Peru’s First Black Cabinet Member Sings of the Struggle

Peruvian culture minister Susana Baca promises to keep the struggle for civil rights at the center of her new position.

Posted: 08/23/2011 03:42 PM EDT

For the most part, Peru’s newly appointed culture minister, Susana Baca, is just like any other government official; she has a political agenda and looks forward to working in the service of her country. However, there is something different about the 67-year-old Baca: She is the first Black Peruvian to hold a cabinet position, an internationally celebrated, Grammy Award-winning singer, and she plans to put the plight of Peru’s Black population on the map.

 

 “Afro-Peruvians should play a bigger part in politics,” Baca said.

 

Afro-Peruvians only make up around three to five percent of the country’s population and their community has faced horrible discrimination comparable to what African-Americans have faced and continue to struggle against in the U.S.

 

In 2009, Peru became the first country in Latin America to formally apologize for years of discrimination against Black Peruvians. The government also recently honored several Black Peruvian luminaries for their contributions’ to society.

 

As proud as Baca is of the strides that have been made, she acknowledged that there is still much work to be done.

 

“Today, it’s still difficult to be Black in Peru,” says Baca. “This racist behavior is a habit we must get rid of because in a democratic country we cannot accept the existence of second class citizens.“

 

“I think that members of the government saw me as the symbol of both exclusion and inclusion in my country,” she adds. “We Afro-Peruvians have always suffered from segregation and been invisible in the eyes of the State. Appointing me is a way of emphasizing the experience of a woman who succeeded at doing things we thought were impossible for an Afro-Peruvian to do.”

(Photo: AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

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