The Americas 57.2 (2000) 297-298
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Peruvians consider Arequipa a unique city. Arequipeños themselves take enormous pride in the region's beauty and development while many outsiders poke fun at their presumed arrogance and parochialism. Arequipeño jokes are legendary. In the nineteenth century, the region often led struggles against Lima centralism and coastal caudillos. In social terms, Arequipa calls itself the "white city," a reflection of both the volcanic ash that lightens the earth and the supposedly more European skin color (and culture) of its residents. Sarah Chambers examines this region in the transition from colony to republic, probing key aspects of Arequipa's seeming uniqueness. In particular, she asks how the region maintained class and racial cohesion despite obvious and deep social divisions. In doing so, Chambers provides an innovative focus on gender in postcolonial Peru.
This examination of gender in the struggles and debates about postindependence Peru constitutes the strength of the book. At a discursive level, she studies the changing understanding and uses of concepts such as honor and virtue. She cleans the dust off these somewhat tired terms by linking them to the debates about citizenship and domestic relations. Chambers moves beyond discourse, however, and studies how diverse groups battled in the legal system over women's role in the new republic. Here we see how the nascent republic excluded women from broader rights understood within the concept of citizenship and how women questioned these efforts. For example, she portrays court cases over domestic abuse as a battle over whether what takes place within the household is a public (political) question or a private issue. The latter interpretation dominated, bolstering patriarchal structures. The sections on the efforts by the early republican state to control and educate or civilize the lower classes stand out for their clarity and novelty and help overcome the misinterpretation of these decades as mere caudilloled chaos.
Chambers also takes us into taverns, the streets, and occasionally into the households of Arequipa. The author demonstrates convincingly that the analysis of the independence and early republican periods needs to consider gender. Competing notions of how Peru was to be organized after the defeat of the Spanish clashed on [End Page 297] the questions of the relationship between the state and the family and the relationship between men and women. We see this not only in language (discussions about la patria, for example) but in legislation, the legal system, and everyday life. This is the strength of the book.
The author is not as convincing on the question of how or why Arequipa remained relatively cohesive in contrast to other regions where class and racial differences induced broad political struggles. She demonstrates that notions of honor and virtue provided a capacious definition of "honorable" or "decent" people, incorporating middle sectors while excluding the majority, particularly women. The gap between high and low cultures broadened and middle groups opted into the upper tiers, mimicking the elite's Europeanization and disdain for the lower classes. At times, the term co-optation came to mind. Yet, Chambers also plots out the increasing politicization of the lower classes, and a related heightening of repressive measures. In the end, I wondered how these changes did not develop into class or racebased struggles, with an important gender element? Some sections imply that the answer lay in some type of false consciousness, as even the lower orders accepted the notion of the unique "white" nature of arequipeños.
These qualms reflect the importance of the book. Chambers sets new standards for the incorporation of gender into the examination of the debates and struggles over post-colonial Peru. Moreover, she has written a readable book that moves back and from the city to the countryside with enjoyable and worthwhile forays into festivals, legal trials, and the domestic sphere. She...