LIMA, May 31 — Peruvian television character “Peasant Jacinta,” a wide-eyed rustic transplanted to Lima, is supposed to be funny. But critics say she is the embodiment of insulting and pervasive racist stereotypes.
Nearly toothless, with braided hair, and dressed in a colourful shawl and a dirty skirt, Jacinta represents a broad caricature of an impoverished Andean woman — uneducated but cunning, trying to figure out the urban world that has seemingly passed her by.
The daily television show featuring the character has been wildly successful for years, and is just one in a long line of Peruvian shows about “cholas” — a derogatory term for indigenous and mixed-race people, usually played by male actors dressed as women.
But some indigenous leaders say they have had enough of what they see as an insulting portrayal of their community.
“We can no longer permit such racism, such mockeries of our people,” said Hilaria Supa, a former Peruvian lawmaker and current member of the multinational Andean parliament.
Supa recently launched a petition to get “Peasant Jacinta” and her show pulled off the air. Thousands of people have already signed it.
“These shows offend us, caricature us as stupid people. It is not acceptable that these channels earn money by mocking others and by mistreating those who come from the Andes,” she told AFP.
The network behind the show featuring “Peasant Jacinta” — Frecuencia latina — denied the character was offensive.
“Far from promoting racism,” the company said in a statement responding to Supa’s allegations, the character “promotes and defends the heroism of the Andean people you represent.”
The network also argued that the character was meant as a humorous parody, and defended its creation of such characters as protected free speech.
More than half of Peru’s 30 million inhabitants are mixed-race. Another large portion of the population is Afro-Peruvian.
The National Commission against Discrimination, part of the culture ministry, has appealed for the media to “encourage positive awareness of the cultural diversity” in Peru.
They have urged producers to “eliminate from their programs content that validates discriminatory practices that generate stereotypes and prejudices.”
‘Go back’ to the fields
Yet racism is so pervasive on social networking websites that a law was approved in October establishing criminal penalties — up to three years in prison — for discrimination over the Internet.
Despite the threat of prison, the biased comments are not letting up.
A telling example: the insulting commentary that flooded Twitter following the sudden death of 33-year-old singer Edita Guerrero, from the popular traditional music group “Corazon Serrano.”
“Now all the maids are in mourning and are going to ask us for a day off,” one user wrote on the day of the singer’s funeral.
Supa, self-taught in the indigenous language Quechua and an enthusiast of traditional clothing from her Andean region, is regularly the target of abuse on social networks.
Posters call her “illiterate,” a “chola,” and other, more insulting terms. One told her to “go back to her village to plant sweet potatoes.”
The impact of campaigns against racism is limited, though a football club was fined US$12,000 (RM38,556) by the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) after its supporters insulted a black player from a Brazilian team.
The incident aroused strong responses and Brazil President Dilma Rousseff quickly reacted on Twitter, calling it “a lamentable racist episode.”
Sociologist Santiago Alfaro Rotondo says that race-based attacks are on the rise, and not just on the Internet.
“Racism exists at every level of Peruvian society and is evident in the way people are treated publicly,” he told AFP. “Media contributes to solidifying racist stereotypes.”
Wilfredo Ardito, lawyer and human rights professor at Lima’s Catholic University, said Peru “remains a terribly racist country.”
“There exists a contained rage (resulting from) the frustration of a society founded on exclusion,” he said.
Mixed-race President Ollanta Humala, who was himself the subject of racist insults during his 2011 campaign, “should launch a massive media campaign against racism,” Ardito said, lamenting “the paralysis of institutions against this scourge.” — AFP