Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on Culture

Alfredo told me last week that there exists a tremendous amount of racism in Peru, the Spanish decendants toward the indigenous people. If the indigenous people are the descendents of one of the most advanced civilizations in the 15th and 16th centuries, wouldn't the Peruvian people be proud of such a claim? Alfredo's answer when I asked that question was, “but they are a conquered people, they are fallen from greatness.” On a very superficial level, I can see the argument, but it only goes as far as you are unwilling to learn about the indigenous people of Peru. For example, we visited Chinchero today. Chinchero makes and sells wool knits, and the artisans there are the only people who still use pre-Columbian methods for preparing, washing, dying, spinning, and knitting their wool. For the past two nights, we have dined at restaurants that have Andean music shows including music and dance. The costumes are beautiful, but only worn now for cultural presentations such as these dances. So how much of the culture is actually represented by these dances and costumes if nobody uses them anymore? What about the people who dress their children in the traditional outfits and sit them on the street corners for tourists to take pictures of? How about those children who dress in traditional clothing and sell handicrafts? Is this a true representation of the Peruvian or Andean culture? Where do we decide the line is between imitating culture and actually creating or expressing it? Is the group that plays only traditional Andean music more culturally representative than the group that covers Beatles songs with Andean instruments? How about Uchpa? I teach Latin American Culture and Civilization, Cross-cultural Interaction, and Culture through Cinema classes, and all of a sudden I am starting to think that I might not understand culture. My only answer lies in the questions I asked earlier. Culture is always changing, whether for better or for worse, it is always changing. So if this is the case, what does my own culture look like?

Enough about that. Today was a long day, with a trip down into the Valle Sagrado (Sacred Valley),

over to Pisac,

Calca, Ollantaytambo,

and Chinchero. Dropping all the way down to 2850 meters above sea level eased the “soroche” or high altitude sickness all day. My headache went away completely, I ran up and down several trails trying to get to the ruin sites I wanted to in the short time alloted. I got winded a couple of times, but nothing like yesterday. I hope it's a combination of acclimatization and the lower elevation and not just the lower elevation. If I sleep well enough tonight and wake up without the “soroche,” I may try a very short run around the plaza in the morning.

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