción resulta más penosa porque se sitúa en el nivel más also de la sociedad criolla.  Si la administración colonial es peninsular lo es accesoriamente, por presión de los peninsulares en las Indias y, más accesoriamente todavía, por presión del gobierno central y, con toda seguridad, lo es en virtud de la dinámica profunda de la sociedad colonial.  De ahí la tentación de aligerar la pirámide social de una persona cima y la tentación para los criollos, dueños de valores blancos aproximativos, de quedar solos en la cima de una sociedad que hacen opresiva en su provecho.

As for the indio part in our time, what Peter Gose (1994:xii) has to say about the comuneros of Huaquirca, the community he studied in the Apurímac region, holds for countless Andean rural communities:

Many of Huaquirca’s commoners have Spanish surnames and genes bequeathed to them by priests who passed through the area in previous centuries.  Others are illegitimate or downwardly mobile offshoots of notable (i.e., mestizo) families who lost the means of distinguishing themselves from commoners.  In everything from land tenure to religion, the “traditional” culture of Huaquirca’s commoners is as Iberian as it is Andean.  Conversely, all but a few of Huaquirca’s notables speak perfect Quechua, and, until recently, were active and knowledgeable participants in the most “Andean” of the town’s rituals.  There can be little doubt that local notions of race serve to essentialize sociocultural distinctions that are in other respects quite fluid.

At some time in Peruvian history what Marisol de la Cadena (2000a:255) calls “el discurso sobre la decencia” came into being.  She writes about Cusco, a century ago, but this discourse is familiar to me for I met up with it in the Callejón de Huaylas in 1951 where the gente decente also took pains to separate from lower orders of being by drawing clear boundaries for  themselves.  (Borders, boundaries, limits, and frontiers are notorious places of physical and cultural hybridization in human history, as is evident in the work of Spalding and Chaunu, but we are considering discourse, not truth.)  De la Cadena (255-257) elaborates:

La decencia fue una norma de conducta maleable y flexible para la vida cotidiana que permitió la coexistencia de la creencia en la preponderancia de estatus adscritos y una aceptación de la definición liberal de igualdad social.  La decencia—una manera de reformular los códigos de honor coloniales—, fue primeramente considerada como una alta moralidad innata.  Sin embargo, dado que las ideas liberales más fundamentales se sustentaban en la posibilidad de movilidad social, los intelectuales liberales cusqueños sostuvieron que los estándares morales elevados no sólo estaban adscritos por nacimiento, sino que podían ser adquiridos por los individuos si estos recibían un adecuado entrenamiento. [...]

Implícitamente —si bien no necesariamente— asociada con la blancura, la decencia fue un discurso de clase que la élite utilizaba para distinguir entre categorías raciales en términos morales y culturales en una sociedad donde el fenotipo era inutilizable para definir fronteras sociales.  Linajes supuestos de gente decente eran aquellos en los que la pureza moral —o educación de cuna, tal como las élites se referían a ella— había sido heredada a lo largo de generaciones. [...]  En el Cusco, la pureza religiosa sobre vivió al período colonial, y la moralidad que antes implicaba devino en un moderno principio racializado adquirido mediante la educación—de cuna—antes que adscrito por nacimiento religioso.  En tanto principio moderno, fue útil para eclipsar la hibridez somática y producir la raza pura de las élites.

Those who did not pass in colonial times were no longer autóctonos but subalterns, indios.  Survivors of the original peoples turned into fragments.  And that, I suppose, is one of the many significations of “indio”:  fragment.  “Indio” is one of several “dense words” I will deal with here.  The term “dense word” is borrowed from Neira y Ruiz Bravo (2001:212) who apply it in their study of the patrón, an exceedingly “dense” signifier:  “Poco a poco nos fuimos percatando de que se trataba de una ‘palabra densa’;  pues el personaje al que aludía había quedado fijado en el imaginario social ejerciendo una influencia poderosa en la formación de las identidades y, asimismo, expresaba un núcleo simbólico donde se entrecruzan consideraciones de clase, género, etnicidad y estatus social.”  “Indio” is such a signifier, for although it has nothing to do with the peoples who were destroyed it is, nevertheless applied to them as well as the survivors.  “Dense words” (Clifford Geertz [1973], I suppose would call them “thick”) are polysemic, overdetermined, signifiers with multiple signifieds—and so “indio” signifies much more than that.  The object then becomes the decentering of privileged significations.  Susan Stewart (1980:116-119) focuses on etymology as “the prototype for the attempt to distinguish ‘objectively’ the boundaries of any language event”—

Every attempt to define a word dissolves into the occasions of its use, and any attempt to define the occasions of its use dissolves into a set of common-sense procedures that are themselves emergent through “occasions of use. [...]  The movement of play, the making apparent of operations, the inversion of hierarchy, and removal of privileged signification, becomes a movement [...] of infinite regress.  Like any form of ostensive metacommunication, play implicates itself—is caught up in a reflexive and infinite gesture.  Its every utterance undercuts itself and gives us movement without direction, temporality without order.

