Monica Carrillo is a published poet, the leader of a band and can boast having produced her own radio show. Any of these activities would have established the 29-year-old Lima resident as a pace-setter for a vibrant new generation of regional artists and activists. But Carrillo’s work with Afro-Peruvian youth has also turned her into an internationally recognized advocate for some of her country’s most neglected and long-suffering citizens.
Carrillo is the founding director of LUNDU, a Lima-based human rights organization that works to improve conditions for Afro-Peruvians who, representing between 7 and 10 percent of the population, suffer disproportionate rates of poverty and discrimination. “There’s no other place in South America that has the same levels of offensive, aggressive racism as Peru,” says Carrillo. “The other day I left my house…and counted the number of insults I received in 20 minutes: 12. People say these things and they don’t run away, because they feel they’re in the right.”
A communications graduate of the Universidad Nacional de San Marcos in Lima, Carrillo produced a radio program dedicated to women’s rights, and served as a coordinator of the Peruvian youth delegation to the 2001 United Nations’ World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, before founding LUNDU with the help of friends and family in 2001.
LUNDU operates in two centers, one in Callao (in the department of Lima) and one in El Carmen (95 miles southeast of Lima in Ica). The name refers to a traditional African dance and in Kikongo, an Angolan dialect, means “successor.” The LUNDU centers serve as after-school spaces for young people—especially young women—to get together, speak freely about concerns and use art as an outlet for expressing their frustrations over the racism of mainstream Peruvian society. In addition to weekly workshops for the organization’s 35 participants, the spaces remain open throughout the week for help with creative projects and homework.
Carrillo and a team of four travel every Saturday to El Carmen to organize workshops that focus primarily on sexual education. The effort is a response to the spike in incidences of HIV/AIDS resulting from the area’s growing sex tourism industry. In 2006, a documentary produced by MTV Europa and filmed by Carrillo about LUNDU’s work in El Carmen, was among six finalists at the UN Documentary Film Festival in Geneva.
But Carrillo’s activism extends beyond strengthening the Afro-Peruvian community. She wants Peru’s rich Afro culture to be recognized as part of the national identity, something she says is long overdue. “When you come to Peru—unlike Colombia or Brazil—you don’t find anything [that represents Afro-Peruvian culture],” she says. “You’ll find traditional music, but you won’t find paintings or sculpture.”
Carrillo is currently building a marketing strategy for selling Afro-Peruvian artisanal products, labeled Estética en Negro. Her organization plans to sell furniture, crafts and even a CD of songs written and recorded by LUNDU participants to be distributed locally and abroad with the help of international partner organizations; Carrillo expects merchandise to hit the shelves this June. The proceeds will go toward scholarships for LUNDU youth. So far, four young people have received funding for secondary education.
Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.