Monday. 8:45am. Car. 2.5 km from San Borja, Lima.
The car is silent as my Uber driver and I are stuck in traffic, but I don’t mind. From my window, I can see everything:
Publimetro distributers confidently walking between traffic and handing drivers the morning paper.
On the sidewalk, impeccably dressed women and men hurry along gated apartments, to and fro.
Micros honking and driving through the congested traffic, rattling the people standing inside.
Tall trees, unusual in their placement except in San Borja.
While I contemplate, I can’t help but wonder if the people I see feel afraid of being jumped. The stories I have heard about burglaries are many–the 10’o clock news unfortunately doesn’t leave anything out. Yet, people’s earphones (auriculares, en español) are in plain sight and their backpacks are slung over one shoulder. They keep walking, focused on a point ahead. Anybody could grab their stuff in an instant, yet they keep hurrying along. I wonder again why my aunt and cousins don’t want me riding the micro to work or walking to the bodega (the corner store) alone. These people are in plain sight, and nothing is happening to them. But again, I remember that I am a young woman. A young American woman in a country that often sees women as weaker and less significant than men. It’s called machismo. It’s an ugly word, but it’s prevalent in many people’s beliefs, so I understand where my family is coming from. If I walked alone across the street in a difficult neighborhood, there is a high chance someone might want to cause me harm because I’m a girl.
But today, instead of contemplating the world internally, I decide to start a conversation. I’m not sure if my Peruvian values kick in or it’s just general friendliness, but it’s always been awkward for me to be in the same car as someone else and not talk to them. “The salsa music is pretty good, I could compliment him on that” I think to myself, and I do before I psych myself out of it. I’ve always been more on the shy side, especially compared to how open and friendly Peruvians often are. But it works! The Uber driver looks at me, smiles, and we start exchanging stories.
I was born in Peru. I identify as Latina.
My memories are very vague though. My family and I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 after winning the visa lottery and have lived there ever since. The only time I briefly came back to Peru was in 2010 and was sick half of the trip. I have said these exact words to every Uber driver for the past three weeks:
“Si, entonces, yo soy Peruana pero vivo del extranjero. Voy a la universidad en Estados Unidos y estudio ingeniería mecánica. Estoy hacienda una práctica en la Torre Interbank este verano.”
I usually try to see how long it lasts before I have to tell this to my Uber driver. I like the feeling of getting in the car and greeting the driver just like any other Peruvian on her way to work. I guess it comes with me wanting to fit in seamlessly to a world that my dad has told me countless stories about and the heritage I have held so close to my heart for so long. But instead of assuming I am different because I am an outsider, the Uber drivers proceed to treat me like a daughter or a student. They share with me a piece of their world:
“Yo perdí todo lo que tenía en el Huayco…Yo estudio filosofía…Ingeniera mecánica? Ay, yo estudie un poco!…Yo tenía mi negocio y perdí todo. El terrorismo…Mis hijas, quiero que ellas estudien en Estados Unidos pero como será allá?…”
Stories. It’s what brought me here and what I am collecting, now not just from my father’s memories, but from reality. Both good and ugly.
I, Luisa Apolaya Torres, have the privilege of riding an Uber. My aunt has provided me a nice and safe place to live while I am here and I can afford to pay 10 soles every day for lunch. I have insurance in case anything were to happen to me. If I wanted to, I could spend every day safely traveling from San Borja to La Victoria and back and not look outside my window and or ask any questions. It’s very easy, really, to ignore how some people make assumptions about others based on their education, city, or whether or not they went on vacation internationally over break. To just stay around Miraflores and La Molina, a couple of the most affluent communities here, and forget that Peru is costa, sierra, y selva, immense diversity in every single way.
I have seen how it looks like when we remember that. The mundial brought us together: Coca Cola commercials constantly reminding everyone about the power of a gol. How un gol rompe fronteras, or “a goal breaks barriers” because we all have pride in our country and we all celebrate it–loudly. How we’re all Peruvian, no matter where we come from, because we all cheer for the same team. Norte, sur, international, local, it doesn’t matter. I guess what makes us Peruvian is much more than that.
I’m not really sure if I can really pin down what makes us Peruvian–I’ve been trying to for the past three weeks! But I imagine Mexicans feel the same, or Argentinians. It’s a little of “you’re one of us. Come, let me feed you.” Or a little of, “Tú eres Peruano? HOLA COMPARE! Qué sabes del Perú? It’s been years since I’ve gone back!” Saying good night and good morning to everyone in the office and taking pride in braids. It’s a bit of everything, I guess.
As I see the Torre Interbank approach, I start saying goodbye to my Uber driver:
“Muchas gracias Señor! Que Dios le bendiga, y que le vaya bien en su negocio…con sus hijas, en el extranjero…en su próximo viaje a Los Angeles…en su próximo destino…en su día.”
I close the door with a big smile and hide my phone quickly in my pocket, remembering what my family has told me. I walk confidently across the street, the taxis honking behind me.
Luisa Fernanda Apolaya Torres is a member of the class of 2021 studying mechanical engineering and theater. This summer, she is working on developing a digital platform through an internship at the innovation department in Innova Schools, an educational company in Lima, Peru.