Playing with the word “indio”, or any other “dense” word, in Stewart’s sense, is an acceptance of responsibility rather than an abrogation of it.  This essay is designed to explore such multiple significations, for words can inspire attraction and repulsion, love and hate, respect and disrespect, heimlich and unheimlich feelings;  words can be violent and hurt people, and we need to know how they do it, for they are “only words”.  So the saying, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, and everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you!”, doesn’t always work.

We are in no position to play with the signs the original Peruvians left behind.  Even the so-called “chronicles” of conquest give little assistance to the interpretation of pre-conquest significations.  Graubart (2000:103) points out:

[T]he conquistadors encountered not an ahistorical homogeneous culture in the areas that are now Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, but a complex confederation of different ethnicities and chiefdoms involved in civil and ethnic wars.  Their ability to understand the complexity of situations in which they found themselves, and some of which they caused, was limited by language, experience, war, and prejudice.  They chose sides and, as a result, valued certain myths and histories over others;  they also exaggerated in order to aggrandize their own accomplishments, and, like all border-crossers, used their own experience to interpret what they saw.  As a result, chronicles of the conquest and histories of Peru tended to be an amalgam of a particular kind of observation and fiction, honed to produce the desired response in readers, in particular material rewards for extraordinary service from the government.

Graubart (52) notes how missionaries were alarmed at “the multitude of languages” in the Central Andes, which were viewed as “the work of the devil,” and set about imposing Quechua as a standard in which they could preach the Gospel.  So most of the languages disappeared, leaving signifiers without signifieds.  Cinders.  The task of seeking out some original authoctonous state of being is impossible.  How does one remember what can’t be recalled?  As Gayatri Spivak (1999:65) says of the legitimation of authenticity in her native India:  “The nativist [read “indigenista” for Peru] can then forget that there is no historically available authentic [...] Indian point of view that can now step forth [...] and reclaim its rightful place in the narrative of world history.”

Roland Barthes (1981:65) says:

History is hysterical:  it is constituted only if we consider it—and in order to look at it, we must be excluded from it.  As a living soul, I am the very contrary of History, I am what belies it, destroys it for the sake of my own history (impossible for me to believe in “witnesses”;  impossible, at least, to be one;  Michelet was able to write virtually nothing about his own time).

Barthes places the historian in the situation of the hysterical patient gazing at a limb with no sensation.  So too the biographer.  Actually, anyone trying to remember the past.

Well, memory hasn’t been the same since Sigmund Freud.  In his early essay on “Screen memories,” in which he reports his psychoanalytic discovery of innocuous memories which hid painful ones, he also reports on “falsified memories.”  The latter “serve the purposes of the repression and replacement of objectionable or disagreeable impressions”, but “the raw material of memory traces out of which [they were] forged remains unknown to us in its original form.”  A reading of Freud might lead us to write “memory” as “remembering/forgetting.”  He concludes:

The recognition of this fact must diminish the distinction we have drawn between screen memories and other memories derived from childhood.  It may indeed be questioned whether we have any memories at all from our childhood:  memories relating to our childhood may be all that we possess.  Our childhood memories show us our earliest years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when the memories were aroused.  In these periods of arousal, the childhood memories did not, as people are accustomed to say, emerge;  they were formed at that time.  And a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories themselves.  (Freud 1962:322.)

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud (1960:47-48) suggests:  “One is [...] forced [...] to suspect that in the so-called earliest childhood memories we possess not the genuine memory-trace but a later revision of it, a revision which may have been subjected to the influences of a variety of later psychical forces.  Thus the ‘childhood memories’ of individuals come in general to acquire the significance of ‘screen memories’ and in doing so offer a remarkable analogy with the childhood memories that a nation preserves in its store of legends.”  Nearly a century later, Derrida (1992:200-201) writes:

[A]mnesia is never accidental.  It signifies something;  its phenomenon is not just negative.  It is not just a loss of memory.  A selective, hierarchizing operation organizes the inheritance.  It even produces it.  Amnesia does not merely happen to some inheritance already received, undergoing this intervention afterward.  The inheritance is itself this thematizing violence of memory, this sifting thematization, this thesis filtering within the general sys-tem.  As a theme of memory posing and proposing, putting and promising as much as receiving, it gives rise to academic anamneses and amnesias:  to position, transposition, deposition, institution of memory, to a genealogy of inheritance.

