Una historia personal de Chimbote y las locuras de la migración
By Alex Julca
Why Chimbote and not Lima?
Chimbote is located on the Peruvian Northern Coast about 300 miles from Lima. A boom in the fishing industry oriented to US and European markets -- for animals' diet in the meat production industry -- since the 1950s, brought on the expansion of Chimbote as a new city and made the construction of a hospital there possible. At the time when the preference was Lima, my father's possibilities for getting a vacancy as an ambulance driver in Chimbote were higher. His incomplete primary school studies were a big barrier for finding vacancies in Lima, where bureaucratic documentation was more strictly followed.
He obtained a job in Chimbote with even less wage than in Cerro de Pasco but better climate, hope for finishing his primary school or higher education for his children; new experiences (e.g. knowledge of new people, places, food such as fresh and abundant fish; entertainment, clothing), and the enticing idea that being on a coastal city was always better than being confined to the Andes. There are class and racial elements involved in this idea: leaving the Andes means in particular to leave the stigma of being considered "ignorante," "indio," "serrano."
My family moved there in early 1964. We were never so far from some of
our ancestors' motherland: the Andes; and the rest of our family (1). Still I remember
that day: Chimbote's canicular sun hitting us, arriving at our new place consisting of a kitchen and a room, scarce electricity, and no toilet. This space was part of a
larger home which belonged to the landlord and his family: his wife and five children (including two grown women), who rented us the place. My mother served us tea in bowls...
These circumstances are familiar to other people who have moved to the
city, as Felícita stated after moving to Lima in the 1980s, "We do not have toilet,
nor running water, nothing... in my home there is only one bed, there we sleep all
five of us," (Goldenberg, p.l05).
Since the beginning of the 1940s the Golden Dream of many Andean
people was to live in Lima, perhaps reminiscent of what Los Angeles, Miami and
New York are for many Peruvians today. My parents accepted living in Chimbote
in the meantime. Nonetheless, as the time went on, they found in Chimbote more
reasons to continue thinking and pursuing efforts for their future residence in
Lima. My parents used to say, "in Lima there's more progress, there's more social
stimulation (“más roce”), and the children could become something else (“algo
más”). Matos Mar synthesizes statistically this assertion, "In the last 44 years,
between 1940 and 1984, Lima's population has grown in almost ten times…
numbering almost all what Peru had in 1940 (p.72)."
“El Loco Moncada” and the Andean migration in the times of El Zorro de
Arriba y el Zorro de Abajo
While the fishing boom led to an expansion of the economy of Chimbote it did
not create a substantial improvement in the social condition of the people.
Chimbote's only asphalt road was the main highway which ran through all the
Peruvian Coast, which was also the main asphalt road for the country.
Historian Pablo Macera referred to the man "Moncada" in Chimbote, as a
symbol of the social limits of the fishing boom. "The crazy Moncada," as he was
referred by all Chimbote residents, was a familiar figure in my childhood, a
demented ex-fisherman of black and Indian origins who wandered through this
port neighborhoods carrying a cross on one shoulder, alternately speaking to
people and imaginary interlocutors. "Moncada" is rescued by the writer José
María Arguedas (1971) for the Peruvian literature where he becomes the main
character in the novel The Fox from the Highlands and the Fox from the
Lowlands: "Moncada kneeled down under the cross, stood up, dusted the red
fabric and raising his other hand began to predicate..."I am the bullfighter of God,
a beggar of his love, not of the false love of the authorities; of the human love
also. Look!" (p. 65).
The images of El Loco Moncada floats in my memory with the romanticism of what I recall of my childhood; however, this man was often overlooked, insulted, expulsed by residents and passers by. He was the paria whom anyone could exert freedom for laughing at or insult. Children not so innocently would play with his nickname, changing and extending it to a more despicable meaning while throwing him additional slurs, copying what adults have been doing. Was El Loco Moncada aware of the locura of the old and newly costeno residents? Martin Adan would have said: “the crazies are not inside the rehabilitation hospital, the crazies are outside.”
