Sunday, July 18, 2010

Independence Day customs in Chiclayo

Though Peruvian Independence Day doesn’t fall until the 28th, much of the month of July is devoted to preparation for the celebration. While city officials are busy planning and organizing for the many community festivals and activities, private citizens are doing their part to put a bright face on the city. Painting, or in some other way cleaning up your property is the custom beginning in early July. Actually, it’s more than a custom. Up until 12 – 15 years ago it was an enforced legal requirement.

What would happen is a city worker with a clipboard and supply of forms in hand would knock on your door. If the worker felt the front of your house needed painting or cleaning up, he would ask you what your plans were to do so and when. He would record your answer on the form. Next he would ask if you had a Peruvian flag. If you answered yes he would ask to see it. If no, he’d ask when you intend to get one. This answer was also recorded on the form. The worker would then sign and date the form and you would be given a copy. On July 27th – the day before Independence Day city workers would cruise the neighborhoods in cars checking to see if you had done what you said you would. If you had not, you’d hear another knock on your door. This time the worker would hand you a summons explaining where to pay your fine.

It is my understanding that cleaning up your property and flying the flag on Independence Day is still a legal requirement, and though it seems to no longer be strictly enforced, I have recently seen ‘flyers’ placed under doors by city workers reminding residents to clean up their property and fly the flag. Public officials and other celebrities are appearing on television encouraging viewers to show their patriotism. Whatever the stimulus, I like walking through the nearby neighborhoods and seeing entire blocks of houses seemingly bloom with new life. One word of caution…’fresh paint’ signs don’t exist here, so be careful where you lean.

This pin is called an Escarapela Peruana, or Peruvian Rosette. It is an official symbol dating back to the early history of the republic. The wearing of this symbol in July is mandatory for most public employees, and also for many employees of larger private businesses. I’m told that wearing the ‘Escarapela’ these days isn’t as common as it once was. If I remember correctly from last year I’d estimate that less than 50% of the people wear it. Maribel and I don’t leave home without ours.

To the more liberally minded it may seem strange and even offensive that people living in a democracy could be legally obligated to clean up their property and fly a flag to commemorate the country’s Independence Day, but as an old school patriot I kind of like that concept. On the 4th of July the American flag was proudly displayed from our balcony. Now it’s been replaced with the Peruvian banner. Viva Peru!


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