A national amnesia is an organized amnesia.  For example, it is doubtful that most Peruvians would accept today John Murra’s (2000:122) suggestion that a big bronze statue of Pizarro be replaced by a big bronze statue of a potato—because it would seem absurd to replace a “hero” with an Andean vegetable.  As for Lima’s downtown street signs, they seem like national “screens,” among many other such, that help avert what Peruvians might otherwise “remember” with pain.  I employ them as metonyms for Peruvian identity.  Our present understanding of memory also helps explain the comment by León, Reyes y Vela (2000:27):  “La escasa conciencia histórica de la inmensa mayoría de la población hace que el pasado del Perú se presente para el ciudadano común como una realidad brumosa, alejada, poco significativa para él como persona, que sólo cobra relativa vigencia en determinadas ocasiones (Fiestas Patrias, por ejemplo) o que se actualiza por oposición:  un partido de fútbol en una eliminatoria de Mundial;  o la posibilidad de una agresión militar provocan la por lo general ausente unidad nacional y mueven al recuerdo emotivo.”

John Beverley (2002:17) criticizes a historian—who does not need to be named, for his critique applies to whole schools of historians—for writing another “‘biografía’ del Estado nacional en su forma actual” that “nos deja sobre todo con la inevitabilidad historicista de la narrativa”.  Historical memory fools us, like a trickster aiding and abetting our sensual illusions.  Nils Jacobsen (1993:4) offers us liberation from such illusions by setting a high standard with history that views change as neither “linear”, “inevitable”, nor “predetermined”.  He writes about the altiplano, but his words apply to Peru as a whole:

What [...] is meant by “legacy of colonialism”?  It means the tendency of most social groups in the altiplano—Indian community peasants, hispanized large landholders, traders, priests, government officials, police, and military—to use polarized visions of society, such as those of colonizers/colonized, Spaniards/Indians, civilized notables/barbaric peasants, to construct, define, and fortify their own power and social identity.  As the pattern of trade, the relations of production, the composition of the social groups, and the nature of the state underwent important changes between the 1780s and 1930, most social sectors in the altiplano repeatedly appealed to and relied on such polarized visions, distilled from the memory of the colonial past, to increase or defend their access to economic resources.

   Between the late eighteenth century and 1900 the political and administrative structure of the colonial regime, its pattern of taxation, its legal notions of corporate landholding, and its social categorization scheme were gradually dismantled.  By 1900, moreover, estate owners, traders and governmental authorities were a rather different group from the dominant elites of the mid-eighteenth century, many having risen from humble backgrounds as muleteers, petty traders, and modest landholders since independence.  The Indian communities of 1900 had undergone great changes in the preceding century, and in some ways the very identity of “the Indian” was distinct from the colonial antecedent.  Although altiplano society and economy thoroughly changed in response to growing demand for its raw materials on the world market and new currents of political and social ideas, the colonial cleavages and modes of constructing power did not disappear:  they took on a new garb.

What is “colonial” about downtown Lima, aside from the fact that its street signs are Andean texts, in contrast with texts like the Avenidas Ricardo Palma, José Pardo, Benavides, and 28 de julio in Miraflores, and Santa Cruz, Salaverry, Arenales, and Camino Real in San Isidro?  These days I don’t get to downtown Lima very often, even though Lima taxis are rather inexpensive ways of getting places, because while a freeway brings one to the edge of the city’s center it also brings one to a very large and frustrating traffic jam as well as horribly polluted air.  (Lima has the distinction of being “la ciudad con el peor tránsito vehicular del mundo [Arroyo 1994:23, 116].)  Many taxi drivers have refused to carry me there.  For the last thirty years, I have been staying in San Isidro and Miraflores, southern suburbs with high-rise apartment houses and office buildings, multi-tiered shopping malls with underground parking garages, restaurants and theaters–all the conveniences that make up a First World enclave planted in a Third World country–, on streets named Los Libertadores, and others named for specific historical and literary figures like the Avenida Petit Thouars, or the Calles Salvador Gutiérrez and Ugarte y Moscoso.

