El que no tiene dinga tiene de mandinga. (He that is not Inka is Mandinka).
Peruvian by birth and father, I left the country at the age of two when my parents divorced. Estranged from my father for nearly all my life, Peru has always been a sort of enigmatic talisman for me, a key piece of a fractured identity. When I first started visiting the country as a young adult, I was surprised to find myself affectionately called la cholita gringa by my friends and acquaintances. Surprised because I heard the term used in reference in a variety of manners; different in respect to the taxi driver in the street, versus the friend coming to visit.
Cholo is first recorded in the 17th century in the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s Commentarios Reales de los Incas and is used to identify the offspring of native and black parents. Today in Peru cholo, or its masculine or feminine diminutive (cholito/cholita) is a common phrase with positive and negative connotations depending on the context, and reflects the complex, unstated socio-economic rules by which modern day Peru continues to abide.
Yet the word itself conveys one of many paradoxes of Perú: to love and hate something at the same time, to be both mother country and oppressor. “We are two Perús,” a friend of mine often says. I was drawn to this paradox.
Initially, I began this project as an anthropological look at modern coastal Perú, I wanted to represent this Peruvian under-class - the cholos sin plata, whose representation in modern society is often portrayed as dirty and disreputable, placing them in a more democratic context by using the coast as an ambiguous backdrop to their lives. Later, the project has evolved into something more personal.
The photographs in Cholita, form a family album, wherein I reclaim a lost family and magical kingdom on the Peruvian coast.