Bricherismo: Romancing the Gringa
An Interview with Lucho Nieto
By Vicente Revilla
Photo by Vicente Revilla
Revilla: Bricherismo. How did it start? Why?
Lucho Nieto: I heard the word brichero for the first time at some point in the middle of the eighties. This is the term people were using to refer to gigolos who were making a living by romancing gringas, but this specifically referred to Andean gigolos, that is to say Latin lovers who because of their features and skin and hair color resembled Indians, or in any case cholos. [Translator’s note: Cholos are indigenous people from the Andean high country around Cusco.] It was really that which distinguished the brichero and what attracted the most attention to him: in essence he was a person who was discriminated against in his own milieu because of his appearance but in whom foreign women found a special kind of enchantment. One could almost say that the brichero was a man scorned by his countrymen but adored by the gringas. And, because it could not be otherwise, the paradox that trapped the character ensured that he would quickly be turned into a myth, the most widely broadcast myth of the Cusco night.
Practically up until the beginning of the seventies, Cusco was a little “Mediterranean” town that lived isolated from the rest of the world by the towering peaks of the Andean cordillera. The push that gave Cusco over to tourist activity at that time broke that isolation, and a supremely traditional society suspended in time suddenly saw itself thrust into contact with people from all over the planet. Bricheros were born of this clash between the traditional and the modern.
Surely it is a matter of mutual discovery. The bricheros, who were speaking not only Spanish but also Quechua, who played traditional Andean flutes like the quena or charango, who knew how to invoke the guardian spirits of the apus (the Andean mountain gods) with coca leaves, discovered that these weapons were more than adequate for seducing lots of foreign women. And many gringas, in their turn, discovered that the beauty of Cusco was not only that of Incaic stones but also that of her people.
VR: You mentioned the words cholo and Indian as characteristic of the brichero. Doesn’t it seem to you that those terms so closely associated to colonialism are obsolete?
LN: Neither in Peru nor outside of Peru have the words cholo and Indian dropped out of use. Cholo, for example, is the nickname of the current president of the country. Another thing is that, seeing as how ours is a country of rejected or denied identities, no one wants to recognize himself as a cholo or Indian. The brichero, on the other hand, has that virtue. On discovering for the first time in his life that to be a cholo or an Indian does not marginalize him, but benefits him, he sees himself as such and in that role he goes in search of gringas to seduce.
Something similar, as you say, happens to Peruvians who travel to foreign countries. They are seen abroad--except for white Peruvians--as Indians, but often they discover that they can also obtain some benefits from this identity, especially in the case of those compatriots who dedicate themselves to music or some other art.
VR: Could a brichero also be a guy with a white face?
LN: Perhaps, but the fact is that in reality we are not talking about specific examples of bricheros but rather of the urban legend of the brichero. And that legend paints a character with copper skin, thick black hair, angular features, and fluency in Quechua. In other words, the legend paints the brichero as cholo or Indian.
VR: At what point did this bricherismo turn into literature?
LN: As all cities rich in history and possessed of a singular beauty, Cusco has a great tradition of being represented in literature. Poetry and essays, in particular, were dedicated to the praise of this ancient capital of the Incas and its imposing architecture. Nevertheless, the new Cusco that continued to surge from the roots of developing tourist activity, a cosmopolitan city with an exciting nightlife, with such picturesque characters as the backpacker and the hippy, the artisan who travels from city to city and from country to country, the amateur photographer loaded with cameras--from the perspective of the visitors and the tour guide, those who sell postcards and crafts on the streets, the brichero and others, from the perspective of the natives of the place, such a city, I say, could not pass unremarked by writers.
Thus from that point went forth the narrators, the authors of stories and novels, those who took it upon themselves to reflect in their work the Cusco of the end of the millennium, not the city with its glance turned toward the past but the city that was facing the future.
VR: What role do you play in all of this?
LN: I have on at least two occasions engaged the subject of the brichero in my fiction. In the story “Buscando un Inca” “In Search of an Inca”, I portray that prototypical brichero who, from his costume, wants to present himself as the incarnation of Andean culture, and in a certain way he is exactly that. My character, in any case, sees the world as the Indians and mestizos of the Peruvian Andes see it and shares with them the same beliefs and the same wisdom.
In the novel Cusco despues del amor (Cusco After Love), there wasn’t any brichero character, but in showing the life of the city in the eighties and, above all, its nightlife, I was obliged to speak about the bricheros.
VR: Why does Laura Cristobal, the character in “Buscando un Inca” [“In Search of an Inca”], come from Spain and not from the United States? I would prefer a Jenny Watson, and that could be due to my bias and my residence here in the United States where the Hispanic and gringo are quite separate in terms of their situations and experiences.
LN: It might have been better, surely, had the character of the story been, as you say, an American. In general, it was the American men and women who first received the label “gringo,” but then in Peru that label was extended to any foreigner with more or less white skin. What caused Laura Cristobal to have a Spanish surname and passport was that at exactly the time the story was written, from 1991 to 1992, the 500th year of the Spanish discovery of America was being commemorated or, as it used to be referred to in the fashionable euphemism of those times, the Meeting of Two Worlds.
VR: Thank you very much for the interview, Lucho.
LN: Thank you.
(Vicente Revilla lives in Brooklyn,
New York and is a librarian at the Borough of Manhattan Community College,
CUNY. His photographs have been exhibited in New York City, Hawaii, Lima
and other cities in Peru [http://www.photo-galeria.com]. His work has also
been published in magazines like Society, Libri, Community Review
and Hudson River. He can be reached at email@example.com.)