Racism in South America is a lot different than in the US… The US is just catching up to it.
Elegant in tuxedos and white gloves, the six black pallbearers silently and gracefully remove the mahogany coffin bearing a Lima tire magnate from his mansion. They slide it into the Cadillac hearse that will parade Jorge Reyna’s body through the Chorrillos district where he was once mayor.
The pallbearers are in the job precisely because of the color of their skin, a phenomenon unique to this South American capital that was the regional seat of Spain’s colonial empire for more than three centuries. In fact, prominent citizens such as Reyna, a widely respected, charitable man of indigenous origin who died at age 82, request black pallbearers for their funerals.
“He planned his funeral and wanted it to be elegant,” said Reyna’s widow, Clarisa Velarde.
Blacks routinely bear the caskets of ex-presidents, mining magnates and bankers to their tombs in Lima. The peculiar tradition exists neither in provincial Peruvian cities nor in other Latin American countries with significant black populations such as Brazil, Panama and Colombia.
It is not a profession chosen by Lima’s blacks but is rather thrust upon them by a lack of opportunity, say Afro-Peruvian scholars. And racism remains so deeply ingrained in Peru that many don’t consider the practice discriminatory.
“Beyond the question of racism or prejudice, I think it is simply a question of employment,” said Jose Campos, a leading Peruvian black studies scholar and vice rector of the National Education University.
For 61-year-old Armando Arguedas, who like his fellow pallbearers never finished elementary school, it’s simply a job.
“Some people are friendly,” he said of those who employ him. “Some don’t even say thank you.”
Black pallbearers were even used for the recent funeral of the wife of former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. Continue reading