Today my friends and I were standing in the middle of an open farmers market, just following our passage through the meat section. Pigs were strung up by their necks, the crack of bones permeated the long echoing halls, brains of all shapes and sizes were on display for purchase.
It sounds gruesome, but it further reinforced the fact that meat comes from animals.
I decided to buy coca candy, which numbed my mouth and tasted like a cough drop. All three of us decided to buy fruit and have fruit lunch. One of the fruits we bought was fuzzy and green and the vendor pointed to it and told us “Champú.”
We thought it odd a fruit would be called shampoo. Then we tasted it. Our mouths foamed up. It was soap fruit. We used it to wash our hands. It worked.
Turns out not everything is as it seems in Peru.
Tourism is encouraged but somehow disparaged as well. The mystical image of Peru may not be completely correct, but there is a certain pride in the ancient culture of the Inca that I can only sense and cannot describe.
I’m still outside the culture here, orbiting in a little English/Academic bubble.
We attended an exhibition today called “Amazonica” at the Ricardo Palma Cultura Centro, which was confusing. None of us could tell if the artists were from the Amazon or simply refereed to it, for paintings of whiter looking indigenous people breast feeding hummingbirds gave us no clear idea of the true nature of the amazon.
There was plenty of mention of how beautiful the forest was, with quaint pictures of the trees, of the animals. There was pottery with faces on it and tiny intricate designs. There were plenty of pictures of ayahuasca visions (which were not like this picture at all, yielded by google in a search for “ayahuasca visions”) and plenty of mention in the descriptions of how these artists were meant to inspire rising talent from the Amazon.
It felt a little weird.
This brings up the HUGE HUGE HUGE issue of assimilation vs. separation vs. integration/hybridization.
Let me explain.
We’ve been talking a bunch in the program about the sentiment of assimilating indigenous cultures into the western culture, referring specifically to Mario Vargas Llosa’s article in Harper’s magazine entitled “Questions of Conquest.” Vargas Llosa argues his reluctant conclusion:
“If forced to choose between the preservation of Indian cultures and their complete assimilation, with great sadness I would choose modernization of the Indian population, because there are priorities; and the first priority is, of course, to fight hunger and misery.”
Obviously, a bunch of people are pissed off about this. Why is modernizing a culture necessary to fight hunger and misery? Who defines misery? Who caused the hunger in the first place? Go ahead and add more and more should you like.
The thing is, Vargas Llosa makes a good argument. Whether it is because of power inequality or because of a history of conquest or because of exploitative practice, the fact is such that indigenous peoples are now facing hunger and misery. Who defines misery?
Well, a lack of clean water is pretty miserable. Peru is in a terrible water crisis made complicated by state politics.
And yes, one could sling blame around like a blade.
I know what you are thinking. The indigenous people had their own ways of obtaining water that the western culture inhibits. Also, how the hell did we get to this point?
Doesn’t matter. Let’s keep going.
The argument for assimilation has been clean water at the price of a culture, or a culture for the price of clean water.
But why not both?
What prevents BOTH western culture and indigenous culture from adopting practices from each other?
I suppose this sounds a bit like a rainbow love fairy tale sort of idea. It is.
The thing is, the exhibit I saw today with its idealized pictures of forests and magic visions seemed mostly to be a perpetuation of the “We must preserve this culture because we are the only ones that can preserve this culture because its all our fault that this culture has not clean water but there’s no way that we can change in a way to give them clean water but we have to preserve this culture because we are the only ones that can preserve this culture because its all our fault that …” complex.
(Which is nothing against the individual artists which participated in the exhibit. I should make that clear.)
This assimilation vs. separation vs. integration argument is not limited only to the realm of this discussion. This is exactly the same argument that divides so many other groups when attempting to “fight the man.”
To put it in strange terms.
For example, the gays.
Like I said in an earlier post (the earlier post, this is the second) I am interested in gayness and gayness culture, especcially across cultures.
To preface my further comments, I will say that I am not an expert in the movement’s history, but I am certainly an expert in my own opinion.
This being said.
After last Sunday’s pride in Seattle, apparently a group of “queer anarchists” ravaged the streets, breaking windows, atms, chasing away cops, making a ruckus, passing out leaflets that read to the tune of:
“NO HOMONATIONALISM, NO HOMOMILITARISM, NO ASSIMILATION
We’re all being told that marriage equality and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is progress, and that the LGBT community is moving towards equality. But is it really progress? And is equality really what we need?
Some of us queers say no. We’re not interested in buying into State-sanctioned monogamy. This is nothing less than assimilation into straight society, the same society that enacts violence against queer people every day. This is sold to us as equality, but what does that mean? It means becoming acceptably heteronormative, begging for tolerance from the same people who have criminalized, marginalized, and murdered us throughout history.”
A full text of the anonymous statement can be read here.
This is a country in which fruit can be soap, where the secret life of meat is flush in front of me, where I orbit in a safe little tourist bubble which never-the-less means when I speak Spanish I am replied to in English.