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Different Perspectives About Cholos: the Peruvian Case

Peru is well-known for its gorgeous landscapes, exquisite food, and diversity. The latter has caused multiple discussions about our various cultural identities. There is one term being analyzed by academic circles since the fifties: cholification.

By: Irina Quispe

Although it is not precisely defined (even the Royal Spanish Academy has not clarified what cholificación is,) some of the most common usages are "becoming a cholo” (see Richard Schaedel and Aníbal Quijano works) or as a "sub-system that manifests itself in rapid growth of the cholo sphere." (see Douglas Uzzell papers)

The attempts to explain cholification raise a clear question: what does cholo mean? Again, there is no agreement as to what this term truly is. Sometimes, it is used as a racial slur. For example, if you mistreat someone because he is cholo, you are choleando (derived from the verb cholear). Interviewed by the BBC, Peruvian psychoanalyst Jorge Bruce said that, unfortunately, cholear is "as much ours as the ceviche, the pitch, the football." In this sense, cholo implies a particular set of characteristics that varies depending on the perspective. According to Uzzell, cholos are "the segment of the population of Lima who are not creoles." Others consider them part of the fundamental triad of Peruvian society: cholos are "neither Indians nor Europeans," they adapt useful features from Indians and creoles to create their own cultural identity (Quijano dives into this idea.)

However, the reflection is not complete yet. Surprisingly, "being cholo” has been seen as the idealized and authentic portrait of "being Peruvian." Let's take the case of a famous national song: Cholo Soy y No Me Compadezcas by Luis Abanto Morales (English translation by Elián.)

Déjame en la puna vivir a mis anchas

Trepar por los cerros detrás de mis cabras

Arando la tierra, tejiendo los ponchos, pastando mis llamas

Y echar a los vientos la voz de mi quena

Déjame tranquilo, que aquí la montaña

Me ofrece sus piedras, acaso más blandas

Que esas condolencias que tú me regalas

¡Cholo soy y no me compadezcas!

Leave me be at the puna, to live as I know how

to hike up the hills, trail behind my goats

till up the farmland, knit plenty of ponchos and feed my llamas

bestow the wind with the sound of my quena

Let me live here, up with the mountain

it offers me stones, some might even be softer

than those condolences you dish out at me

I'm cholo, and don't you pity me

The singer, clearly inspired by Boris Elkin's poem "No me compadezcas," claims dignity; he expects to be respected, not pitied. He does not want to be protected as someone incapable of achieving his desires and goals. He rejects hypocritical solidarity. The song has strongly impacted Peruvian society. Its message has been related to entrepreneurism, which at the same time connects with motivation, adaptation to changes, hard work, resilience, and success. Cholo means entrepreneur, as portrayed by the advertising message of the video clip "Cholo Soy" by MiBanco (Miguel Solano analyzes the communicational characteristics of this marketing campaign.)

The different interpretations of one term are incredible. It is interesting how the same word can be used as an insult or a compliment. On the one hand, saying "cholo” with a pejorative meaning shows the social and cultural disparities people have fought against for many years. Those who discriminate consider cholos as inferior because of their socioeconomic status, physical features, language, jobs, sadness, and even their traditions. On the other hand, the ideal image of cholos is formed by their tireless effort. Living in a country full of obstacles, we Peruvians require an archetype; a figure of dedication, work, and success is needed to stay focused and believe our goals are possible. We all are humans, so we must learn how to live together and overcome our contradictions


Recommended sources:

A Strategic Analysis of Social Structure in Lima, Peru, Using the Concept of "Plays" by Douglas Uzzell. Urban Anthropology, Vol. 3, No. 1 (SPRING, 1974), pp. 034-046

Jorge Bruce: "Cholear is something that Peruvians know and we cannot, apparently, stop doing" by Diana Massis. BBC News Mundo. Click here

Cholo Soy y No Me Compadezcas by Luis Abanto Morales (English translation by Elián,

Cholo Soy y No Me Compadezcas by Luis Abanto Morales (video). Click here

Análisis comunicacional de los elementos de identidad cultural peruana presentes en el videoclip Cholo Soy de Mi Banco by Miguel Angel Solano Arteaga. Repositorio UPN. Click here

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