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2 Strategies of the Black Pacific Music and Diasporic Identity in Peru Heidi Carolyn Feldman Peru has not collected census data about racial and ethnic identity since 1940. Reaffirming this decision in 1961, Census Director Pedro Gutierrez stated,“The question about race has been omitted because there is no racial problem in Peru” (La Prensa 1961, 5). Decades later, in 2009, a taxi driver in Lima questioned me about the recent election of the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama.“Pardon my frankness,” he said,“but how is it that a country like yours, with such racial problems, succeeded in electing a black president?” Implicit in his statement was a comparison between Peru (where presidential elections in the 1990s had foregrounded the ethnic backgrounds of Japanese Peruvian Alberto Fujimori,nicknamed“El Chino,”and mestizo AlejandroToledo,known as “El Cholo”) as a country with“no racial problem” versus the United States, with its history of legalized segregation and institutionalized discrimination against blacks in housing,restaurants,buses,employment,and other forms of public life (see Oboler 2005).1 For Afro-descendants in Peru, all is not what it seems.Anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena (1998) explains that Peruvian national ideology long has held that there is no such thing as race,while at the same time members of non-European groups are excluded from membership in the educated and“decent”classes, creating an environment of silent racism. Afro-Peruvian scholar José Campos, similarly, explains that“racism in Peru is felt but not seen” (quoted in Portocarrero 2000,208; see also Sims 1996).Isolated protests have highlighted less subtle forms of discrimination: the use of blackface on a 1988 televised drama about slavery (R. Santa Cruz 1988); the demeaning and racist stereotypes presented by the Peruvian comedic TV character “Negro Mama” (taken off the air after protests by Afro-Peruvian organizations in 2010) (Quiroz 2010); the 2004 Lima phonebook cover juxtaposing the image of a black bellhop carrying luggage with  Strategies of the Black Pacific: Music and Diasporic Identity in Peru  43 images of a white doctor, nurse, and home repair technician (Bridges 2004); charges in 2007 that a nightclub refused to admit blacks (Living in Peru, 2007); the 2009 commercial by the major Peruvian newspaper El Comercio that depicted Afro-descendants as cannibals (aired shortly after the Peruvian government ’s official apology to Afro-Peruvians for discrimination) ( 2009); the persistence of racial stereotypes in advertising and product displays on billboards and in stores (Becerra 2010); and so on. In the twenty-first century, Afro-Peruvian NGOs are challenging frequently cited estimates that blacks make up less than 3 percent of the country’s population , highlighting the detrimental consequences of black social invisibility in Peru,where many blacks live in poverty and few are found in white-collar jobs or high-ranking professional positions. Published estimates of Peru’s black population vary in the absence of scientific measures and/or agreement about what constitutes “blackness” in Peru. The 1940 Peruvian census designated AfroPeruvians as 0.47 percent of the population (quoted in Glave 1995, 15), and in 2010, the CIA’s World Factbook stated that 3 percent of Peru’s population was “black, Japanese, Chinese, and other” (World Factbook 2010). Yet, in 1995 José Luciano and Humberto Rodriguez Pastor described the Afro-Peruvian population as an estimated 6 to 10 percent of the population (Luciano and Rodriguez Pastor 1995, 271), and in 2002, Peru’s Commission on Andean, Amazonian, and Afro-Peruvian Peoples (CONAPA) estimated the Afro-Peruvian population to be 3 million, or 13.5 percent of the country’s total population (Congreso de la República, Comisión de Amazonía, Asuntos Indígenas y Afroperuanos 2002, 4). The commission criticized the lack of ethnic data in the national census for its role in the continued social invisibility and sublimation of Afro-Peruvians, stating,“Afro-Peruvians do not figure in the poverty map created by the government to establish its investment priorities, so they find themselves abandoned. Even if being on the coast means possibilities for access are more feasible than in an indigenous community high in the Andes, they have no dependable infrastructure that allows them to mobilize themselves.2 Programs to alleviate poverty do not consider the coast to be a critical poverty zone, nor do they consider Afro-Peruvians a vulnerable group” (ibid., 5).3 To be sure, this critical condition is not limited to Peru. Throughout Latin America, people of African...


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