Let's talk Latin America

Changing horizons

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Travelling opens one’s eyes to new landscapes, traditions and fashions utterly diverse to our own, with Latin America providing a rich plethora of examples. Is widespread western influence, however, slowly but surely deteriorating these cultures? Maeve Ryan gives us her take.

When somebody mentions countries such as Peru and Bolivia there are certain images which immediately spring to mind; the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, the great expanses of the Salt Flats, the infamous ‘Death Road’ of the Yungas and the beautiful colourful dress of the local people, alpaca in hand. As I travelled through South America in the summer I saw all of these amazing sights yet the latter often came in rather a different context than expected.

 There was, of course, a wealth of elderly women, with faces wizened by years of wind and sun whilst working in the fields, wearing the traditional voluminous coloured skirts, woollen stockings and their hair in long plaits. They were the true epitome of the traditional image of a local Peruvian. Their granddaughters, in Barbie t-shirts and Nike trainers, however, were not. Of course we do not all dress as our grandmothers do, fashion changes continuously, yet this complete transformation was startling for me and got me thinking about what this difference meant for this younger generation of South Americans. If the 19 year old Brit on their Gap Year is so keen to wear an alpaca wool jumper that every other gringo who’s visited that market has, why don’t the local teens want to have the authentic version made by their grandmother?

Admittedly this contrast was much more prominent in the larger towns and cities than in rural areas, where it was not at all uncommon to see whole villages dressed head to toe in the traditional way. Indeed there were some places where there was not the vaguest hint of western influence on the local style. Equally, however, it had also infiltrated some of the most remote places and this went to show the extent to which tourism from the west has changed the way people dress in South America.

Of course as these 2nd and 3rd world countries develop and grow economically there will be changes in other areas of their lives but to me it seemed a dreadful shame to lose such a stunning tradition which in itself brings so much revenue to these countries through tourists fascinated by these exotic styles so far removed from our own. It is no secret that tourism is just as fickle as fashion and if this decline in the number of people dressing traditionally continues will there also be a decline in people wanting to visit these places, as the ‘real’ South America becomes a thing of the past?

This conflict of interests is a real problem; although we want to see these places develop and prosper just as western countries have done we do not want them to lose their individuality and authenticity, the very things that make them so fascinating for travellers. My hope is that the younger generations of South Americans will realise the importance of their traditional customs and will maintain them as best they can. This attempt at preservation may allow said countries to evolve in such a way that in years to come travelling to Cuzco or La Paz will still be a breathtaking experience full of the extraordinary sights and sounds that I was lucky enough to enjoy during my time there.

Header photo: Pintrest