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“It is important to have representatives of African descent, but they must embody our agendas”
Latinamerica Press
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Interview with Afro-descendant activist Mónica Carrillo

Mónica Carrillo grew up admiring people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, thanks to her father, a school teacher in Chincha, in the south of Lima, who instilled in her political consciousness from the time she was very young. With this influence, in 2001 at the age of 20, she founded the LUNDU Afro-Peruvian Center of Study and Promotion dedicated to promoting the human rights of Afro descendants in Peru. She studied Social Communication at the National University of San Marcos in Lima and then completed a specialization in International Law at Oxford University (UK). She currently lives in New York, where she works on projects to benefit the Afro-Latin community, and is pursuing a master on performance, art and interactive media.

In a conversation with Víctor Liza, Latinamerica Press collaborator, the researcher and artist analyzed the situation of the Afro-descendant population in Peru, Latin America and the world, and welcomed the progress already made and focused on the pending issues.

What are the key demands of the Afro-Peruvian population at this moment?
We can talk about three key aspects. The first one is gender violence. It is important to obtain information differentiated by race, and to know how many Afro-descendant women experience gender violence. The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations has included a racial variable when addressing this issue, but it would be ideal if this variable was also considered in other areas such as in police stations, prosecutors’ offices and the Municipal Office for the Defense of Children and Adolescents (DEMUNA), the latter is where many women go to report these incidents. Another aspect that we in LUNDU have worked on is that hurling racist insults becomes punishable; the anti-discrimination law is not enough, and currently there are no moral or punitive measures to set a precedent. A third point would be to make people recognize and accept that racial slurs compound gender violence. In LUNDU we have gathered information that tells us that many women are subjected to racial insults in addition to physical violence, and this means that their vulnerability is compounded.

The 2016-2020 National Development Plan for the Afro-Peruvian Population was approved last July 14. What is your view on this plan?
Progress has been made insofar as the Ministry of Education now publishes study material on Afro-Peruvian history and supports scholarships to Afro-Peruvian students, but we need to be stricter with respect to racist bullying in schools, which is where we first integrate socially. This leaves a lasting mark on people for the rest of their lives, and shapes their relationship with the world. For this reason, strict sanctions should be imposed against schools that allow this type of behavior and do not implement corrective measures. Anti-bullying legislation [passed in 2011] arose from cases of suicide committed by children, and I think two of these children were of Andean origin. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that there are diseases associated with the context in which people of African descent were brought to America; such as anemia 2, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Examples of this are the passing of Afro-Peruvian artists such as Rafael Santa Cruz, Pepe Vásquez, Arturo “Zambo” Cavero, and Lucha Reyes who happened to die from these very diseases. For this reason, the Ministry of Health has included an ethnic variable to identify the race of the health system users and include this information in a form that is filled out when a person goes to a public health services location, but these questions are not asked in an effective manner because health officials are not trained to ask them and they also consider this as adding to their workload.

The 2017 census will include a question on self-identification, referring to the issue of ethnicity, as it was done in Argentina for the 2005 census. How important is it to self-identify as being of African descent in a country like Peru?
Having reached this point is the result of work that has taken years. At the level of Latin America, this work begun in 2002 with a group that sought to introduce the racial variable into the census. This is an important advancement in Peru, because we have not been included in the census since 1940. However, still pending is that Afro-descendants understand the importance of self-recognition. This suggests that all health and education systems need to have information on Afro-descendants.

How do you see the situation of the Afro-descendant population in Latin America? Do you see progress made or setbacks?
Communication channels, such as the Andean Community, are important; there are mechanisms here for member countries to harmonize their laws. We must strengthen the Andean Parliament so that governments can legislate based on common standards and protocols for the benefit of Afro-descendants. The Andrés Bello Agreement makes it possible to harmonize health protocols. That would be valuable to our legislation in order to take a qualitative and quantitative leap.

What about globally?
The United Nations initiated the “International Decade for People of African Descent” last year in order to monitor the improvement of the quality of life of not only the descendants of the diaspora to America by slavery, but others of African descent living in other continents and even Africans themselves. In this context, it is difficult for an Afro-Latin person to be able to insert himself in the dynamics of African Americans in the United States, because we are seen only as “Latino.” That is where we must reinforce the concept of the African diaspora, but maintaining the right to establish our regional identities. I come from the Andean region and have a different heritage than Afro-Caribbean’s do, but we can find common ground and thus have better dialogue. Another issue is that after the experience we had in 2010 when I led a legal process with LUNDU against Latina TV channel in the case of “Negro Mama,” a character in blackface [stereotype that demeans the Afro-Peruvian population], a case that we won with the broadcaster having to pay a fine, we are working now in the United States on an Afro-Latin Observatory, to see about these representations of stereotypes in Latin America.

While it is true that having an Afro-descendant president is no guarantee for making progress, as it is evidenced by the presence of Barack Obama in the United States, when are we going to have a person of high authority or president of African descent in Peru?
It is important to have representatives of African descent, but they must embody our agendas. Not only because one is Afro-descendant is it implied that one is exempt from being a criminal or answering to agendas that violate human rights. In Peru, many afro-descendants reach forums like Congress thanks to their artistic or athletic achievement, which is something that can be valuable, but when they are there they have not been able to connect their agendas with the demands and needs of the Afro-descendant population. Another issue is the matter of opportunity. One does not have to attend college to become a politician, but in this context of higher standards and competency, if one has not had access to higher education, this becomes a limiting factor. According to the Ministry of Culture, until just a decade ago only 2 percent of the African descent population had higher education. This may have improved by now, but a wide gap still exists. —Latinamerica Press.


Mónica Carrillo / LUNDU
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