Lima is a large metropolis of seven or eight million people, almost a third of the twenty-six-or-more million Peruvians.  The other two-thirds-plus live in the smaller cities, towns, and hamlets in the hinterland.  Since the Second World has disappeared—and maybe it never was--there is a rather large gap between the First and the Third–like an infinite hyphen that can separate people rubbing shoulders.  When one walks about San Isidro, Miraflores, and other affluent suburbs, one finds a patrol-man or woman on almost every block.  Poor people, most pushcart peddlers, beggars, street people, pickpockets, and the like, do not dare intrude.  Still, residents surround their homes with high walls, metal bars, and electrified fences.  When I stayed for a time in a penthouse apartment, I was given a key ring with four keys: one for the grill at the front, another to enter an inner reception room with an elevator, and two more to unlock the door of the apartment.  There were also two watchmen in the building, alternating on day and night shifts.  With such a series of steel bars, locked doors, surveillance, and security checks, I was uncertain whether or not I was in prison (and whether I was a prisoner or a guard), or whether I was in a manicomio (and whether I was a keeper or a madman observing the horrible chaos of stars turning into cinders).

José Guillermo Nugent (1992:89-90) has this most significant observation with regard to the rejas:

La peculiaridad de la reja está en la forma que tiene:  la mayor parte reproducen los barrotes características de las celdas carcelarias.  No está en cuestión aquí el hecho de la proliferación de los robos a esos establecimientos.  Lo especialmente llamativo, y que en modo alguno guarda una relación necesaria con los robos como tales, es la referencia a la cárcel.  Está claro que no se trata de una advertencia a los potenciales ladrones sino al público.  El mensaje podría ser algo parecido a esto:  ya no importa que usted esté o no de acuerdo con que robar sea also moralmente incorrecto;  ahora, así lo quiera, ya no podrá hacerlo, por la existencia de este límite físico.

El escenario natural de la eticidad son las calles.  El progresivo abandono de lo público es el síntoma más importante de este proceso que tipificamos como desgracia criolla.  El tipo de enrejados de casas particulares en determinados barrios que podría ser fácil tentación para ladrones de casas tiene otras características.  A diferencia del modelo cárcel, destacan las agudas puntas, generalmente tres, que están en la parte superior de los enrejados.  Su significado, sin embargo, es muy distinto al de las rejas-cárcel.  Lo que se transmite es que el ocupante de la casa ha tomado todas las amenazantes precauciones para sustraerse de la vida pública.

Middle- and upper-class people worry about being overwhelmed, perhaps drowned, and almost certainly swept away by what José Matos Mar (1984), writing nearly two decades ago, calls a “desborde popular” of what they refer to deprecatingly as “cholos,” people with Andean, or “Indian,” roots.  (“Cholo is another “dense word”.)  He says:

Lima se ha convertido en escenario de un masivo desborde popular.  Este desbordo lleva el sello de la composición dominante andina de su nueva población que proyecta sus estilos.  Lima muestra ya un nuevo rostro y comienza a perfilar una nueva identidad.

El Centro de Lima, la llamada Lima cuadrada virreinal, ha venido cristalizando ese nuevo rostro desde la década de 1960.  Se ha hecho ajeno, por vez primera en nuestro proceso histórico, a los sectores opulentos y medios.  Sus calles adquieren el aspecto de ferias provincianas por el discurrir de multitudes que las copan.  Sus múltiples servicios son mayoritariamente utilizados por estos nuevos personajes populares y el sector de economía contestataria tiene en ella su núcleo de acción más importante.  La presencia de los principales centros de poder de la élite tradicional como el Palacio de Gobierno, la Municipalidad, la Catedral, los Bancos y centros comerciales, queda como fondo de contraste con el estilo que imponen estas multitudes populares.  La irradiación de este nuevo rostro del corazón de Lima, que está ahora más teñido de andino que nunca y que borra la faz hispánica, comienza a expandirse segmentariamente a distritos como San Borja, La Victoria, Breña, Jesús María, Lince, Pueblo Libre, Magdalena y aun San Isidro y Miraflores. (79-80.)

