There are some moments to which we submit. Like glaciers in a stream, we let ourselves flow. We appreciate these moments independent of the context. Time, place and experience count for nothing.
I spent this summer in Peru, where I would have been remiss to feel each moment independently of the next. The country begs that all of its narrative be heard. It is compelled to share and it compelled me to listen.
Peru is a country made up of complex contradictions. This can be seen most plainly in the country’s landscape. Bound by a desertous, tropical coast on the West and the unbroken density of the Amazon Jungle on the East, Peru’s physical divide is exclaimed by the mountainous spine splitting its center. Entirely distinct from one another, its regions — la costa, la selva, and la sierra — find ways to come together. From arid flats to sodden swamps to imposing mountains, the geography offers a simple, stark statement: in Peru, difference is harmony.
A common narrative offers cohesion in the story of the people of Peru. Take writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, often considered the first peruano, for example. Born in the 16th century to a Spanish father and Inca mother, Garcilaso de la Vega struggled to compensate his colliding identities. He is not alone. Despite an uncertainty derived from colonial struggle – or perhaps because of it – peruanos possess a sense of national identity that unabashedly flaunts its disparate histories.
Proof of Peru’s rich and convoluted past proudly pepper the cobbled streets of Cusco, as stirring Catholic churches overlook chicha bars — haunting symbols of oppression harmonize with powerful signs of resistance. Again, outside influences lurk. This time, though, golden arches instead of Spanish crosses, and Rihanna rather than Susana Baca. Nevertheless, the people of Peru stand together, united for one another.
“Deference to difference” is how I describe Peru. Written into the faces of its people and land, Peru’s complexities and contradictions show a culture that has been formed from diversity. For this is what those who visit the country are asked to bear a burden of remembrance and reverence. More than just travel tales, Peru offers a hopeful glimpse into the humanity of unity.
It is easy to become disheartened by the seemingly irreparable divisions across fault lines of race, ideology, and nationality in our world. Instinctually, our response may be to erase and ignore these differences. Rather, we must accept and find beauty in a world that will forever be accentuated by them, just like in Peru. ■