Susana Raab

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Cholita, 2011

Digital C Print, 28" x 24" x 1"

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Cholo. This loaded term is first recorded in the 17th century in the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s Commentarios Reales de los Incas and is used to identify the offspring of native and black parents. The original meaning signifies a dog of disreputable origin, and was used by the colonial Spaniards as an insult.

Today in Peru cholo, or its masculine or feminine diminutive (cholito/cholita) is a common phrase with positive and negative connotations depending on the context, and reflects the complex, unstated socio-economic rules by which modern day Peru continues to abide.

Peruvian by birth and father, I left the country at the age of three when my parents divorced. Estranged from my father for nearly all my life, Peru has always been a sort of enigmatic talisman for me, a key piece of a fractured identity. When I first started visiting the country about ten years ago, I was surprised to find myself nicknamed cholita gringa by my friends and acquaintances. Surprised because cholo was a word that I heard used with hate and disgust as often as with affection.

Holding the idea of this central paradox always in mind, the idea of love and hate held within one word and one people, I explore Peru as much to find my own place within it. I want to represent this Peruvian under-class - the cholos sin plata, whose depiction in modern society is often disreputable, because I understand what it is to have your existence invalidated. I search for love and family in a far-away place I might have called home.

“We are two Perus,” a friend of mine often says. My face is white, but I often feel more comfortable around the cholos sin plata. As a cholita gringa I cannot reconcile myself to the two Perus. We are all cholita, half-breeds sprung from an original Ur-mother. Yes, and cholita es bonita.

Artworks by Susana Raab

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