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  • Reading Enrique Verástegui
  • Steven F. White

Enrique Fidel Verástegui Peláez was born in Lima in 1950, but was raised in San Vicente de Cañete, which is located ninety miles south of Peru's capital on the Pacific coast and is considered one of the centers of Afro-Peruvian culture. While he was studying Economics and Business Administration at the University of San Marcos in Lima, he published his groundbreaking first book of poems, En los extramuros del mundo (1971). According to a recent survey conducted by Paul Guillén, editor of the influential electronic literary journal Sol negro, this debut publication by Verástegui is considered the most important work of Peruvian poetry over the last forty years. According to Guillén, "Verástegui, in En los extramuros del mundo, founded his own city and ignited Peruvian verse with his marvelous poems." It was at this time that Verástegui joined the important Peruvian literary movement Hora Zero, as a co-founder along with Jorge Pimentel (b. 1944) and Juan Ramírez Ruiz (b. 1946). Verástegui also has written about the importance of Perú's music of African origin in his cultural formation: "When I was twenty-two, in an apartment in San Isidro, the financial heart of Lima, a Peruvian Manhattan . . . I discovered the Afro-Peruvian music performed by Nicomedes Santa Cruz, who was formed in Lima and who died in Madrid, with a raspy voice like Satchmo's, that lamented the sad condition of black Peruvians but also sang of hope ("A black man will be President"). In the 1975 article "Negritud: la conciencia emergente," Verástegui highlights the crucial influence of Santa Cruz not only as a musician, but also as a cultural organizer and a political activist, the first Afro-Peruvian voice to do so on a national scale.

In 1976, with the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Verástegui traveled and studied in Spain and France. Other important books of poetry and prose by Enrique Verástegui include: Praxis: asalto y destrucción del infierno (1980), El motor del deseo (1987), Angelus novus (2 volumes) (1989-1990), Monte de goce (1991), Terceto de Lima (1992), Taki Onqoy (1993), Albus (1995), El modelo del teorema (1997), Yachay hanay (2006), and Teoría de los cambios (2009). In 2010, Verástegui, together with renowned singer Susana Baca, inaugurated the new Casa de la Cultura in Cañete and spoke of the need to understand the complex ethnic heritage of Perú, saying that the country cannot progress "without the Afro-Peruvian men who came here to work, to dig up sweet potatoes with their feet."

Reading Enrique Verástegui means contemplating social, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual issues, but it also exposes other, larger controversial concerns related to Perú's future as a multiracial, multilingual country. As Miguel Ángel Cárdenas says in the 2009 article "Power Does Not Have This Color" that appeared in the major Peruvian newspaper El Comercio: [End Page 244]

Pancho Fierro. Nicomedes Santa Cruz. Perico León. Mauro Mina. Cecilia Tait. Susana Baca. Octavio Santa Cruz. Teresa Izquierdo. Amador Ballumbrosio. Enrique Verástegui. Why are the most successful and influential Afro-Peruvians restricted to the arts, sports, and gastronomy? It is impossible to understand Perú's ethnic mix without considering the component of African origin. But why is it that in recent years in this society that discriminates at will there nevertheless has been a cholo (indigenous) president [Alejandro Toledo, 2001-06] (a phenomenon characterized as "healthy and sacred") and, before that, a president of Japanese origin [Alberto Fujimori, 1990-2000] (with his own style of "Chinese dance") and not a single president of African origin, someone proud to be black? [End Page 245]

Steven F. White
St. Lawrence University
  • Leyendo a Enrique Verástegui
  • Steven F. White

Enrique Verástegui nació en Lima en 1950 pero se crió en San Vicente de Cañete, ubicado a 111 kilómetros al sur de la capital peruana en la costa central y considerado la cuna de la cultura afroperuana. Mientras estudiaba Economía y la Administración de Empresas en la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Verástegui public...


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