2020 - Ongoing
"Lo que tuve que soltar", meaning "what I had to let go of" comes from one of the conversations I had with Marisol on a late-January Sunday before she had to go to work at around 9.30am. It puts into perspective the steps she took during her process in migration and adaptation.
This project began inspired by a Venezuelan woman I met called Maria who works with my mothers friend as her house keeper. We spoke in October 2019 about the fear she felt on the growing xenophobia and sensationalism that was being fired up through peruvian media and tabloids. She had developed so much anxiety that she did not leave the house or go out with the very few people she knew in Lima, as she did not want to get harrassed or possibly killed.
Over the last 3 years, the incoming Venezuelan population started growing quickly in Lima. 58% of Venezuelan immigrants in Peru are women, making it over 800,000 women (ACNUR), 59% between the ages of 18 and 24, 68% without access to higher education, and 88% working informally. Informal work means lower wages, not getting paid, work extra hours and having to endure harrassment. The Unidad de Analisis de Economia from the Banco Central de Reserva of Peru showed that Venezuelans earn on average 35% less than minimum wage, which is 961 Peruvian Sols a month, around $270 USD with women receiving worse salaries due to their gender.
A lot of cultural differences began poping up from both sides too, one of them being the unaddressed sexism and consertavism of Peruvian culture and the normalization of violence towards women. Marina Navarro from Amnesty International in Peru stated clearly that Venezuelans are being subject to xenophobia with a clear difference in sexual violence and harrasment in comparison to Peruvian women. Derrogatory attitudes towards Venezuelan woman being labeled as man-hunters and prostitutes due to their quote on quote desperate situation coined the term "Veneca". Coming from the word Veneco which means Venezuelan-Colombian. It turned into a categorization of Venezuelan women as promiscuous, sexual predators and highliting their bodies for being more volutuous, desirable and "dangerous" to the Catholic integrity of Peruvian society while also highlighting the lack of respect towards the female body.
In 2019, Defensoria del Pueblo in Peru recorded 168 cases of reported feminicides, the highest recorded feminicides in a year within the last decade. By the 21st of January 2020, 15 cases had already been reported. The Ministerio de la Mujer y Poblaciones Vulnerables (Peru) stated that only 29% of Peruvian women report situations of violence and Venezuelans were less likely to report violence due to feelings of distrust of police, security officials and policy and regulations that keep on changing for Venezuelan immigrants. From female populations, those with higher chances of suffering from sexual violence are girls, older women, lesbians, bi, trangender, migrants, refugees and indigenous populations (ACNUR).
If as a peruvian woman there is already a lack of intervention and action from the judicial system, as a Venezuelan access to health care and security is hardly existent. The Centros de Emergencia de la Mujer in 2018 reported that from 326 offices only 52 around the country atended issues on feminicide and 87 did not attend migrants.
In 2018 less the 1% of crimes commited in Peru were done by Venezuelans, however, due to heavy sensationalist press coverage, xenophobia around the country has increased creating situations of eviction, abuse, taunting and threats. It is now common to find all forms of graffiti saying VENECO PSICOPATA or VENECOS DESCUARTIZADORES, meaning psychopaths or murderers (specifically referred to dismemberment). One of the women I photographed joked that if the Pope died, Peruvians would be blaiming a Venezuelan.
Knowing the context, these are women that volunteered to speak to me and invited me into their personal spaces during their time off work (usually on a Sunday). They are women that have been working in service or at Peruvian homes since they arrived to Lima. I got to meet them through word of mouth and I am still looking to contact other women this way, as I realised there is a lot of fear, antagonism and anxiety due to the xenophobia and stereotyping within the city.
I focused on bright colours as a way to highlight their expressions in spaces of stillness and quiet but to also reference the colours of the carribbean. I consider this fundamental for the project as a lot of the misunderstandings between Peruvians and Venezuelans come from the very distinct cultural differences in warmth and charisma, something I believe could be good to add to Peruvian culture. I also wanted to offer intimate images as a form of opposition to the sensationalism circulating in Peruvian newspapers and to offer a grounded look at women adapting to Lima, a city I consider hostile, that resists change and seems to forget it's existance within the world of unsettling political regimes, forced migration, climate urgency and women's rights. I cannot ignore how history repeats itself, as once it was Peruvians fleeing terrorism to find a better life in Venezuela and abroad, and finding situations of rejection but also integration. A past experience that could remind Peruvians of the need for empathy and internal evaluation.
The photos have been taken with 24mm and 35mm lenses meaning I have had to be very close, something that would not have been possible outside of the intimacy of their homes. Keeping in mind the context, I decided to document their surroundings to ground us on the reality of their existance as people along with the willingness to build on what has been lost. I got to spend more time with Nakhia and Marisol, therefore as a continuation of the project I would be looking to keep on looking for other women within the city, working in other areas and possibly expanding on relationships, work, goals and the integration of Venezuelan culture within Lima and around Peru.
As an ongoing project which started in January, I hope to continue working on this project starting mid March/April onwards.