photo of person from Peru Cerro de Pasco
Peru glossary


(PERU 27)








La Oroya





Section 1
Could you tell us your name to start with?
Well - my name is Carmen Verano Tucsa

And tell me, how old are you?
I've just turned 18...

So you've just become an adult?
Yes of course, I'm an adult now.

Tell me Carmen, where were you born?
I'm from here, from La Oroya, so I'm Oroyan.

You were born here then, and your parents?
My parents aren't from round here. They came here for work as they say.

What do your parents do here in La Oroya?
Well my father used to work in Centromin, in the Centromin company ..., and my mother's job was to look after the house but now she works too.

And was your father a miner?
He was a metalworker. He worked for the company for around 25 years which is why he came here...

Where's he from?
From Puno.

And how did he come here?
He says he heard the company was looking for people so he came for work and stayed on.

And your mum?
Well my mum is from this area, from a community near Cerro de Pasco.

So your parents met here in La Oroya and they got married?
Yes of course they met there. My maternal grandfather used to work in the company too and my mum lived in La Oroya, so it seems they met and got married.
Section 2
So a mining marriage - do you think it's quite common for miners to marry or for their children to get married?
I think so it happens quite a lot, doesn't it?

I asked you because we have seen quite a lot of this while we've been collecting testimonies around here and Cerro de Pasco. So it's quite a common occurrence amongst miners and their children?
I think it was.

It was? Why isn't it now?
It's less the case now, you don't get so many miners marrying these days.

Why do you think it's changed?
Well I don't know. I think perhaps because people tend to leave La Oroya, especially young people, and that's something new. Moreover, less young people go into the company these days, they're even paying people off. I think it was the opposite before, especially in my father's time.

So miners aren't such a good match these days, they're not such a good match for the girls?
Perhaps .... As I was saying very few young people work in the company these days and those that do are casual workers, they only work for a few months on contract. They come in through the cooperatives and every month, or every three months, they renew their contract or all of a sudden they don't have a job. That's the way it is now. It didn't used to be that way. In my parents' time if you started work there, it was to stay, you were unlikely to get fired unless you had done something really bad. It's different now, it's all changed which is why I think young people leave - there's not much left for them here in La Oroya.

And would you marry a miner if you met someone?
I don't know ... I don't think so.

Why not?
I think it's a very hard life, it's really hard with no reward. I say that because of my father, because of his life ...

What happened to your father?
He worked for the company for more than 20 years and then all of a sudden they cut their staff and he ended up in the street after having worked in the company all his life more or less, more than 25 years, imagine that.

What has happened, why did the company 'invite him' to retire?
It's to do with privatisation. They say they're going to sell the company and that there are too many employees. That's what they say, and they've tried to get rid of the oldest workers, they've got rid of the ones like my father who have worked for 25 years, though the company says they haven't fired them. On top of that they haven't paid them all they are due, they're still fighting to get all they should from them, that's why they're fighting with support from the IPEMIN lawyers so they can get all the money they're due from the company.
Section 3
And what's your father doing?
Well he's doing a bit of trading between Oroya, Huancayo and Lima. That's what he's doing to keep the house going, and my mum and I are helping him.

How many of you are there?
Five all together.

And have any of your brothers gone into mining?
No, none of them because of what I was telling you before.

And do you think your father would have like some of his sons to have become miners?
I really don't know, you'd have to ask him, but I think he's still very hurt by what happened. From one day to the next he ended up without a job and they didn't even pay him properly and as he says he still has family responsibilities, I don't know ...

So you think that he wouldn't want you or any of your sisters to marry a miner?
I don't know, I don't think so. I think that most of the permanent miners are already married and the young ones are the casual workers..

So they're not a good catch any more [laughter]?

And are all your brothers and sisters still at home with your parents?
Well, I have two elder brothers in Lima and they're working there, they've already got their lives there.

How old are they?
The eldest is 25 and the next one is 22 ...

And you?
I'm the fourth, I have an elder sister who's 20 now, then there's me, I'm 18 and then the youngest sister who's 11.

And the girls, of course I mean the older ones because the youngest is still a child, have any of you got married?
No, we're still all single ...

Ah, but I reckon you must have boyfriends.
My sister has a boyfriend ...

And don't you have a boyfriend, someone who's interested in you?
No I don't have anyone ...
Section 4
Is that the truth?
It's true why would I lie to you, how could you think that?

