The dynamic changes the Western world experienced after World War II brought the Peruvian population the many identity problems that are the unifying topic of these three books. Conflicts regarded over the last three or four decades as social in nature have now developed into a giant cultural malaise. Such conflicts originated in the heavy migration of Peru’s Andean peoples to coastal cities and towns in search of employment. The result was, and today continues to be, a clash between the traditional Indian way and the modern way of the West. The three authors here understand the Western forces, which are purely capitalistic, with ample means of domination and an ever-expanding technology always on their side.
These three works contain, in all, 14 essays by three scholars who are active members of SUR, a publishing house dedicated to promoting the study of socialism. Drawing heavily from the lessons of colonial history, these Peruvians seek to expose the progressive destruction of the different ethnic groups that once composed the old Inca domain. In that empire, they assert, existed or coexisted about 100 such groups, of which only 58 survive today. The writers’ ultimate aim is to safeguard the precious identity of the exploited Indians as, in their migration, they have become subjugated as inferior beings. The main obstacle to all solutions proposed heretofore, these writers contend, is the strong racial prejudice in Peru today. They describe a society divided between the affluent, enterprising whites and mestizos (halfbreeds) living in the cities and the darker-skinned, poorer mestizos and Indians who continually descend from the highlands in search of a better way of life.
After exposing and documenting the existence of racial discrimination, the authors proceed to offer a variety of solutions that might lead to the creation of a viable society with a minimum of the violence typified by the Maoist-leaning Sendero Luminoso. All their proposed solutions are based on mestizaje, the integration of the entire population of Peru into a homogeneous, mainly halfbreed society. Ideally, they propose a society seeking economic success while simultaneously preserving the identity of its many components. To realize such a society, the three writers advocate socialism as a protector of racial identity, as opposed to the present capitalistic system; the latter they see as an exploiter of immigrant highlanders kept as cheap labor and future consumers forced to submit to the standards of the dominant class while their own cultural values are sacrificed.
To illustrate their views, all three scholars resort to the writings of José María Arguedas (1911-69), often called the Peruvian Dostoyevski. In his fiction, published between 1935 and 1969, novelist-ethnologist Arguedas analyzed the impact of economic changes on Peruvian society, particularly the Andean Indians, and defended the right of Peru’s many ethnic groups to be different. Arguedas also fictionally portrayed idealistic but pragmatic popular leaders who could serve as inspirations and models to the Peruvians themselves.
These three books could be described as pertaining to social history. Their pages contain no incitement to rebellion—not even a demand for reforms—but rather an invitation to analyze and debate. The overall picture gained from them, however, is sombre and grim, a dark omen for the Peru of the coming century.