Saturday, November 28, 2015

Peru Update 4 - All in The Familia

Happy Thanksgiving! Since it is the season of family, I thought it would be fitting to share a little about my Peruvian family and home life. I live in La Molina (an upper-class suburb of Lima) with the director of LISOFT and her family. The director, Elizabeth Lopez, is a single psychologist in her late 40's. Aside from Ms. Lopez and myself, the permanent inhabitants of her apartment include her elderly parents and her niece, Leidy. To an American, the fact that I live with my boss might seem strange, but in Peruvian culture, there are no separate spheres: professional, personal, and home life are meshed in one messy "masa."

In the professional sphere, 9 times out of 10, businesses are owned and run by the family. In 1994, Ms. Lopez founded LISOFT at the ripe age of 27. Wasting no time, she instigated her older brother, Daniel Lopez, as the school administrator. He is in charge of paying the bills, staff payroll, and relations with the bank. In addition, her younger sister, Esther Lopez, is the school accountant. She is responsible for collecting tuition payments from the parents. Finally, her younger brother, Josue Lopez, is the maintenance man--he does upkeep and repairs within the school. Josue's wife, Patti, also works in the school where their two daughters are enrolled. I could give you numerous other examples of businesses that are all in the "familia," but I think you get the picture.

Just as professional life is family-oriented, so are personal issues such as health and finances. As the family psychologist, Ms. Lopez frequently doles out parenting advice to her three siblings. In return, Daniel & Esther provide financial counseling and support, and Josue can be counted on for any small home repairs that arise. Functioning as one "organism," so to speak, loans, labor, and unsolicited advice are all interchanged "gratis" within the family unit. To facilitate this interwoven support system, many families even live in the same house or apartment complex: grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, and cousins.

Although each of the Lopez siblings have their own separate house, (a somewhat rare occurrence in Hispanic culture), each location operates on the "revolving door" philosophy. Nieces, nephews, cousins, and grandchildren drop in unannounced for meals, sleepovers, and even extended visits (think years). Grandparents, aunts, and uncles all serve as parent figures, providing meals, homework help, and even financial provision (taking children out to eat, buying school supplies, gifts, even plane tickets). While immediate family enjoys all these benefits with no strings attached, extended family holds a slightly lower status. It is not uncommon for extended family (old or young) to be found working within the immediate family's households or businesses as nannies, cooks, cleaning ladies, chauffeurs, or handy-men.

The tightly knit infrastructure of Hispanic families may seem strange to outsiders and certainly it is not without flaws. (As one might imagine, when everyone's nose is "metido" in everyone else's business, sometimes toes get smashed and feelings get hurt). However, in general the warmth, love, and support demonstrated within Hispanic families is a beautiful thing to behold. When they invite you to their house, they mean for several days. When they ask if you want seconds, it's not a question. And when you leave, your hands will always be full--be it with fruit, toilet paper, or a household item you happened to admire. On a scale of Yankee to Hispanic, Peruvians take the hospitality cake.