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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Strong, Gifted, Black Peruvian Woman


Mónica Carrillo Zegarra

With the month of March being Women's History Month, and with all of my trips  to Perú and explorations into Black Peruvian history and culture, I think of several women whom I admire and respect:

  1. Adelina Ballumbrosio, wife of the late great Amador Ballumbrosio, the godfather of Afro-Peruvian music and dance who always gives me food and a place to stay every time I'm in Perú. 
  2. Victoria Santa Cruz, composer, choreographer and daughter of the greatest exponent of Afro-Peruvian culture Nicomedes Santa Cruz.
  3. Susana Baca, the internationally acclaimed singer of Afro-Peruvian music who is also Perú's Minister of Culture.

However, the woman I want to highlight will certainly go down in history as one of Perú's greatest civil rights leaders as her work, while still in her 30s, has given her international recognition. She is Monica “Oru” Carrillo, who has become a role model and an advocate working to empower Perú's Black community, particularly the young, and is striving for Perú's rich African heritage to be included as part of the Peruvian national identity. I first learned of Monica from watching the Documentary Series, Black in Latin America, which was aired on PBS. 

Oru, as she is also known, is the leader of Lundú. The name, Lundú, originates from a traditional African dance in the Kongo region of Western Africa, which means “successor.”  This organization helps young Afro-Peruvians overcome racism and sexism using the arts, advocacy, education, civic engagement, and economic and educational opportunities. It's outreach to black youth involves life skills, sexual education, black pride workshops, and empowerment against violence, abuse, forced sex, and unwanted pregnancies. I personally have a10-year-old goddaughter in Perú, and often try to  say and do things to contribute to her self esteem. I've been trying to get her involved in Lundú because the girls who are involved have developed a healthy dose of self esteem, which is one of the greatest gifts anyone can receive.
 
Monica's parents are from El Carmen in Chincha, Perú, which is the hub of Afro-Peruvian culture. She grew up living a hard life in Lima, the nation's capital, and being Afro-Peruvian of female persuasion, made life even harder. She was only 11 years old when her and her sister, age 12,  were riding a bus when someone spit on them shouting, Negras conchetumadre (f... you nig...). No one on the bus attempted to defend those children, and no offered to help them get cleaned up. As an adult she spoke of a day when she left her house and counted12 insults that she received in just 20 minutes. The people who make these insults, she says, don't run away because they feel that they are in the right. It's machísimo thing.

Instead of her breaking down and letting her self worth deteriorate, she grew into an activist, feminist, college graduate, having also studied at Oxford. She is a hip-hop artist, writer, poet, singer, musician, journalist, and educator. She mixes poetry, Afro-beat, soul, hip-hop, and Afro Peruvian music to highlight contributions made by black Peruvians to combat racism and sexism. Her music has been featured internationally, particularly on Europe's MTV.

I was so thrilled when Moncia, whom I've been in communication with on social media for two years, called me from 148th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, NY, just three blocks from where I lived when I was in the second and third grades. She was visiting Harlem to do a presentation at the Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture, which is right across the street from where I went to elementary school. She and I plan to meet in person upon my return to Perú later this year. 

I won't say to you Happy Women's History Month, because in reality, Women's History Month is every month!