Classism, the Spanish legacy, is a distinctly Latin quirk we gringos raised on Hollywood morals and dreams of a perfect world run into early and often in Latin America.
My wife attracted me in part because she didn’t have the need to show off to others. She does not demand we go to the coolest restaurants or nightclubs to see and be seen. In fact she’d rather stay at home and cook. She doesn’t have albums of selfies on her Facebook page.
So while I don’t suffer the typical trappings of gold-digging materialism, my life is not completely free of status jockeying. However the kind that afflicts my wife and some in her family is a different manifestation.
And the perfect example happened the other day.
I receive a daily hard copy of El Comercio, Peru’s largest newspaper. I don’t read the sports section, which could be renamed the “soccer section.” I usually give it to the building security guard, known in Peru as a “guachiman” (watchman with a Spanish accent).
But on this particular day I forgot to give the sports page to the guachiman. Wifey was heading out and I asked her to give it to him. She declined with a look that said I should know better.
She didn’t have a problem with me giving him the sports page every day. She had a problem with her personally delivering the daily act of kindness. While she can be unbelievably sweet to children and her patients in the hospital (she’s a nurse), being kind to the guachiman is out of the question!
So she left without delivering the sports section, and I brought it down soon afterward.
Mario Vargas Llosa on Peruvian culture, from A Fish in the Water:
One is always blanco or cholo in relation to someone else, because one is always better or worse situated than others, or one is more or less poor or important, or possessed of more or less Occidental or mestizo or Indian or African or Asiatic features than others, and all this crude nomenclature that decides a good part of any one person’s fate is maintained by virtue of an effervescent structure of prejudices and sentiments – disdain, scorn, envy, bitterness, admiration, emulation – which many times, beneath ideologies, values, and contempt for values, is the deep-seated explanation for the conflicts and frustration of Peruvian life.
It is a grave error, when discussing racial and social prejudices in Peru, to believe that they act only from the top down; parallel to the contempt that the white shows toward the mestizo, the Indian, and the black, there exists the bitterness of the mestizo against the white and the Indian and the black, and each one of these latter three against all others …
In the majority of cases it is unconscious, stemming from an ego that is hidden and blind to reason; it is taken in with one’s mother’s milk and begins to be shaped from the time of the Peruvian’s first birth-cry and babblings as a baby.
There you go. Still learning.