Julio Cotler (1978:289) says of the mass migrations up to then:

La migración hacia las ciudades agudizó los sentimientos ambivalentes de desprecio y temor de los tradicionales sectores medios urbanos y de la clase dominante hacia los sectores populares campesinos.  En la medida que la “indiada” bajaba de las serranías rodeando con sus hábitos campesinos y su extraño hablar las ciudades “blancas y criollas”, abriéndose paso y destruyendo “el puente, el río y la alameda” colonial, desdibujaban rápidamente esa “Lima que se va”.  Temor y desprecio conjugaban los sentimientos de esas clases, que veían en nuestra marea un peligro contra la propiedad y las “buenas costumbres de la gente decente”.  A los intereses clasistas se sumaban los sentimientos étnicos de los que consideraban tener “limpieza de sangre”.

Recalling José Gálvez’s sentimental yearning for the past, José Carlos Mariátegui (1994:288) sarcastically commented:  “La ‘Lima que se va’ no tiene ningún valor serio, ningún perfume poético, aunque Gálvez se esfuerce por demostrarnos, elocuentemente, lo contrario.  Lo lamentable no es que esa Lima se vaya, sino que no se haya ido más de prisa.”  But then, he identified himself with the “cholos”.

The Lima elites, who did not wish to “irse”, saw themselves invaded.  Sebastián Salazar Bondy (1977:124-125) compares this with Lima’s “occupation” by Chilean forces during the War of the Pacific, 1879-1885:

Lima permaneció durante dos años en manos ajenas y aunque pudo, con las refinadas artes que le eran propias, subyugar al subyugador, por vez primera tuvo conciencia de que no era inviolable y de que su decantado linaje, su capitalidad señorial y su gloria nada significaban si el empuje extraño e invasor estaba movido por las ganas de vivir.  Lima no acumula experiencia pues hoy debiera rememorar—sea permitida la digresión—aquellas fechas, pues otros ejércitos hambrientos la cercan para poseerla y hacerla expiar sus largas indiferencias.  Hemos de lavar algo las culpas por siglos sedimentadas en esta cabeza corrompida de los falsos wiraqochas, con lágrimas, amor o fuego.  ¡Con lo que sea!  Somos miles de millares, aquí, ahora, amenazan, en la voz de José María Arguedas, los nuevos sitiadores.

No affluent Peruvian would dare to appear unguarded in those other, “occupied”, parts of the city.  Lima is now compartmentalized.  In the conclusion to his late colonial study of Lima, Jesús Cosamalón (1999:224) makes a comparison of that city with the contemporary one:  “No tenemos un solo espacio urbano, por el contrario la Ciudad esconde varias ciudades.  No hay que ser demasiado agudo para darnos cuenta que, en un proceso iniciado hace algunas décadas, la ciudad se ha fragmentado de manera real.”  Indeed, Lima has several centros.  Arroyo (1994:14) reports:

Hoy el Centro Histórico no necesariamente lo es de todos.  Si bien mantiene su preponderancia histórica, así como la centralidad de multitud de funciones, Lima aparece descentrada o más bien multicéntrica.  El viejo downtown ya no es un punto de referencia para el conjunto de limeños, un punto de convergencia común.  “Ir al Centro” puede tener varios significados.  Los que habitan en el cono Norte de la ciudad tienen como centro de sus actividades el entorno de la Plaza Unión o Castilla;  para el cono Sur, el centro de actividades puede ser el área que circunda a la Av. Pachacútec e inmediaciones.  Para las capas medias acomodadas el centro es más bien San Isidro o Miraflores.

When I stand at the corner of the Avenidas Larco and Benavides, walk along Miguel Dasso after shopping for books in El Virrey, or wander around the Centro Comercial Camino Real or Larco Mar, both large shopping malls, it feels like downtown, though they are far from the real center which Arroyo (20) paradoxically notes, “mantiene por lo tanto aún un rol hegemónico en el funcionamiento global de la ciudad.”

Gladys Chávez (1997:161-162) dramatically calls our attention to yet another world of fast food and punk fashion, an electronic world of television, cyberspace, and cellular telephone, which separates different sectors of Lima more radically than the fragmentation of the past century:

La distancia cultural entre países y—diríamos—también entre clases, se acorta con el consumo de los mismos bienes o similares:  hoy un joven de Lima, Singapur o Londres vestido con gorrito de béisbol, polo con el rostro del Che (emblema del grupo musical “Rage Against the Machine”), pantalones hasta la rodilla, zapatillas de tenis (aunque no tenga ni raqueta), puede deleitarse con un suculento “Big Mac”, mientras sonríe con las ocurrencias de Tim Allen de “Home Improvement” (Mejorando la Casa), recordar que se transmite el Grammy a las 9 p.m. y al cambiar de canal, detenerse a mirar el video-clip de Aerosmith por MTV, terminar su cerveza heladita, contestar el teléfono y comentar con un amigo los detalles de Dylan recibiendo el premio, recomendarle el CD “Fire” de Daft Punk sobre el que leyó en “Rolling Stone” de Enero.