When not laughing at what my friends had said or called to El Loco Moncada, his strong physical figure and his cryptic words did always perplex me. A man who was always wandering Chimbote, observing people, talking with his raised red handkerchief in one hand, yet always physically harmless. Somehow he represented the catharsis for the people who were thought to be sane. He dared to speak up against the powerful and the rich, the Andean migrants did not. His craziness allowed him that freedom. The Andean migrants, in their own way, were fighting poverty by using their freedom to move and following the capitalistic laws of the fishing industry. The freedom and constraints of one, were the constraints and freedom of the other; perhaps this contrast complemented well enough so both were essential parts of Chimbote’s growth.
One perhaps could say that both El Loco Moncada and Andean migrants had different projects, his was to vocally disseminate the truth to Chimbote’s residents and the world; he had lived the dream of Chimbote, which for him ended in a nightmare. For Andean migrants his voice was like a bad spell, something not desired to be seen or be heard too often: none of them would have hoped to end up like him. The migrant’s dream was full of hope that life would become better than it was in her hometown. Nonetheless, Andean migration in masse to a town with scarce jobs, latrines, health services, and education would perhaps be as incomprehensible as Jose Maria described in his book (see below).
Another example of Chimbote’s shortcomings was the fact that many
neighborhoods did not have water and sewage services and at least in one case an
old cemetery was used as a public latrine. This cemetery was located in front of
our home, so our neighbors and us used it as it was meant to be for. Here as a
child, I learned how to catch spiders, sacrifice cats, and play dreadfully with
scorpions and dirt… We children often excavated bones and got scared, while
also felt repulsion toward the fetid smell of the cemetery.
In 1965 my second sister Milagritos was born. That same year I began to study at a small, precarious school that offered the first two years of primary level. The students had to shovel making holes in the sand for toilets. Yet, we all expected with joy to have toilets in the school. Still, once we had them later on, the students were scared from the insects that infested the latrines. Likewise, in the school-yard, which was covered with sand, we children carved our poignant memories of soccer play and sand taste. These games did not end until arriving home, when our parents scolded us for returning so dirty and unrecognizable.
Primarily because of these limitations and the crowded conditions of our two-room house, we moved to a different location in 1967. We lived there with the same plumbing necessities, but the house had three rooms and it was only one block from a small public school -- epitome of “la escuelita fiscal"(translated as ‘the little primary public school” -- which offered the first three years of primary school.
The Peruvian writer Arguedas, in a warm letter to Murra in 1967, expresses his impressions of Chimbote,
I have been fifteen days in Chimbote. It is exactly like Lima; has like 40 shantytowns; 70% of the population are originally from the Andes; the mass of Andean migrants is proportionately greater than in Lima... I have interviewed to five men of Andean origin asking about their lives before and after they arrived to Chimbote... there is no provincial clubs, the organization is in 'barriadas’ (shantytowns). People from the Coast and from the Andes, in spite of the continuous commercial and social intercourse, they still remain as differentiated strata...Because the myth of Chimbote continues, as center of enrichment of the Andean migrant, the avalanche of 'serranos' continues and there is people who live in the most absolute misery (Flores Galindo, pp.387 -388).
Alluding to the history of the Third World, Hobsbawm (1994) testifies of the genuine interest of Arguedas on the migration phenomena. It stories the Arguedas’ invitation and their attendance to a coliseum in Lima where every weekend Andean migrants would play, sing and dance their music and roots; in that occasion with a particular greeting to people from Huanuco by one of the singers. It seems that Arguedas was quite interested in the organizations and manifestations of the Andean artistic identity in urban areas that were growing with the “avalancha” of Andinos. Chimbote, in this sense, as Arguedas pointed out, did not have those provincial clubs. Yet, I was 6 years old when my parents took me to the coliseum in Chimbote, and while I was not aware of the lack of provincial clubs, I was able to hear a mix of Peruvian popular music, Andean singers such as the woman with he seudonym of Pastorita Huaracina as well as Los Embajadores Criollos a male duo playing the guitar and singing European-root creole music.
Reciprocity values and the inevitable… why Lima and not Chimbote?
