Migration, globalization, and class in Lima, Peru

I have returned to the US and my time in Peru was so wonderful that I extended my trip an extra month. The extra month gave me time to go back to the province of Pucallpa, visit other small cities of Trujillo, Chiclayo and Ica, as well as do more ethnographic study in the capitol city in Lima.

Throughout my time in Lima I encountered many situations of class discrimination that made me uncomfortable. Visiting homes of middle-upper class people, I learned that whether their help is needed or not, having a housemaid is a symbol of a higher social status. The treatment towards the house employees varied but one variable stayed the same, the employees were migrants or children of migrants from smaller cities.

One pattern I noticed is that the employees were treated more as equal family members in homes of people who themselves migrated as well. For example, in these homes the employee was invited to sit and eat with the family, was taken to the movies with everyone, had a part in the conversation and was given weekends off. Contrarily, in other homes the employees are forced to wear uniforms, have to work each day, live in a separate dormitory connected to the house, awake to serve at any hour and I even heard a young lady my age send her maid to put toothpaste on her toothbrush.

The employee of a household is typically a woman and typically spends the majority of their working life with one family or at least with that same job. They work all day long and make minimum wage or less, making it nearly impossible to have opportunities that would allow them to have a home and a family of their own.

This subject employment in the home was not one I expected to be so interested in but it affected me greatly and ties my research topics of migration, ethnicity, class and cultural preservation together. Initially it may seem easy to criticize those who have housemaids and mistreat them but it is important to keep in mind the context of Peruvian society.

For Peruvians, there is an economic pressure to catch up to the western world, not to mention it is an issue of pride. But what this means for them is that progress equals modernization, and modernization equals acquirement of material goods, or at the least, the illusion that you can afford these goods. In the meantime, traditional values of communitarianism and universalism are thrown to the wayside replaced by individual capitol success and the exhibition of their success.

I desire to better understand the history and functions of the introduction of capitalism onto Latin America because I can see that this form of globalization has dire consequences on society. A small population of migrants, intellects, artists, and students has found many creative outlets to alleviate their frustrations with their society and with outside economic influences that dictate how Peru distributes its resources. This community has a lot of hope for their country and for the world. They believe, with good reason, that Latin America is the prime location for solutions to ethnic discrimination and class differences to come from.

My research has been truly inspiring. Coming home, I have been in a reverse culture shock; I’m confronted with issues of class in Williamsburg but its even more disturbing to me because there is so much wealth in our community. Everything is clean and shiny but there is population of working class people that are suffering just like those in Peru. I hope to take what I have learned and be able to apply it here as well.