Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Peru
In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps makes special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other.
While our diversity helps us accomplish that goal, in other ways it poses challenges. In Peru, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ backgrounds, beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors are judged in a cultural context different from our own.
The people of Peru are known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to differences that you present. Outside of Peru’s capital, residents have had less direct exposure to other cultures, races, religions, and lifestyles.
To adapt to life in Peru, you may need to make some compromises in how you present yourself as an individual.
Female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise as much independence as they do in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs or orientations may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these issues. Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.
Possible Gender Issues for Volunteers
Gender roles in Peru are different from those in the United States, and it is important to understand them to be effective and to find personal satisfaction in your project assignment. Most Peruvian women have traditional roles, especially in rural areas, where they run the household, prepare meals, clean, and rear children. In addition, many women work in the fields, run small businesses, and care for farm animals. Men also have specific roles, and “manliness” is very important.
It is not uncommon for women to experience stares, comments, and requests for dates on the street and in other situations. Female Volunteers are obvious targets because they generally look different from Peruvian women. Female Volunteers may have to accept certain constraints that male Volunteers do not, and adjust to different norms, behaviors, and ways of doing things.
Male Volunteers also encounter harassment, but less frequently. Male Volunteers may be teased about not being “manly” enough for not pursuing women or drinking. Male Volunteers who cook, wash clothes and dishes, and clean the house may be considered strange by their neighbors.
Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color
Peru has many ethnic groups, including large Chinese and Japanese populations, and an Afro-Peruvian community concentrated in Lima and other coastal areas. Peruvians from these minority groups, particularly Afro-Peruvians, are sometimes subject to subtle forms of discrimination, and Volunteers, including African-American Volunteers, may experience similar treatment.
All Volunteers may hear racial comments while on the street, although the comments are more likely to be descriptive than derogatory. For example, persons of Asian descent are called Chinos, whether or not they are of Chinese descent. All Volunteers, but particularly Volunteers of color, will be subjected to a variety of questions, comments, and perhaps even jokes regarding their race or ethnicity. While some of these may be mean-spirited, most will be innocent, arising from unfamiliarity with or misinformation about other races and cultures. You will find it helpful to maintain a positive attitude about yourself and to approach any negative comments with patience and confidence. Peruvians, particularly in rural areas, tend to think all Americans are Caucasian and may express disbelief when you introduce yourself as an American. The need for repeated explanations of your ethnic background may become tiresome, but it is a wonderful opportunity to explain the rich cultural diversity of the United States to Peruvians.
Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers
In general, older members of the community are well-respected in Peru. Specific challenges for senior Volunteers are often related to language acquisition and adaptation to the basic living conditions of Peru. Also, because most Volunteers are in their 20s, seniors may find that developing a peer support system within the Volunteer community is a challenge.
Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers
While there is some openness about sexual orientation in the larger cities, homosexuality is not looked upon favorably in smaller communities. We recommend that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Volunteers be circumspect about their sexual orientation with their Peruvian colleagues, particularly at first. Once established in their site, each Volunteer will make the decision with whom to discuss their sexual orientation. Support mechanisms are available within the Peace Corps community and from Peace Corps staff.
Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Peru. Many other religious groups are present and visible around the country, and tolerance of all religions is fairly high. In some smaller communities, divisions exist across religious lines, and Volunteers need to understand these and be careful about being seen as aligned with one side or the other. If you are an observant member of any religion, particularly a non-Christian one, it may be challenging to explain your beliefs to Peruvians. Obtaining special foods and locating a place of worship for major holidays may also be a challenge. Lima has places of worship for most major religions, including several synagogues for the Jewish population.
Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities
As a disabled Volunteer in Peru, you will face a special set of challenges. There is very little infrastructure to accommodate those with disabilities, and few places make any accommodation for those with physical disabilities. The major cities do, however, offer some institutional support for those with disabilities.
As part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Peru without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Peru staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.