I don't know, perhaps you wouldn't want to say because you think I might tell your dad, or that he will hear the interview. Don't worry I won't tell anyone.
[Laughter] No, it's the truth, I don't have a boyfriend ...

But you must have had one before?
Hmm, Yes I have had a boyfriend but not any more.

So why did it end?
Because he went to work in Lima and didn't stay together ..., he must have another girlfriend in Lima by now.

And didn't you think about going to Lima too?
No I was too young and I had to stay to help my mum and dad at home, especially now that he's lost his job...

Of course that must have influenced you, but tell me, do you think that girls of your age have changed, for example, about getting married. Do you think girls used to get married younger?
Yes in fact they used to get married very young. My own mum was 16 when she got married, that's very young ... and she began to have children quite quickly.

And it's not that way any more?
Well some girls still do get married young, but I think it's less common now.

And why do you think it's changed?
I don't know ... Maybe young people think about other things these days, their education, or going to other cities - not staying in La Oroya - like Lima or Huancayo, you know the biggest cities. That didn't used to happen so much.

And what would you like to do?
I'm going to study in Lima. Our whole family is thinking about going to work in Lima.

Do you think you'll leave La Oroya forever?
Yes, we think we'll settle in Lima, my parents and all my brothers and sisters. We're just waiting for my dad to get all his severance pay so we can leave for Lima. That's why we've got the lawyers, so they pay him and then we can start up a little business in Lima.

It's going to mean a new life for your parents.
Yes of course it is, you know we're even going to end up without a home here because we've always lived in company houses. We had to leave our house when my dad was sent away. So we've had to rent a room meanwhile and that's where we are now.

And do you think things will be better in Lima?
Well yes, at least we have my brothers there and they're working. I want to help my parents out, I'll be working and studying.
Section 5
So your life, your future, is likely to be in Lima?
Yes, that's the way it looks.

And don't you feel sad about leaving La Oroya?
Well the truth is I do a little. I was born here and I've lived nearly all my life here, I went to school here. But I think I'm going to go with my parents and all my brothers and sisters, so it's different. I have friends who have gone alone and it's harder like that, that's the way it was for my own brothers. They went alone and it was harder for them, you miss your family, and your town, more that way. At least that's what they say, whereas our plan is for the whole family to go.

So people of your age, your generation, are leaving La Oroya?
I couldn't say for sure, but I think so, most of them leave La Oroya, there's no work here so there's not much of a future. If there's no work there's no future. That's the main reason they leave, if it weren't that way people could stay, parents and children wouldn't have to go to Lima or any other city like Huancayo or Huanuco. Of course I'll miss it, you always do. My brothers say Lima is such a big city and people are not like they are here.

Have you been to Lima?
Yes I have, I went for a few days but I don't know it well. I went with my parents to visit my elder brothers, that was to see how the court case was going. That's all I know and what my brothers and my own parents tell me as they know more about Lima even though they haven't lived there. Worse really, they say that it's not like La Oroya where everything is close at hand and everyone knows each other. When someone new comes along they sometimes take you for a fool, that's what happens in Lima. People are sharp, there's a lot of gangsters so you have to be careful in Lima.

Do you think people do things differently in Lima?
Yes, things are different, it's not a little town like La Oroya.

So how do people behave here in La Oroya?
La Oroya is a small town so people know each other and they're quite friendly. I used to live in the company homes and people were very friendly there, though of course you also get problems with neighbours. Now we've had to leave the settlement it's a little different, but it's still a small town and it's safe, it's not like Lima where you can get lost and they jump you anywhere. That's very unlikely here.

Do you think customs have changed here or are they the same as ever?
Well they do change, but some are still kept ...

Which are still kept?
The feasts are lovely, I think they're the best kept of all. For example, now in July we have the 28th (national independence day) with rockets and the like. It's really great, I hope you can be here for the fireworks. We also have public dances and families have dances in their houses too. People are really festive here and of course there's always beer.
Section 6
And what dances do they do?
Well it depends, it's a mixture ...

And do young folk do the same dances as the older ones, or has that changed?
In our parties, the ones for the youngsters, we dance a lot of salsa and chicha (a mixture of tropical and traditional music), young people dance this a lot...

So young people don't do local dances so much?
Not so much now, but we still do a bit. The thing is nowadays we do both, the local dances and the modern ones. My parents think we don't do the traditional dances they way they used to but the truth is we dance both...