Some Quechua values such as mutual help (minka) and reciprocity were not absent from the process of migration and adaptation to modernity. In this vein, my parents' help to our relatives was always present. Throughout 1965-1969 two teenagers uncles (one of my mother's younger brothers and my father's youngest brother); an adolescent male cousin, and an aunt with a child came to Chimbote, in hopes of finding a better life. My father taught my uncles how to drive so since then they have been employed driving taxis, trucks, busses, and eventually ambulances. My cousin finished primary school and had to come back to Cayhuayna to cultivate his father's rented land, while my aunt also returned to the countryside because after almost two years could not find a way to make an independent life in Chimbote. She was illiterate and her Spanish speaking was very poor. Selling in the stall market was a last option, but taking care of her child girl of eight years old and the lack of initial funds prevented her to do so.
Between 1970-1974 two teenager cousins, sons of my father's older brother, came from the outskirts of Huánuco city to stay with us in Lima. As welders, they did not have difficulty finding jobs in metal-mechanic factories of the industrial area. When these relatives had the chance to work regularly, they provided some staples or money for the house.
The educational and housing inadequacies of Chimbote prompted my father and mother to be watchful for any vacancy that might appear in Lima. By 1968 my parents had saved some money in a mutual fund organization which eventually could grant some housing loan based on the amount saved. They began to look for a house in Lima. My father did not want to live again in a "barriada" because it would imply similar inadequacies that we had been experiencing. Their move was endowed with a new sense of urgency because it was clear that soon high school studies would be the next step for their eldest children. They reasoned that if we did not lose years going to school, we would finish sooner and have greater possibility to estudiar una profesión" (study a career).
Frequent school desertion for youngsters who have to work was also something my parents worked to avoid. This was the case of my father who only could finish the third year of primary school; or the children of Nicolás Pino León, a mine worker in Cerro de Pasco, “All my children are getting high school studies,” but “they could not study last year, now two are studying and three aren’t,” (Goldenberg,p.31). Nicolás, his family and the mining workers of Río Pallanga marched to Lima in 1988 to claim their overdue wages of two years to the government.
Even though my parents had no clear idea how or where we would achieve a profession, they continued to hope we became somebody in life. And toward that end they were determined that our future high school studies would be done in Lima.
Yet, in spite of the economic constraints in Chimbote, my parents were able to save some money. They were able to buy some clothing for their children, go to occasional movies, and purchase some electrical appliances. Almost once a year we visited our family in Lima and Huánuco; and we had the chance to visit other cities along the Coast such as Chiclayo, Trujillo and Ica. Some of my father's friends whom he met in Cerro de Pasco and Chimbote were visited when we traveled to these places. Even so, our move to Lima was becoming more real every day. In 1967 they were able to buy a house in Mirones Bajo, a popular neighborhood in the outskirts of Lima, taking advantage of a 15-year mortgage offered by a private-public financial organization called Mutual Peru, and by 1968 my mother and her children moved there. My father, after several attempts to transfer his post from Chimbote to Lima, joined us a year later.
July 27th, 2011 9:43pm
(1) My oldest ancestor of which I have knowledge is is Juan Julca Guaman (1562), resident of the community Los Yachas in Huanuco. Also, Cristobal Xulca Condor (1562), who was chief of the community of Queros (nowadays part of the village Ambo (Huanuco), homeland of my grandfather Nicanor Julca and his siblings) with about 4,000 indians under Inca rule (Murra 1967, pp. 34-35, my emphasis).
Arguedas José María, EI Zorro de Arriba v el Zorro de Abajo. Editorial Losada, S.A 1971.
Flores Galindo Alberto, Buscando un Inca: ldentidad y Utopia en los Andes. Editorial Horizonte, 1988.
Goldenberg Sonia, Reportaje al Peru Anonimo. Francisco Campodonico, Editor; 1990, Lima-Peru.
Hobsbawm, Eric (1994). The Age of Extremes. A History fot eh World 1914-1991. UK, US. Michael Joseph and Vintage Books.
Macera Pablo, Breve Historia del Peru. Editorial Peisa, 1974.
Murra John V., Editor, Visita de la Provincia de Leon de Huanuco en 1562. Torno I, Visita de las Cuatro Waranqa de los Chupachu; Universidad Nacional Hermilio Valdizan, Huanuco-Peru 1967.