El Rostro del Peru: Matos Mar and Migration

In preparation for an art project about the “ritmo” and “caos” of Lima, I came across a book chapter by Jose Matos Mar (1921-2015), a Peruvian anthropologist that transformed Peruvian urban anthropology. His book, Desborde Popular y Crisis del Estado: El Nuevo Rostro del Peru en la Decada de 1980, offers many vital ideas about migration and urbanization. This post serves as a reflection upon the ideas in Matos Mar’s chapter, “El Nuevo Rostro Urbano: La Forja de una Identidad (pp. 70-95).

Close to 80% of those living in Lima live in urban-popular settlements are concentrated in three valleys: Rimac, Chillon, and Lurin. These homes occupy large portions of alleys and slums (callejones y tugurios) throughout the city, but especially in the northern and southern “cones”, territories surrounding Lima that contain little infrastructure, and sparse social services.

Extreme population expansions between 1950 to 1980 (which I will talk about in a later post) led to a massive increase in habitation surrounding the central Lima district. Since 1940, when Lima contained 645,172 inhabitants, the city has grown to over 9,000,000 today. Previously, 65% of Peru’s population lived in rural environments, and now the same number represents those living in urban settings, Lima hosting the vast majority of these citizens. Such “massive concentration has created special structures and societies in the urban world, as well as new tensions” (71).

Matos-Mar points out that over 41% of the new urban population in Lima are internal migrants, who abandoned their homes to seek urban opportunity. More than half of these migrants are from the Sierra, the central mountainous region of the country. He states that:

“En 1984, Lima es ciudad de forasteros. Las multitudes de origen provinciano, desbordadas en el espacio urbano, terminan profundas alteraciones en el estilo de vida de la capital y dan un nuevo rostro a la ciudad (72)”.

The city has also drastically expanded in land-size. However, it’s geographic location between the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by the Andes mountains on all sides, presents natural limits to this physical growth.

“el enorme desplazamiento de las masas provincianas a la capital ha venido convertiendo a la ciudad en el crisol y muestra de todos los procesos en marcha en el peru. Esta mayoritaria concentracion migrante en barriadas y urbanizaciones populares ha terminado por constituirlas en factor determinante de la nueva dinamica social metropolitana” (75).

A large problem arose surrounding migrants’ new living conditions, and the ill-suited city-space into which they arrived. The migrant “had to adapt to the context offered to them by the city and to find solutions in the possibilities given for their previous experience (75)”. Matos-Mar argued that the migrant faced two options: one was to go through the legal system and accept the “ceiling”, and the second was to violate the limits of the established system (76). Many, unable to work through the legal system for obtaining a home, were forced to “invade” the land, and convert it to fit their basic needs. Without property deeds, migrants squatted in territories throughout the area. The pressure that they placed on the city to meet the needs of residents eventually led to the city’s recognition of their land in what Matos-Mar calls the era of “mass contestation” (77).

Syncretism between the Hispanic coast, and migrant serrano culture followed the mass migration of Andean workers and families. Now, in Lima, one can find Andean fiestas at the rooftops of buildings, new Andean dances that incorporate indigenous rhythm and tunes, and the Quechua language is frequently emitted through local radio stations.

“el enorme vigor y la presencia alcanzados por lo andino en el medio radial, nos ofrece un ejemplo importante de la dinámica activa con que el nuevo Limeño redfine su identidad en el contexto urbano, para luego proyectarla en forma agresiva, como factor importante en la formación de una nueva cultura” (84).

Today, there is a general incapacity for public services to assist the large number of migrants that live in the city. With few financial resources, the state is forced to focus its efforts on extreme cases of disorder, sanitation, and safety (86-87). With rapid expansion, the city is hard-pressed to supply transportation and support to new communities that have sprouted up to the far north and south. Matos-Mar offers a prime example of this growth in the Lima Microbus. Microbuses, or “Micros”, are small buses that sprawl throughout Lima in dozens of different lines and routes. Lima, without a large public transportation system (it really only has a few public buses that travel down main roads), relies on Micros, combis (even smaller vans), and other private vehicles to fill the gap. These modes of transportation have had to rapidly increase their fleets and routes, creating a scene of intense traffic and confusion in the streets.

Matos-Mar concludes his analysis of 1980s Lima with a discussion of migrant groups’ makeshift cultures and its relation to an inadequate public support network. He points out that the state’s lack of resources has contributed to extreme violence, crime, and malpractice within migrant communities. In response to this gap, a popular demand for wellbeing followed what Matos-Mar calls the “invasion and capture” of land around Lima. In short, communities created their own local, make-shift, solutions to their problems. Due to the extremely high cost of healthcare in the country, migrant groups turned to local healers and herbalists that could offer natural treatments. Religious communities developed their own local traditions that altered Roman Catholicism and combined evangelical teachings to establish new pseudo-denominations. Migrants addressed their lack of educational services by forming clandestine schools and academies that taught their kids basic lessons at lower prices, maintaining their own curriculum against the laws of the public education system. Lastly, communities organized local security and police forces to monitor their claustrophobic streets.

“la ilegalidad, la alegalidad, la clandestinidad, y la semiclandestinidad se convierten en un estilo dominante e invasor en el que cristaliza institucionalmente la nueva cultura y ante cuya universalidad y omnipresencia el Perú oficial solo puede responder con el escándalo, la indiferencia o intentos esporádicos y violentos para hacer sentir que continua existiendo mas allá de los limites de la inmensa casbah limeña” (92).

All of the points that Matos Mar gracefully presents are important points of departure for my own ethnographic account of transience, management, anomaly, and order in Lima. The striking cases of migrant clinics, schools, and security forces offer incredible lessons about fluid response and local organization between the interstices of state authority.

Matos Mar, Jose
1980   “El Nuevo Rostro Urbano: la forja de una identidad,” Desborde Popular y Crisis del Estado, el  nuevo rostro del Peru en la decada de 1980 Pp 70-95IEP, Tercera edicion. http://repositorio.iep.org.pe/bitstream/IEP/666/2/peruprolema21.pdf.

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