Recently, I came across the tumblr “Daily struggles of living in Lima.” The page features memes representing very real quirks of life in Lima, many of which resemble my experience. Given that familiarity, I smirked knowingly at a meme showing someone destroying the phone after receiving “one more text message from [telecommunications company] Claro.” I even went so far as to rhythmically exhale through my nostrils at a gif of a baby falling off a rocking horse to render the experience of a sudden stop on a bus. The url, “gringosinlima,” states the obvious: This blog is a space for the largely white expat community to make light of the quirks and annoyances of another culture. At the same time, the title seemed more than a little bit out of touch. Not only was the expat community based in snide shots at Peru, it completely ignored the actual struggles of the majority of the population in Lima.
My unproductive SJW indignation levels peaking, I was readying a takedown in the form of a pseudo-constructive blog post heavy on social justice buzzwords and half-baked pop cultural references.
Much of the year, I have not avoided discussing racism and xenophobia in my blog. It’s one small way I can challenge structural racism and more importantly work through how best to be a white ally.
In the case of this tumblr, a few moments in my daily life gave me pause before launching into a vindictive, semi-constructive post. First, I realized I identified with the frustrations in the tumblr too much to not feel somewhat hypocritical in my critique. Second, I had developed a habit quite similar to what motivated “daily struggles,” the phrase, “We’re in Peru.”
Like a more harmful and ignorant, “Thanks Obama,” my use of “We’re in Peru” became a way to pin every daily annoyance on my hosting country.
Why can’t I put the paper in the toilet bowl? We’re in Peru. Why does some food get me sick on a monthly basis? We’re in Peru. Why do the buses keep stopping in different locations? We’re in Peru. Why do the cobradores pack us three-wide in the bus aisle? We’re in Peru. Why do we always start choir 45 minutes late at minimum? We’re in Peru. Why do the artisans not warn us if they will not meet a deadline? We’re in Peru.
Not only are many of those experiences actually unrelated to Peru, they’re mildly hurtful at best.
Of course, I rationalized. If this helps me cope while I work at bigger picture problems it’s not an issue.
Except that thinking requires a lot of arrogance about the amount of good a few blog posts and assistance with Joining Hands can do. Plus, these actions can be enormously hurtful to those in my community.
Like the day I shouted in anguish “PERU!” in front of Lizbeth, David’s girlfriend as a bus flew by us instead of allowing us to get on at the designated stop location. Literally taken aback, she stepped away from me and took me to task. “Not Peru, Lima, and really just that one bus on one bus line.” I was taken aback, apologized and then rationalized that I’d say that about any country.
Later that week, my host mother, Isis, explained away high rates of petty theft in Lima with a pointed “We’re in Peru.” That is just the way Peru is, she meant, but I already know that considering how much I reminded those around me.
My coping habit was just hurting those around, those who have welcomed me, those who I have come to personally care about. Peruvians who are well aware of the issues within their country and do not need me reminding them.
Recognizing that, I could not honestly critique “Daily Struggles” without recognizing my own form of alienating Peruvians for my comfort. The “Daily Struggles” tumblr is out of touch by nature of the title, but I do not come from a place of moral authority. I do come from a similar place of having my own microaggressions that I need to name and end. I can speak from that place to those who are failing to recognize their own errors to help push them, even as I push myself even more.