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  • Afro-Peruvians and the Official Cultural Institutionalism:Recovering the Lost Voices
  • M'bare N'gom

Peruvian negritude literature, to use the apt expression of the illustrious critic and scholar Estuardo Núñez, is a cultural project that has received very little critical and theoretical attention from scholars, neither in Peru nor abroad. Until very recently, the majority of sporadic studies about Peruvian writers of African descent and their cultural creation were limited to very few authors such as Nicomedes Santa Cruz, Enrique López Albújar, Gregorio Martínez, and Antonio Gálvez Ronceros; out of all of them, Nicomedes Santa Cruz is the most well known and studied decimista, folklorist, and poet.

This special issue of Callaloo intends to divulge the trans-African experience in the cultural creation of the Afro-descendents in Peru.1 Likewise, it has attempted to show the place where these outlying and alternative cultural projects lie, within what the Peruvian critic Dorian Espezua Salmón calls "literary institutionalism" or the literary canon, that is, a place of cultural validation but also of exclusion. As for us—because of the "profound heterogeneity" that characterizes Peruvian society at all levels—we will be defining this space as "official cultural institutionalism" by using the conceptual category and the criticism proposed by Antonio Cornejo Polar as well as by using the cultural products that are the subject of the studies that comprise this book.2 Indeed, although the majority of works here deal with literature, others contemplate expressive platforms such as painting, music, dance, decimas, popular folk songs, and theater.

Martha Ojeda observes that the incorporation into the literary canon, and we add cultural canon, of cultural works historically situated outside of the canon itself is due to the fact that "the new literary theories and critical focuses, such as cultural studies, are giving more importance to non-canonical authors and artistic manifestations ignored by the traditional literary critic" (1). Indeed, it was in American and, to a lesser extent, Canadian university centers where these critical traditions about the literary creations of Hispanic-American authors of African descent were recognized at the end of the 1970s.3 It is within this opening—one of cultural fluidity and inclusion—that we should place the distinct institutional and academic initiatives better known as "Recovery Projects." These began to appear in the United States in the 1990s, and their objective was, among others, to spread knowledge about the cultural presence of groups that were traditionally invisible in North American culture such as African Americans, women, and Hispanics in general, as well as their contribution to the literary history and, consequently, cultural history of the United States and of the Americas in general. While these efforts are praiseworthy, [End Page 286] some official critics warn us against attempting to establish what they call "other canons," since we would run the risk of fragmenting the official canon and, therefore, devaluing it. As for us, we believe that these initiatives will neither fragment nor devalue the canon, but rather contribute towards democratizing and enriching it while bringing to light the work of authors who have been confined to the margins on both a cultural and historical spectrum, much like the case of women, Native Americans, blacks, and other social and cultural players. Besides, inclusion serves to promote the recovery of these lost voices (Schweitzer 198).

The same thing occurs with the discourse on those called ethnic minorities in official languages (Spanish) and/or in national languages (Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní, etc.) that have traditionally been excluded from the official cultural institutionalism. Just recently, in some countries a few voices have started to incorporate themselves into the national cultural system and, consequently, in the literary system. Peru is no exception. The Afro-descendant contribution to the official Peruvian national culture is conspicuous by its absence, though this is not the case in the field of popular culture. Since the 1950s, thanks to the efforts of the Santa Cruz Gamarra family, the singer Susana Baca, the diverse platforms of artistic expression, and artistic groups such as Milenio and Peru Negro, there has been a certain kind of recognition in some institutional venues.4 Nevertheless, literature doesn't...


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