- An Interview with Ricardo Pereira*
The first thing I have noticed is your library, which is extraordinary. Could you talk a bit about how and why you began this library? And what subjects does it deal with?
The idea to start the library began in 1980, when I came from Bolivia to Peru. I met Susana, I was a sociologist by training, and we began a relationship. The big question was, "Where does Susana come from? What were her grandparents like? What are her origins?" The man from Bolivia knows very little about the subject of blacks. Slavery was experienced in Bolivia on the roads of Potosi in the 1500s, 1600s. There are black populations or Afro-descendants in the warm regions to the north of La Paz, in two or three essentially rural communities. To find blacks in everyday life is quite rare. It is very difficult. In fact, when you're walking in the city of La Paz and you see a black person, you pinch whoever is at your side and you say, "the black (person) of good luck."
In the mountains of Peru they do the same thing.
Coming from the United States, I take that as very racist.
Yes, but you don't pinch the black person. You pinch whoever is by your side.
What does that imply?
The implication or explanation for this is that there are two phenomena. The first is linked to blacks at first being part of the conquistadors' armies, and blacks were part of the Indians' suffering. Blacks exercised the same power, the same type of discrimination against Indians that blacks themselves suffered at the hands of the white Spaniards. The conquest process in South America, especially in the pacific region, happened because many black populations arrived as part of the conquering Spaniards' troops. They were enslaved in Central America, many times enslaved even within Africa, but later they filled the ships and they became part of the occupation troops. The white Spaniard was never as close to the black man as during the conquest process. This meant that for Indians, to [End Page 346] see a Spaniard and to see a black man was more or less the same thing, because they were part of the conquest.
The process took a lot of time so that blacks could in some way join forces with the Indian populations. When they joined with the Indian populations, many of these blacks became good men who had knowledge of medicine, vast knowledge. And for the Indian populations, blacks represented something good. They helped, and this created the image of the black man as good. So it's lucky to find a black person in the Andean world.
With this fictitious idea, I arrive in Peru. I meet Susana. I begin to interact with Susana. I ask her, "Where do you come from?" Susana can tell me at most about her grandmothers, but she doesn't have any type of information dating further back. So we said, "We're going to look for the information." We dedicated ourselves to entering private libraries and public libraries and accumulating materials that talked about the subject of negritude. In 1992, Spain held its great celebration in honor of the fifth centennial celebration of the discovery of America, and we presented work in which we argued that not only had the discovery of America meant the arrival of Spaniards in South America, but it had also meant the arrival of black populations. Beyond color, beyond history's cruelty, these black populations have contributed a cultural ingredient to Peru's identity.
That's the reason why we started the process of gathering materials and consolidating a library. Twenty years later, we have the library you have seen. I believe it is one of the most complete libraries, and it will not remain in our house. Instead it will be taken to the south, so it can be used, read, by researchers and poor people in the south who don't have anything. Initially, it was a private project because we have done...