If you ever go to Lima, this is my advice: before heading to Cuzco or Cajamarca, take a bus to a place called Villa María del Triunfo. It is one of our pueblos jóvenes, young towns, where the dust and dirt from unpaved roads are the patina that covers houses rarely taller than two stories high. Ask for a place called Pamplona Alta, and you will be directed to a hill, un cerro. You will see tiny green, blue, yellow houses growing all around the road that leads to the hilltop. Stop when you see a wall, a white vertical line that forbids you and the inhabitants of Pamplona Alta to see what is happening on the other side, in Las Casuarinas.
Las Casuarinas belongs to La Molina, one of the most privileged districts of Lima, Peru. If you were to try and jump to the other side, you would be surprised. You would find a brown wasteland, and if you were to look down, white houses snuggled up against the mountain’s slope. The wall of shame, they call it. Four kilometers of white bricks crowned with barbed wire. This represents the division of my country with such urgency and brutality one can’t help but listen. Listen to the people speaking from both sides of the wall, but also listen to a country whose history has been marked by division, war, and resentment.
That story is not yet mine to tell. I can speak to you about its effects, however, because I have lived those in my own skin during my whole life. There is a societal crevasse that divides, in rough terms, pitucos and poor people, white people and cholos, the ones who live in Lima and the ones who came from the Andes. If you fall in a certain side of this dichotomy, you will find that there are certain expectations from you: places where you shouldn’t go, jobs you shouldn’t take, opinions you shouldn’t have. And, independently of what side you end up falling in, you will discover this: nobody talks about this. We turn our heads to the other side and pretend that there is not a line that divides the country into two halves, that there is not a person walking on the other side of such line. We just keep walking.
We walk, and we walk, and we walk. And then we just stumble upon a wall, a wall of white bricks crowned with barbed wire. Then we finally speak: Why?
The problem is what we have spoken too late. Before stumbling up against walls, we need to look at the other side of the line that divides us, the one that we love to pretend it’s invisible. There we should have asked: Why?
Refusing to speak about the division that dazes my country will only stray us further apart. Refusing to speak about division, ignoring debate for the sake of shallow comfort, will only lead us to a world of unconnected, unimpactful thinkers. Preaching to converts might be fun, but if we want change to happen, we need to leave the echo chamber and listen to those who think differently than us. We should reconsider our posture and, with a little bit of luck, they will reconsider theirs too.
It is easy to block people from our lives if they hold postures we feel uncomfortable with. I still believe in this: in democracy, as Elizabeth Cobbs says, we must find a way to disagree without vilifying the other. The reason why so many people these days are getting radicalized is that societies have neglected them the right to debate and vilified ideas that are not the product of bigotry as much as the product of tradition and ignorance, shunning their arguments for the sake of comfort. When nobody who thinks differently wants to speak to you, you end up surrounded by people who believe in the same things as you do; and when you are there, it is easy to get dragged to dangerous ideological extremes.
It is true that we should pick our battles: please, do not debate every internet troll you find in a comment section. Do not tolerate fascism or violence for the sake of violence. Do not listen quietly to threats against your life by people who believe you should not exist just because of how you were born. However, do reach out. Reach out to your friends, who are more right or left leaning that you are. Reach out to your family and ask why. Reach out to your classmates and hear, and then respond. Show that you care about listening, and then tell them what do you believe in, and why.
Refusing to acknowledge the lines that divide us will only stray us further apart. We do not have a wall between each other that completely shuns debate yet: however, at some moments it does feel as if we were in the process of building one. Before we finish that task, reach out. Speak. Listen.
Today, I invite you to reach out to someone you love that you have disagreed with in the past. After finishing this article, I will do so too: I will call my dad, who is an anti-feminist that identifies with the center-right. I know not every attempt to connect with him will be perfect; however, I love him, and I believe that we both —in our own ways— strive for a better world. It can be hard, but I think that, ultimately, it is worth the try.