So traditional and modern dancing?
Yes, they only used to do traditional local dancing because there was no other music ... It's different now, we do everything, modern music like salsa, chicha, baladas (ballads), but young people dance huaynos and huaylas (traditional songs/dances) too.

Which do you like best?
It depends ...

What on?
I don't know, on the moment I think. There are feasts like the patron saint's feast, or Carnival, when we have the ... traditional dancing, then we dance our carnivalitos, our comparsas (parade of dancers in costume).

I imagine you are an expert dancer, do you enjoy dancing?
Yes I like it ...

Which do you like best?
I dance a bit of everything, I like dancing huaylas, but of the modern dances I like salsa. When we have dances for young people we tend to dance more to modern music, but it's a mixture.

But that means that in the dances for young people you only dance to modern music, don't you think that this taste, this preference for modern things could mean you lose the music from this region?
Maybe there is some risk, but I don't think so. We like our local dances too. When we have comparsas, local feasts, we are all there doing it, that's what happens now, as I said we also dance chicha, salsa, and the stuff you here on the radio ...

Do you think your friends think this way too?
I think so ...

And do you think that the folk who go to Lima forget their customs?
No, not much, I can see it with my brothers, they always come here, they always remember their town and they dance a lot when they can ...
Section 7
But as you yourself said, young people like the new dances on the radio or the television, that's different from your parents time.
Of course it's different, but that doesn't mean we forget what is ours, I don't think that happens. My fathers say it wasn't easy to have a television in their day, whereas now everyone has a television and certainly a radio. Radios were more common before.

Outside things come in quickly with radio and television, don't they?
Yes of course.

What other customs are still kept?
Well, I think the dances, the traditional feasts and of course local dishes like patasca (traditional soup) and pachamanca (meat and vegetables cooked in underground ovens).

Can you cook?
Of course I learned to cook, I'm no expert but I get by, I learned a bit from my mum.

Is she from La Oroya?
No, no she's from Cerro (de Pasco) and my grandmother is from Huanuco.

So the whole family is more or less from the same region, from the central belt?
On my mother's side yes, my grandfather is from Cerro too, but my father's side is from Puno.

And have you noticed that your parents have different customs since they come from different regions?
The truth is I haven't, my dad's been here for a long time and I think he has taken on the Oroyan way of life.

But I imagine your father has told you something about his home?
Yes he's told us quite a lot about Puno. He's talked about Lake Titicaca and then way he used to earn a living when he was young. He's from a village in Puno called Huancane. From an early age he worked as a cattle-herder on an estate. I think there's a lot of cattle there like there is here. Then he worked in the mines in Puno, I don't remember the name. That's where he heard about La Oroya and so he came here...

Haven't you ever visited his home, do you know Puno?
No, we've never been able to go to Puno, it's very far away ...

And has your father ever gone back there?
He's gone back a few times, he went back when his mum died, my other grandmother.

You never met her?
No I never met my maternal grandmother, I only met a few uncles who came here to visit us, but no-one else.
Section 8
You never met your dad's dad either?
No, I haven't met many of my dad's family because of the distance.

So I imagine you've met more of your mother's family?
Yes we know more about them, most of them live near here.

What did they do?
Well my grandfather worked in Centromin, it used to belong to the gringos (westerners, foreigners, in this context North Americans who ran/owned the mines). He started work in Cerro de Pasco and then he moved to the foundry here.

Were there many miners in your mother's family or was he the only one?
No there's a few of them. My grandfather wasn't the only one, he has a few cousins but I don't know them. My mum also had two brothers who worked for the company and another in another mining company in Morococha on the way to Lima around Ticlio.

So yours is a mining family?
You could say that on my mum's side, but that was before as my uncles don't work in the mines any more. They've stopped.

Did they leave like your dad or what happened?
I don't really know, I think they must have retired as they were older than my father - that must have been why they left.

What did they do, did they stay here or did they emigrate?
Well, one went to Huancayo and the other is in Tarma. They've set up businesses and are living there.

But they didn't go very far.
Yes they’re close by, we visit them now and again.

And amongst your uncles children and your whole family given that you're a mining family, have any of the children gone into mining, following the family mining tradition?
One of my cousins was working in El Brocal mine, but the mine closed down and he didn't have a job so he went to Lima. He was the only one, the rest do other kinds of work.

