A Different Breed of Classism

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.



  1. I sympathise with your wife. I’ve been in the Third World for 23 years now. No es que soy una clasista, pero soy un clasista por una buena razón. Here’s what happened the other day.

    The indigenous Indian was the next available clerk at the ICE government phone company office. I was hoping for either the pouty blond in heels and a nose ring or the skinny gay pal of my office manger, but I got the cholo. That’s the slang here for indigenous Indian. Cholo. It’s a word that even when said with affection rings derogatory, and the clerk that attended me was every bit a cholo. His long straight black hair and Neanderthal features betrayed his button down shirt and khaki government trousers as much as his blank stare was pure Indian. “Su cedula,” he grunted like the Indian in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Let me see your I.D., is what he meant. He then printed some documents to change my calling plan and put his finger on the paper under the line where my name appeared, and grunting in Spanish said, “Firma”, sign here. I did. Without flinching he said, that’s not your signature. You just watched me sign it, I said. It’s not your signature, he repeated and tore up the document then got up from his seat and walked to the printer to get a fresh copy. Sign just like on your I.D., he said. Are you telling me that I am not me? His face never changed expression. Sign just like on your I.D., he repeated. I can’t, I said. It comes out the way it comes out. I was in a different mood the day I signed my I.D. and
    I’m in a bad mood right now, I said. He stared at me. We were speaking in Spanish, but he was looking at me the way the I am sure the locals looked at Christopher Columbus in 1502. Sign the same way, said the cholo. I was in a rush and trying to avoid a bad day. “Call your manager,” I said. He did. I heard him tell the manager that my signature was not mine and then hung up the phone. We are going to be here all day, I said. He walked over to the printer for another copy of the contract. Just like on your I.D. he said. I signed.

    Still not the same, he said, and printed the document again. On the third try I came close enough to meet his scrutiny. He stamped the document and gave me a copy. Fucking Indian, I thought. They must have some affirmative action type program here at the government phone company. He never flinched.


  2. Part of it, it merely that people get mixed into each other’s lives and problems often in Latin America.

    In America, we have the ‘fake gorge’ that can be activated to disconnected us from people.

    However, having experienced the freeloaders and the helpless in Latin America first hand, you differentiate yourself from the lower classes as if you don’t… they will eventually end up being your problem.

    Being a friend actually means something there, so you must choose people who are in a similar situation as yourself to associate with.


  3. I was once waiting to board a city bus in Monterrey Mexico when ahead of me in line I saw a white Mexicana with European features dressed in professional office attire cut in line in front of and actually shove a dark skinned indigenous looking woman dressed in working class clothing. Then after shoving her and cutting in front of her the white woman looked at the brown lady with a look of total disgust. Where I’m from in the US that would get you smacked in the head or at least cussed out, but the brown skinned lady just humbly lowered her head and let the white lady go ahead of her. It totally freaked me out, I couldn’t believe what I’d witnessed. Well to do, educated Mexicans can be some of the most arrogant, entitled, disrespectful people you could possibly imagine.


  4. I couldn’t agree more with ChiliT and GMoney. Once you spend enough time here you realize, once these people think they’re your friend, or at least on the same level as you, that’s when you start to have problems. It’s a kill or be killed world here and I think our friend Matt B hasn’t spent enough time to realize.


  5. Vargas has something to say, but it’s best filtered as poor lovvie, he can’t help how he was brought up.

    I must be a weirdo, because I more or less learnt how to cover some of this ground. But, pardon if you will me blowing own trumpet, (a) I’m here to stay, so (b) here to learn. Expats always have the option of (a) going back home and (b) disliking something.

    It would be good, however, if people did not imagine that up north or east from here is a more advanced world. It may be, but the taxes are more advanced, the isolation is supremely advanced, and the weather is more advanceable.

    Full Stop. Apologies for wasting your times! kiss, kiss.


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