Peru in Black and White: Racial Formations in the Twentieth-Century Peruvian Novel
Woolfolk, Boston Jared
This study analyzes the ever-fluid role of race within the characterization and representation of Peruvians, particularly those of African descent, in twentieth-century Peruvian novels. Employing the theoretical framework of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s conceptualization of racial formation, I argue that successive generations of Peruvian authors both perpetuate and interrogate socially-constructed notions of race and racialized ideologies through the destabilization of racialized roles, tropes, and imaginaries. This project dissects how novelists challenge socially-constructed identities that become inextricably entangled with race, including gender, sexuality, class, power, morality, and nationality. Texts by Enrique López Albújar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gregorio Martínez, and Lucía Charún-Illescas utilize historical and individual memory to “look back” into the past and create realities that, intentionally or not, bring race to the fore. Previously “invisibilized” Afro-descendant histories and protagonists are made visible, their literary presence disrupting the normalized associations between physical characteristics and hierarchical binaries such as superior/inferior, moral/immoral, and civilization/barbarism. In destabilizing the fixity of race, Peruvian novelists complicate social roles and ultimately reveal the existential proximity of peoples considered racially distinct. These authors confirm how those who construct and define the racialized boundaries that determine real-world consequences can experience an ideological backlash in which their own racial identities are contested, weakened, and ultimately exposed as constructs themselves.