Arequipa AKA La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) is the proudest small city in the world.
In Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil, James Lockhart writes:
Not very far beneath the surface of Iberian reality lay the city-state, the basic entity of Mediterranean civilization immemorial. Nationality was still fluid, distant, and easily undermined by dynastic change and conflict. Everywhere they went, the early modern Iberians gave more importance to provinciality and less to nationality than one might expect. Anyone from the home province was a friend, anyone from elsewhere was an outsider. Again and again political alliances and antagonisms in the New World were based on provincial origins. The province, the city, and the neighborhood were crucial reference points in helping individuals to define themselves in relation to others. Nothing but family had as strong a hold on the emotions of Iberians or was as essential to their sense of identity as regionalism, the love of what was later called the patria chica (home province or town).
Here we see that regional loyalty being stronger than national pride is a throwback to old-school Spain and the Iberian peninsula. I worked in Houston for one month, before I’d ever left the country, and Texas was the most extreme case I’d seen of a fierce regional pride. It freaked me out, all the rednecks with Texas flags. But you see that regionalism, or provincialism, throughout Latin America. The strongest provincialism in Colombia would be the paisas of Medellin and Antioquia. But I haven’t seen anything in the world like Arequipa pride. The paisas got nothing on the Southern Peru highlanders. Arequipeños used to have their own passport!
From this Arequipa pride webpage, “No hay regionalismo, arequipeño es nacionalismo.” It’s not regionalist, it’s nationalist. They aren’t literal separatists like in French Canada, but being officially separate from Lima is a common talking point.
Where does the pride originate?
In the late 19th century, Peruvian president Lizardo Montero Flores led a war against Chile (one of three in Chile always won, one of which was against Peru and Bolivia, Arica being a major loss from Peru to Chile). During the war he moved Congress to Arequipa, so it became the official capital of Peru for one hot minute. In Arequipa parks and public spaces, there’s a strong emphasis on the “heroes” of Peruvian wars. Coming from an American bias, my first reaction is to point out that Peru has lost every war it’s been in (except against Ecuador), so what is this heroes business? But bringing that up with Peruvians would akin to a foreigner in the US calling the American military baby killers and war criminals. It doesn’t make friends.
A historic political protest in Arequipa led to the fall of 1950s Peruvian dictator Manuel Odría. The event was brilliantly depicted by Mario Vargas Llosa in Conversation in the Cathedral. And speaking of Peru’s top literary figure, Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Arequipa. So the locals claim him as their own even though he left for Lima at a young age. It’d be the equivalent of me calling myself a Chicagoan.
Also from Arequipa is Sendero Luminoso leader Abimael Guzman, who’s serving a life prison sentence in Lima.
So aside from Arequipa being the temporary capital of Peru, and inspiring the pivotal event in the downfall of the Odría dictatorship, the larger political angle in Arequipan pride lie in protests and the governmental power of Lima. Over 26% of the Peruvian population live in Lima. Only 17% of Colombians live in Bogota. Plus, Colombia has several medium-sized cities including Medellin, Cali, and Barranquilla, which sway enough power that Bogota can’t dominate the lion’s share of national resources. In Peru, however, Arequipa is the second city at one million. There aren’t any medium sized cities to keep Lima in check. So Arequipeños take pride in the power of their protests, their ability to shut down the entire south of Peru to get their way in Lima. The south is rich in mining, but most of the money goes to Lima. Except when Arequipa has a crazy strike, in 2001 they removed the cobblestones from the city center streets so trucks couldn’t go in or out.
One understandable reason for Arequipeño pride is the FOOD. It sets the city apart from Lima and the rest of the country because, at traditional restaurants in Arequipa, you don’t find typical Peruvian food. You’ll find Arequipa food, which is also amazing. In fact, Arequipa cuisine (from a city of 1 million) beats the entire country of Colombia (population 45 million). It doesn’t just beat it, it stomps a mudhole in its ass.
Peleas de Toro
Many Latin American countries feature corrida de toros - bullfights where humans stab and kill the bulls. Arequipa has peleas de toro - where the bulls fight each other. I think the corridas (humans killing bulls) are more entertaining, but Arequipeños seem to have a great deal of pride in their version. Here’s a look at Arequipa bullfights – bull vs. bull:
And an actual fight:
The Arequipa style of bullfighting was recently added to the logo of the local beer, Arequipeña, for which the slogan is “Hecho con orgullo” – Made with pride. The label always featured the highest peak of Arequipa, El Misti (which I climbed in 2008).
Peru has some old-school traditions. For example, when partying with a group from Arequipa you don’t get your own glass of beer. There’s one glass for everyone (maybe two or more depending on the size of the group). The glass is passed around for everyone to share. The next person to receive the glass holds the big bottle of beer. When the person before him finishes his beer, the next guy receives the glass, serves himself, and passes the bottle to the next person. Women don’t hold the bottle. Instead, the bottle jumps to the next male, who serves her.
For my Arequipa wedding, a requirement for the padrino (‘godfather’ or ‘best man’) was that he be married in the Catholic Church. If my brother (the only guy ever considered for the job) were unmarried, he may not have been permitted. Very traditional town.
These strong traditions, the significantly different food, and its history cause Arequipeños to regard their region as their own country, apart from Peru and specifically Lima.
This article was actually inspired by Arequipa Day. Peruvian Independence Day in Arequipa is a rather tranquil affair. Arequipa Day, on the other hand, is a chaotic romp of celebration throughout the city.
Here’s the first of a comprehensive, 29-part YouTube playlist on the 2011 corso:
Here’s a shorter clip:
These next pictures illustrate how many people hang AQP flags on Arequipa Day. I didn’t have to go far to get these shots, they’re all on my everyday dog-walking route. Note Misti in the background in two of the shots. Peruvian Independence Day is July 28, so on August 15 Arequipa Day is just a couple weeks later, so that’s why there are a couple Peruvian flags mixed in with all the AQP flags.
Carnaval Arequipeño is the preferred anthem among the Indian race – the serranos, the cholos, the Incas, etc. – and less liked by the whiter Peruvians. Anti-Indian racism in Peru is worth an article in itself, but suffice to say that this one is for the commoners.
Upper estrato Arequipeños prefer El Regreso as their AQP anthem. Less horns, more strings.
More strings, less horns in the song. This video also has the more urban signature images from Arequipa, mostly the Cathedral.
Next is the official hymn – very old school.
Himno de Arequipa