Entre ellos, puede haber más cercanía y comunicación, que entre el joven limeño y sus compatriotas de Comas y Villa El Salvador, aunque la extensión de la televisión por cable y los planes de expansión de la cadena MacDonald’s, harán posible que también estos lugares se incluyen en su radio de acción.

Portocarrero, Valentín y Irigoyen (1991:42, 57) explain the tension among the different sectors of the city:

[P]ara los sectores populares buena parte de la clase media resulta extranjera.  En el Perú la “lucha de clases” tiene un trasfondo racial que la crisis llevó a primer plano.  Las clases medias se identifican poco con los sectores populares y los maltratan, no los ven como iguales.  Al considerarlas extranjeras, sin arraigo y sin títulos de legitimidad para estar en el país, los sectores populares les pagan con la misma moneda.  No se solidarizan con ellas.

Para las clases medias se multiplican los espacios hostiles.  A los distritos tradicionalmente peligrosos (Barrios Altos, La Victoria, El Agustino, etc.) se suma ahora el propio centro de la ciudad, prácticamente abandonado a los sectores populares.  Segregada y reducida a sus barrios, ni aún en ellos encuentra la clase media la seguridad que demanda.  Los asaltos y los robos crecen sin cesar y así también lo hacen los muros, las rejas y los huachimanes.  Pero las precauciones no son suficientes y la delincuencia aumenta incontenible:  el arrebato de carteras a las señoras, la agresión a los niños para quitarles sus bicicletas, el robo de accesorias y de carros son hechos cotidianos.

How did Peruvians come to be so afraid of each other?  How is it that they dislike, distrust, and disapprove of each other?  Why do they wish to rob, cheat, and injure each other?  As Max Hernández (1986:121) puts it:

[P]ienso que los peruanos nos dividimos esencialmente en dos bandos;  quienes nos creemos descendientes de los incas o de las etnías, y quienes nos creemos descendientes de los blancos.  Y nos dividimos a la vez en dos partes, los que nos sentimos descendientes de los incas o de los indios, la mitad queremos pasarnos por blancos y la otra mitad queremos matar a los blancos:  y de los que nos sentimos descendientes de los blancos, la mitad nos sentimos culpables de ser blancos y queremos ser indios, y la otra mitad queremos matar a los indios para no avergonzarnos de tener un país con indios.

Although, as we will soon see, the concept of “race war” is unreal in Perú, Hernández’s statement is a metaphor for the identity struggles of individuals.  But why does one desire to kill the other while the other kills one?

Continue to Part 2


* A previous version of this work was originally presented to the conference "Batallas por la Memoria: Antagonismos de la Promesa Peruana," Red para el Desarrollo de las Ciencias Sociales en el Perú, October 24-26, 2002.

1 This essay began in the three last lines of my contribution to the Red’s 2001 Seminario Stein 2001:475).  I presented an expanded version in English, with a section of about a half dozen pages on Lima’s street signs, to the Anthropological Society of Ireland’s meeting in Dublin later that year.  This is yet another version of that section.  I have been a Peruvianist for the last fifty years, a specialty which has taken me to Lima many times.  In 1951-52 I lived for most of the year in the Callejón de Huaylas, which resulted in an ethnography of a rural community.  In 1959 I spent four months studying a Lima psychiatric hospital, the data from which were finally published over three decades later.  I’ve also done work on an Andean popular movement, agricultural development in the Andes, a biographical study of the internationally known Peruvian essayist, José Carlos Mariátegui, and written about the “vicissitudes of development discourse” in the well known Vicos Project.  For credits to granting agencies which have generously assisted me see the Preface in my recent book (Stein 2000).  I thank Wilfredo Ardito Vega, Andrew Canessa, and Elayne Zorn for permission to cite their unpublished works.  Susan Stein has uncovered hidden binaries in the original manuscript and I am indebted to her for suggesting ways out of them, but new binaries that may have crept into my rewriting of the old ones are all my doing.

© 2003, William W. Stein
Escriba al autor: wstein@sprynet.com
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To quote this document:
Stein, William W.: «The Street Signs of Downtown Lima - Memory and Identity in Peru», en Ciberayllu [en línea], 25 February 2003.