The Tigress of the Jungle

Apparently a major cultural revolution has been taking place right under my nose, and I didn't even know it was happening. Before we have any further discussion, you absolutely have to watch this:

La Tigresa del Oriente, the creator and lead singer of this video, is the stage name adopted by Peruvian hairdresser and makeup artist Judith Bustos. Her videos on YouTube — of which the above is just a sample — have become wildly popular. The video you just watched, entitled Nuevo Amanecer, New Dawn, had been watched, when I checked this morning, 3,396,779 times. Bustos was born in 1945, so she was 61 years old when she produced and starred in this video. She is now one of the most widely known Peruvian artists in the world.

I am speechless.

Bustos became a cosmetologist in her home town of Iquitos and then moved to Lima, hoping to become involved in show business in some way. Eventually she became a makeup artist at several Lima television stations, a field in which she worked for more than twenty years. She developed the concept and stage act for La Tigresa del Oriente — to most urban Peruvians, the east means the Amazon — in 2002, but it was not, apparently, until 2006 that her YouTube video carried her to her current fame. She is now called the Queen of YouTube by the Peruvian press.

Here is another example. There are lots more where this one came from.

While her vocal range is limited, and her sense of pitch sometimes shaky, Bustos has, according to the Peruvian newspaper Diario La República, signed a contract with Warner México for one year. With the first payment of the contract's royalties she bought her first automobile.

It is easy, of course, to enjoy the campiness of all this. But I can't help looking at those Shipibo villagers and wondering what the Shipibo are thinking. There is, after all, pervasive social discrimination in Perú, which is explained and justified not in terms of race but in terms of cultural differences. This social convention is at the heart of Peruvian racism. Modern Peruvian discourse legitimizes discriminatory practices by appealing to culture.

In other words, Peruvians think that their discriminatory practices are not racist because they connote, not innate biological differences, but cultural ones. Peruvian intellectuals have tended to define race with allusions to culture, the soul, and the spirit, which are thought to be more important than skin color or any other bodily attribute in determining the behavior of groups of people. Indians adhere — or are perceived to adhere — to a different way of life, by their language, their style of dress, and their outlook, and are assigned a subordinate position in society.

Hispanic whites and hispanicized mestizos publicly worry from time to time about the presence of a large mass of indigenous people who are not assimilated into the national life — most notoriously novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who argued that eradication of Indian culture was the sad but necessary price to be paid for freedom and propserity.

How do we read these videos in that context?

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