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Recovering the African ancestors: pride, utopia or strategy of struggle?

Recovering the African ancestors: pride, utopia or strategy of struggle?


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By Vanesa Verástegui Ollé

The Afro-Peruvian ideology can be defined as the self-recognition and ethnic pride of being descendants of the African diaspora, sharing a common history that is the slave trade. “Fight the stereotype and find a common platform in Latin America”, these were the words of Edzna Maria Santos Rolando.

"C fight the stereotype and find a common platform in Latin America ”, these were the words of Edzna Maria Santos Rolando, who presented a presentation at the III Regional Conference of the Americas in Santiago -preparatory event for the World Conference against Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Durban, Africa, in 2001-. Santos Rolando argues the use of the term Afro-descendant, which will later serve as the basis for the identity movement of ethnic vindication in Latin America.


The term Afro-descendant was initially proposed by the Brazilian Sueli Carneiro in the Workshop on Ethnicity and Identity within the framework of the 4th Luso-Afro-Brazilian Congress of Social Sciences, dictated at the Institute of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (1 -5 September) in 1996. This term is defined as the descendants of African populations who were victims of transatlantic enslavement.

But, what relationship exists between the term Afro-descendant and Afro-Peruvians? Why call yourself and call them Afro-Peruvians? Is it a politically correct euphemism? Why not call them blacks from Peru? As a result of the Durban Conference, the Afro-Peruvian movement was born in Peru, made up of various organizations and activists registered as NGOs: ASONEDH, Cimarrones, CEDET- Centro de Desarrollo Étnico, Movimiento Negro Francisco Congo -MNFC (before a grassroots movement in 1996 and now NGO), Black Woman and Development, Black Association for the Defense and Development of Chinchana Women and Youth MARGARITA, Black Citizens of Peru, GRUPO NEGRO MAMAINE, LUNDU- Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Promotion, Cultural Association and Development Promotion (ACULPROD ) - Todos las Sangres, APEIDO- Pluri-ethnic Association for Community and Social Development, ODIR- Organization for Development and Identity, ODACH- Organization for the Development of Afros Chalacos- Chilombo, Afro-Peruvian Pride Association, National Afro-Peruvian Movement F. C - MNAFC. There are also other spaces such as the Afro-Peruvian Women's Roundtable (Mimdes), the Technical Roundtable for Dialogue and Permanent Work of the Afro-Peruvian People (before CONAPA- Now it works independently of INDEPA), the Center for the Development of Peruvian Black Women- CEDEMUNEP, among others. .

From this stage on, Peru began to interact with other organizations in America and the Caribbean, forming the continental movement of Afro-descendants. We wonder what is the relationship between the latter and the Afro-Peruvian movement. The Afro-Peruvian movement is within the “Afro-descendant” movement that emerged throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in this globalized era that makes possible –according to Appadurai– the ethnic, media and financial landscape, that is, on the one hand, the media contribute to the construction of a collective imaginary and, on the other, we have the Afro-Peruvian identity movement linked to international networks financed by international cooperation, in addition to “the flow and movement of people: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and guests” and, therefore, the same discourse and the same political agenda are handled. It is interesting to analyze how pride, utopia and the strategy of struggle are embedded in the Afro-Peruvian ideology. The first evokes an identity necessarily constructed in contrast to the hegemony of the “racial” category of the “other”, or of the one who is qualified as not “black”: white, indigenous, mestizo, etc. Pride does not exalt the black pigmentation of the skin so much but the African and cultural roots. It has to do with self-esteem, with the reminiscences exalted by the intellectual movement of blackness and the "Black is Beatiful" or "black is beautiful" of the sixties. And utopia, because it refers to the memory or longing for having belonged to a continent from which they were uprooted by the slave industry and to which they could not return. In this way they break with the present time, going back to an idyllic past to reinvent, thus, an ahistorical and exiled Africa.


However, it is legitimate that in the face of openly offensive racism towards Afro-Peruvians on the part of Lima society, whatever their social condition, this type of identity discourse is being constructed that places the Afro-Peruvian movement beyond the controversy about the distance, flight or rejection of their Peruvian status, or the legitimacy of their denomination "Afro-Peruvians" or "blacks" from Peru. As Mónica Carrillo, director of Lundu- Center for Studies and Promotion of Afro-Peruvian culture says: The position of the movement is to use the term Afro-Peruvian as a way to vindicate our African ancestors, contextualizing them in Peru, taking into account that we are Peruvians because the ship stopped here or because they went to buy us, not necessarily because we wanted to be Peruvian, but already that we are, we recognize our identity as Peruvians ”.

The awareness-raising work initiated by the black movement Francisco Congo consisted of working on the issue of identity and self-esteem in a black population that constitutes a total of 2,500,000 people in Peru, settled in the provinces of the entire Peruvian coast: Piura, Morropón, Chiclayo, Lima, Cañete, Chincha, Pisco, Nazca Ica, Caravelí and Tacna.

This work began at the end of the eighties and a conscience of brotherhood and communion was born in them, forming an imagined Nation [1], since the communities of the south did not know of the existence of communities in the north. At present, they are building the narratives of a new identity that deconstructs this notion of race that was imposed on them by the term “black” since the colony. Until before the emergence of the Francisco Congo National Movement, the identity was quite fragmentary due to the different shades of skin color, a product of miscegenation. They also want to eliminate the negative associations between the term black and darkness that subsist in the popular imagination.

The aforementioned Francisco Congo Movement, the only organization consolidated at that time, initially advocated the recognition of their blackness (black is beautiful). This way of thinking is one of the foundations of the new discourse of Afro-Peruvian ideology that starts by considering the African origin and blood. For this reason, descendants of the victims of the African diaspora are claimed in the countries where they were born. Their referent is Africa, and as such they mean to the world that they come from a continent that carries a culture and, therefore, an identity.

The Yorubas, the Mandingas, the Congolese, the Angolas, the Carabaliés, the Mozambicans, and the Tanganyans got on the ship and “the blacks” got off the ship and later qualified them as primitive, savage and pagan by the Lima intellectual elite.

The Afro-Peruvian ideology can now be defined as the self-recognition and ethnic pride of being descendants of the African diaspora, sharing a common history that is the slave trade. The discourse of this identity is born in the descendants of diasporic subjects, who reject the identity of being externally racialized by the "European" we that referred only to the pigmentation of the skin. This identity is a self-ascription - by the "us" of globalization and the 21st century that brings to light the citizen excluded and discriminated against by the daily and structural racism of Peruvian society. They resist the conditions of poverty and the low quality of life without the possibility of social advancement. The Afro-Peruvian movement as part of the construction of this continental identity of the Afro-descent, demands from the State a symbolic reparation for the issue of slavery through the implementation of affirmative actions, so that they can access public policies.

* Vanesa Verástegui Ollé
Anthropology Postgraduate Student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.
Member of GIM PERU- Impulsor Group Against Racism.
Member of LUNDU- Center for Studies and Promotion of Peruvian Culture

Notes [1] Bless Anderson refers to an imagined community where the members of a nation do not know each other but in his mind there is an image of a communion.

Bibliographic references

-APPADURAI, Arjun
Overflowing Modernity. Cultural dimensions of globalization. Editions Trilce S.A. Economic Culture Fund, Argentina, 2001.

-ANDERSON Benedict
Imagined Communities. Reflections about the origin and spread of nationalism. Editorial of the Fondo de Cultura Económica, Argentina, 2000.


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