Tag Archives: limpieza de sangre

Peru, Race and “Limpieza de Sangre”


Tarantino has a way with portraying racial anxieties.

In my 40 hours of watching telenovelas these past few months (I swear it’s to better my Spanish), I’ve come to the conclusion that Latin American’s have this stupid obsession over all things blood-related. The plot of this Mexican soap I’m watching is that the main character (a rich white dude) can only inherent his father’s wealth on the condition that he bears a child of his own flesh and blood.

Wealth, dynasty, and anxiety over blood-purity. The man would’ve been sorted into Slytherin in an instant.

When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they instituted this complex caste system based on racial purity, or limpieza de sangre, that would determine the social and political pecking order for 300 years. Africans were placed on the top of this social order while Europeans were on the botto….PSYCHE.

It worked exactly as you would expect. 1. Europeans 2 Indigenous 3. Africans. Maybe not so complex in the end, but the Spanish tried their best to classify all the permutations of mating between these 3 races.

They even made some handy paintings showing all the different combinations of African, Indigenous and European baby-making just in case you you forgot you were dark skinned.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I’ve been trying to locate myself in this picture. From what I know of my family history, 18th Century me would have been somewhere in the first 3 boxes, top-left. Mostly European and Indigenous stock with a soupçon of ‘savage African’ or something along those lines.

It comes to no surprise that In Peru, they have this proverb used to describe the country’s racial demographics:

“El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga”(Every Peruvian either has Indigenous or African blood).

It’s an apt comment on Peru’s societal melting-pot. Black Peruvians make up around 10% of Peru’s 29.5 million, Amerindian 30% and about 48% are mixed race (European, Asian, African, Indigenous).

However this proverb masks some deep prejudices in Peruvian society, where there is no separation between socio-economic status and race. Indigenous and African-descendants in Peru earn 40% less than mixed-race people. It is a country where “an indigenous woman may only ever work as a maid; a black man may only ever aspire to be a hotel doorman”. In Peru, blood determines the life you are allowed to live.

Discrimination appears normalized in the day-to-day lives of average Peruvians. It shows up in form of tradition where elite families hire black people to carry coffins of their loved ones, the discriminatory treatment of indigenous household workers, humiliating Quechua-speaking members of Congress for their errors in writing in Spanish, or a comedy show with a main character dressed in blackface named Negro Mama (translated literally as The Dumb Black).

Come September, I’ll be living and working in Peru for eight months. I can only hope that the people I meet there also share a love for Bob Marley.

That until there no longer / First class and second class citizens of any nation / Until the colour of a man’s skin / Is of no more significance / than the colour of his eyes / – Me say war.