On Being Peruvian, My Family and Tracing Back My Roots

August 2009_Peru 030.jpg

Currently jammin’/writing to: La Cosecha by Nicola Cruz

I haven’t been to Peru in 7 years. That’s 7 summers. 7 winters. 7 navidades. 7 years without seeing my cousin Cochi, my tia Esther, and la chacra, a.k.a hacienda or a small farm. Not having visited Peru in this long is a big deal for me because I used to go every year, sometimes twice a year, since I was a baby. I was born and raised in Jersey but my heart is in Peru.

The last time I was there was in September 2010. I remember the month because we happened to be there for Mistura, Lima's annual food festival and Latin America's largest gastronomy event. We went for the day and it was beyond anything I could have imagined. From top chefs to street car vendors to herbs to showcasing every kind of potato grow in Peru.

Peruvian food and Machu Picchu, have put Peru on the map. There was a time when people asked me where I was from and I said, Peru, and they immediately cocked their heads to the side and asked, “Where is that?” Then about 5 years later, they would say things like, “OMG Machu Picchu, right?!” And, now people respond with, “OMG, Peruvian food is SO GOOD! Ceviche is, like, amazing!” We went from, “Where is Peru?” to “Ceviche!”, that’s progress, yo.

(I’m being sarcastic. You SHOULD know where Peru is on the map. But, I digress.)

I’m so damn excited to announce that I have bought my ticket to Peru for the end of November and first week of December. This trip is about family, tracing my roots and exploring another side of Peru, alone, which I’ve never done before so, of course, I’m scared shitless but also excited.

The timing of it all is really coming together.

My cousin Ulises who lives in Finland is also going to Peru this year to take his 6-year-old daughter, Jade, my goddaughter to meet her family. I can’t believe I was almost on the fence about going, who knows when I will get an another opportunity to see him or her again in Peru. Shout out to my mom for giving me a swift kick in the ass and getting me to buy my flight.

And, it gets better.

My other cousin James (yes, I have a lot of cousins) from my dad’s side now lives in Japan and extended his trip to Peru by two days so that we could hang for the first days I am there. If that’s not #blessed, I don’t know what the hell is. That first week or so will be about hangin’ in Lima and being with my family. I’m so excited I could scream. (And, I have screamed. In my car. Alone. Thank God.)

The second part of my trip will be about me tracing my ancestry roots.

After my trip to Standing Rock last year and being asked what tribe I was from and having no clue, I made it my mission to find out. So that quest begins with lots of research from here and in person paperwork while in Lima. I’m also setting aside a few days to go explore Peru alone and  have an adventure of some kind, hopefully in the Andes mountains. This is something I’ve never ever done before because I’ve always traveled with family. More on this soon.

Being in Peru brings this feeling of ease in my soul. It means I get to completely disconnect from the world and just be. Take my family out to dinner and reminisce about how traviesa (meaning mischievous) I used to be as a kid and, ahem, still am. It means hearing stories about my grandparents that I never really got to know because I was too little when they were alive. I never get sick of hearing these stories. I get to reconnect with my past through storytelling.

I also booked this flight at this particular time to see my cousin Cochi whose birthday is during my time there. She is still mourning the death of her husband Bruno, who died of cancer last year. The most ironic part of it all was that the day he died, I got a new job and my first thought was, “Finally, I get to go see Bruno before it’s too late.” It broke my heart into a million pieces to find out that evening that I had just missed him.

I hadn’t cried in so long that when I started to, I almost couldn’t stop. It felt as if I would never stop crying. Not being able to fly down to Peru to see my family last year was the worst part about being unemployed last fall. It’s a horrible feeling to not be able to see your loved ones when they are really sick. It’s the kind of restlessness I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Bruno was like the older brother I always wanted: Hilarious, protective but always willing to have a good time. The fondest memory I have of him was when he threw a surprise party for me with a bunch of the neighborhood kids. I was genuinely surprised and he put it all together so well. I’ll never forget that day.

My family is my Peru. They are my high cheekbones. My olive colored skin. They are my past and my present. They are the reason why I work and hustle so damn hard. I hope that one day we could all be together again in some capacity without this aching distance between us.  

Today is our fiesta patrias, a.k.a. Peruvian Independence Day, and while I wish I was in Peru to celebrate with my family, I’m going to celebrate somewhere with my local Peruvians. So, if you see me, I’ll probably be jammin’ to some Andean flutes, Afro-Peruano or marinera norteña while sippin’ on some chicha morada and munchin’ on some lomo saltado, cancha or ceviche.