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Thanks to everyone who participated, peeped, tweeted or commented about the photo. What am I talking about? This entry, and the following photos.

The woman, is in fact, selling orange juice. She has a shopping cart and a juice squeezer and oranges, and a trash bag at her feet. Five years ago this shopping cart/juicer phenomenon was almost unknown. I’m not sure when it first came up, maybe about three years ago. It’s new, but has taken hold, and considering all the other stuff that’s sold on the street (fried sopaipillas, fried egg rolls, etc), I feel like it’s a pretty good addition to the street-food scene.

I have no way of knowing if that is her child or not. I had assumed it was, but a number of you wondered if the child was or was not hers. I also don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, or why he/she is so warmly dressed. I was wearing a sundress and breaking out in a sweat. There is no second child in the carriage, and the child was pulling the newspaper out of the carriage sheet by sheet.

I had not noticed that the child was on the other side of that metal partition. We do not generally have a crippling fear of kidnapping here, so it didn’t seem strange to me that the child was not closer to the woman selling juice.

People who work independently often wear aprons or what we call cotones, which are button-up smocks over their clothes. The guy who sells sandwiches outside of the Registro Civil near my house wears a white cotón every day, so her wearing an apron did not surprise me. Plus it could have pockets for her to easily keep change in without sticking her hands in and out of her pants pockets, which might get juicy.

The question was asked about whether this was her main job or a supplement. Again, I have no way of knowing this. Given the time of day and how hard it would be to safely store all of her items and drop off her child elsewhere before getting to work (very unusual are the jobs where you don’t have to be at work before 10 or 12, including at the mall), I’d guess it’s her main gig.

I was also surprised to see her costly items, and have never seen anyone use a pack and play on the street before. I also wondered who dropped her off in the morning, and if that person would come and pick her up later, or drop off more oranges. Does she work for herself, or is there a middle-man who takes care of the orange procurement, and other associated tasks. Does he/she take a cut? Does she make enough to live on? Does she have more kids elsewhere? Does the kid like orange juice? What will she do when he/she gets bigger? These are the main questions that ran through my mind.


And now if you’ll accompany me, we can address the 64 million peso question (that’s only $128,000 if you were wondering). The Peruvian question.

Is she Peruvian? Why do we care? Before answering this question, you have to know that in Chile, the word Peruvian (peruano) is heavy. It’s loaded. Rather than being a simple description, like Irish or Belgian or Canadian, it comes off as an accusation. There is a history of strife between the two countries, based on land grabs and wars and treaties. But the Peruvian question is not based in history. It is based in the present.

Presently, there are many Peruvians who have come to Chile, specifically to Santiago. A bit of a “little Lima” (pequeña Lima) has developed on the north side of the cathedral at the Plaza de Armas. Snacks like Sublime (a chocolate bar) and drinks like InkaCola are sold at the many internet cafés and locutorios (telephone offices) that advertise low rates for calling Perú. Fresh food, from papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes) and chicken and rice and a thin pudding called mazamorra morada (made of purple corn) eaten as dessert are prepared off site, and sold in disposable containers which people tuck into, standing in groups, talking, smiling, laughing until long after dark. Late at night, when the street-eating is over, shuttle pull up and call out the names of various parts of the city that people might be going home to.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that Chile is Chlie, and Peru is Peru. Chile has enjoyed a fairly strong economy for some time, and while Peru has a moneyed elite, much of which lives in Lima and sends their kids to school in the United States for a year, or for college (their school year coincides with the northern hemisphere’s, unlike that in Chile, which is opposite, the year starting in March and ending in December), well, some of the rest of Peru has their sights set differently.

It’s probably quite a bit like any country A with immigrant B situation. The people fron country A learn to have negative associations with immigrant B’s culture (in this case, “too much noise, too much mess, music, ideas, etc.”), and begin to blame immigrant B for economic hardship “they take all the jobs, they work harder than Chileans, they live 10 in a small apartment, there’s no way I can compete!” And the unsettling feeling that the mother country is less yours than it was when there were fewer people from country B sending their kids to your kids’ school, etc.

It is long and complicated. I am not a sociologist. But I am an immigrant here, and I think I (and many of my gringa commenters, friends, readers, etc.) are just vaguely assimmilating the idea that word Peruvian is (especially in English) taken to mean anything other than “a person from Peru.” We resist anti-Peruvian sentiment, reject xenophobia. When we say that the woman is probably Peruvian (as I was originally going to say, before I opened the photo to comments instead), I mean: the law of averages dictates that she is from Peru, as I have bought juice on the street a number of times, and the person that sold it to me (for 500 pesos, about a dollar) was Peruvian in every case, or at least had a Peruvian accent, though I did not ask to see her national ID card.

There’s so much more to say, statistics to give (I heard a dato recently that five years ago there were fewer than 150,000 immigrants in Chile, and now there are more than 300,000 (on Radio Futuro, don’t have a print/web source at the moment). This Wikipedia article says that there are 85,000 Peruvians living in Santiago. Out of a population of about 6 million, for about 1.4%. For people used to living in a fairly monocultural place, it represents a change.*


The important part for me here is the difference between saying what you know, and saying what you suspect. I don’t know if it’s her child. I don’t know if she has another job. I don’t know how much money she makes, or where she lives, or if she’s from Peru. All I know is that I saw something curious on my way to a work meeting the other day, and I took a picture. What is true is what is evident. Everything else is conjecture. Thanks to the fine folks at MatadorNetwork for encouraging my thought process and a critical eye towards what I see and what I communicate.

Coming soon: much less heady and fun-to-read topics, silly pictures and other tomfoolery.


* A reader’s careful eye revealed a mathematical snafu in an earlier version which as been corrected. Thanks, reader (aka Robert).