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What does Criolla mean? Edit

You might just as well ask 'what do we understand by "culture"?', because it is a multifarious word having many subjective interpretations depending on context and application, that is whether one is talking about an individual, an organisation, a family, a nation, etc. William Rowe was examining culture as an expression of collective memory, and what happens when part of that collective memory is "lost" (or dies - literally), as in the case of Argentina in the 1970s, when society fractures. I have also heard culture defined as "the way things are done around here..." and as "personal behaviour as an expression of a shared identity".


The Oxford English Dictionary defines culture as: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively: • a refined understanding or appreciation of this; • the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group; • [with adj.] the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group.

Being a criollo had a more concise definition in the aftermath of the conquest, referring to the first generation born in the Peru of entirely Spanish descent. That is not what being "criollo" or the term "criollismo" means now. Being "criollo" today is more an expression of sociopolitical and cultural identity, than genealogy or even ethnicity. Also, one must not forget too that to be "criollo" and "la viveza criolla" also carry negative connotations. Where did these understandings come from? Surely, this is something worthy of further investigation in order to better understand and interpret what "criollismo" means. One should also be aware of "criollismo" as it is interpreted in other countries in the Americas, because Peru's history has not been forged in isolation and I would wager that the origin of domestic interpretations of "criollismo" have an international component.


One can view the creation of the annual Dia De La Canción Criolla on 31 October 1944 as politically motivated (which it certainly was) and an attempt to define in the national consciousness (note that the word "national" here is not benign - we are referring essentially to Lima and to a far lesser extent the central coast of Peru) concepts of shared identity by linking such notions to symbols: a special day, a flag (and its colours), particular musical instruments (guitar, cajón) or certain musicians (Jesús Vásquez - who sang when the Día De La Canción Criolla was launched), etc. Politicians then attach themselves to such symbols to identify themselves in the national consciousness as being "with the electorate" - that is representing their interests. The political legitimacy of politicians - they hope - is increased through doing this.


Notice also that attempts to define a culture around concepts of a shared identity creates a dichotomy - because it presupposes that there are also those who do not share in the same culture. Where does their identity lie? Are they disenfranchised by conceptions of Canción Criolla and "criollismo"? One could view "afroperuanismo", for example, as a countermovement created to make sure that Peru's "black" population was not excluded a result of the cultural definition process. One thinks of the emphatic declaration of esteemed black musician Porfirio Vásquez, "No soy criollo, soy criollazo!"


Lima is, as it was at its very inception, a capital city that has a certain uneasy siege mentality about it - perhaps because it represents the legacy of a conquering, occupying and exploitative force. Throughout the city's entire existence, there has always been a fear that people from the provinces will overrun and destroy it and one may argue that concepts of "criollismo" have evolved over time to reflect this subconsciously perceived threat. This threat has manifested itself over time as: rebellious indians, bands of marauding "cimarrones", English pirates, the Spanish crown, Chileans, "provincianos", "cholos" and Sendero Luminoso. At the time the Día De La Canción Criolla was declared, during the relative boom period of Second World War industrialisation in Peru, Lima was undergoing a huge expansion in its urban area and population growth; with an influx of migrants from the provinces. I suggest that the creation of a Dia De La Canción Criolla should be seen in the light of a reflection of these circumstances and the need for municipal politicians and Lima's population to cope. [DM]

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