My parents taught me and my siblings from a very young age to value and appreciate the best of Peru: its people, our history, our culture, our traditions, our food, our ecosystems, and much more. That, no matter what, we should always speak with pride of our country when a foreigner asks us about it. In the same way, and as we have grown and had experiences that eventually proved it, we learned to recognize that there were not just one or two, but an immeasurable amount of problems in our country. And that we needed to recognize those them, criticize whoever we had to, and work on solutions to overcome those problems.
We have normalized a very harmful lifestyle, in which parents always say goodbye to their children when they go out to study, work, or with their friends with a ‘‘please, take care of yourself. Let me know when you arrive and let me know when you return’’. We have normalized discriminating against our compatriots based on where they live, the color of their skin, their way of speaking, and more. We have normalized reducing women to the minimum expression within society. We have normalized attacking gay or trans people and even make them invisible among the population. We have normalized that our natural resources should be exploited at the cost of the destruction of our environment and our Andean and indigenous communities. We have normalized electing politicians who represent self-interest and destructive ideals. We are now living in a country where everything is normal and terribly wrong at the same time.
The day came when I moved from Peru to Croatia. As I landed at the Franjo Tuđman Airport in October 2019 and looked down at the city of Zagreb, I thought about how I could put all my personal conflicts behind, but I couldn’t help but think that I was leaving all that I had normalized for so long. It is part of who I am now. And not all of it was bad.
Six days ago, in the midst of one of our worst moments during the current pandemic, Peru held its presidential and congressional elections. I had distanced myself from political discussions about my country for the simple fact that I did not feel that I could really contribute something real while being so far from there, except for voting.
After an atypical electoral day, the electoral results seem to indicate that there will be a second round. Between whom? One for sure is a radical left candidate, named Pedro Castillo; and the other is Keiko Fujimori, recently released from pretrial detention on charges of corruption and money laundering, and daughter of dictator Alberto Fujimori.
Likewise, it is almost definite that our congress will be represented, in its majority, by ultra-conservative political parties. I followed most of the election day on social media, and I felt everyone’s concern and confusion from a distance. It is true that Peruvians may be surprised one day in one way and the next in another, but something is very true and that is that difficult times are coming for women’s rights and the LGBTQ community.
It was during these recent weeks that I tried to imagine all the possible scenarios my country would face with each candidate, and I realized that despite all my attempts to assimilate that my life had already taken another course here in Croatia, I am still Peruvian and the problems of my friends, family, and compatriots are mine as well.
Most of the people I have met here in Croatia were surprised when I said that one of the reasons I came here was to flee the toxic environment of a country steeped in corruption, lack of opportunities, and insecurity on the streets. ”Peru to Croatia? Don’t you know we have a corrupt country as well?”. I get that a lot.
I know that I could spend hours discussing and demonstrating that the political situation not only in my country but in the entire continent is much more serious, but I do understand what they are trying to tell me. In the same way, I see that there is also a very complex situation regarding the migration of young Croatians for better jobs and wages in Europe and even beyond. We are different, definitely, but not as much as I thought. There’s no perfect country, and the margin of improvement is huge.
It is when I process all this information that I can reach a very valuable conclusion, and it is about the responsibility we have as citizens of a country or immigrants, and even more so if we are both at the same time. And this is something that I have learned a lot in recent years, meeting several South Americans of Croatian descent here: we run away from something, and at the same time we do not run away at all. It doesn’t matter how far away we are.
It is now that I think of Pero Kusijanović, our ancestor who left the small town of Mokošica and set out for Peru almost 150 years ago. I think of my grandmother, who left everything and went to Spain. I think of my aunts, who have lived in the United States for approximately 30 years. I think of the millions of Croats and Peruvians who have historically migrated to leave everything behind and seek a better future ahead. But is it worth keeping looking back once we made it out?
I think this was told to me by my psychologist a few years ago, but it’s an analogy that I really appreciate, about the idea of moving forward and leaving something behind. He told me that life was like driving a car. We cannot drive just by constantly looking at the rearview mirrors, taking into account that we can hit someone or something in front of us. Just as we cannot drive without seeing them, because we could be hit by someone or something behind.
What I believe is that we have a great responsibility to raise the best of our countries whenever we have the opportunity, as well as to be critical and reflect on what is really wrong there in the distance. I know it is difficult to think about the idea of change or the way we can be part of it when the only thing that brings us closer to our country are social networks and the news, but it is a matter of being patient and being prepared when the opportunity arises. Be proud, be critical. Moving from Peru to Croatia distanced me physically from my country, but not entirely.
I cannot say, however, all of the above without finishing by saying that at the end of the day we are not just Peruvians, Chileans, Argentines, Bolivians, Venezuelans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, or Croats. As human beings, it is also important to ensure our happiness, our goals, our mental health, and the well-being of our families. Sometimes the best choice (sometimes the only choice) is to climb on a plane and fight it off elsewhere, even if it hurts. The decision of moving, migrating, and leaving everything behind is something we should never be ashamed of.
If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that I am happy to know that the place I went to was Croatia. Why? It is a country that has suffered as much as mine in the last 40 years. There’s so much to be done, but so much to be proud of. That way, I won’t lose sight of where I come from, and the mission I still have to accomplish.
In the next weeks, TCN will be working on a series about the South American Diaspora in Croatia. If you’re part of the South American Diaspora in Croatia and would like to share your story, send an email to [email protected].
For more about the Croatian Diaspora, visit our dedicated page here.