So the family mining tradition is breaking down, you're not going to be miners any more?
That's what's going to happen, it's because of what I was saying about it not being easy to find work any more...

I think you, even though you're a woman, are going to have to go to work in the mines to keep the mining tradition going (laughter).
Uh, ... that would be very difficult because women don't go down the mines ...
Section 9
Why's that?
Don't you know?

Women aren't allowed into the mine.

Why not?
They say that if a woman goes into the mine there'll be a tragedy of some kind, that's what they believe ...

And people believe that?
That's what they say, that's why it's forbidden, they say it'll cause a disaster, deaths, cave-ins and all that. So don't even think about that, it's not possible.

Is this an ancient tradition?
Yes I think so ...

And do you know where that comes from, where does the idea that a woman will bring tragedy to the mine come from?
My dad says it comes from the pachamama (mother earth) tradition. She doesn't allow women to enter her. If a woman goes into a mine she's going into her bowels and this infuriates the pachamama, so my father says.

That's very interesting, tell me Carmen do the miners still believe this, is it deeply felt?
Yes of course, it's very unusual for a woman to go into a mine. It doesn't happen in La Oroya because we don't have any mines here, we only have the foundry but it happens in the mines or so they tell me, that's why women can't work there.

Do the miners have any other customs or stories?
Yes they do, the most common one is the one about the Muki.

What is the Muki?
It's a kind of ghost in the mines, it appears to the miners and is a bit of a joker sometimes. But it's harmless. I haven't heard anything else.

These traditions you talk about are really interesting.
Yes they are ...

Here's hoping they don't disappear, do you think parents tell their children about these things?
Yes I think they do. My dad and even my mum have told us and sometimes we talk about all this in school.

It's a way of keeping the mining traditions going, don't you think?
Yes of course.
Section 10
Carmen going onto something else. Have you finished school?
I finished secondary in La Oroya last year.

What have your school-friends done since then?
Well some have tried to get into the institutes and the universities ..., others who have been able to get jobs are working now.

Here in La Oroya?
No, most have had to go away. Some are in Huancayo, or Lima or other places.

Young women and men alike?
I wouldn't know, I think the lads are more likely to leave. The ones who have gone first are those that have family in other places.

But it looks like most of them don't stay here?
Most of them don't stay...

Don't you think if this goes on Oroya will end up with no-one, if all the young people leave?
If there's no work the young folk will have to leave and only the ones working in the company will stay. Don't you think they'll stay and the others will have to leave?

Do you think the company might pick up again?
My dad says if they sell it they'll only have a few employees, that's what his bosses have said that it won't be like it was before. They're going to put in money to modernise the foundry but they won't take on many people.

They're gong to modernise the foundry, do you think this could solve the environmental problem, the pollution?
Well I've heard something about the pollution in La Oroya, there's a lot of fumes which damage your health. But we're so used to it that don't realise how bad it is.

Do you think pollution is harmful?
It must be, that's why the hills in La Oroya are barren, there's no vegetation and that's bad. My father has told me that some of his workmates are ill because of the pollution from the plant. They get ill and even die from it and no-one says anything. It's dangerous, they call them the emplomados (literally leaded people, mine workers) Some people don't want to work in certain parts because they know they'll definitely take ill, they breathe in pure acid and lead, and who knows what else. I think that's bad.

Thankfully nothing has happened to your dad, has it, is he well?
Thankfully, nothing serious, he's still healthy at his age, but other workmates of his are ill and the company pays them a pittance which is no good for anything, much less to get well because they can't be cured.

Do you think the pollution in La Oroya has to be dealt with?
Yes of course I do. It's really important.
Section 11
And do people make a fuss about this, are they aware how serious a problem it is here?
I don't know, I don't think so, though sometimes the council talks about it and some institutions like yourselves are doing something, but I don't think there's much awareness...

And do they talk about pollution in school?
No nothing at all, they never have talked about this. Also, the school more or less belongs to the company so it wouldn't be wise for them to talk about it. That's what a council social worker, a friend of my mum's, said that the company doesn't care and they aren't interested in talking about it.

Tell me Carmen, what plans do you have for the future?
Well, as I said I want to help my parents out, go to Lima with them and work and study. That's what I want.

What do you want to study?
I want to study law, I want to be a lawyer ..

You want to be a lawyer to help people like your father out?
Yes I do. I think law is a good profession to help people with. I have seen that my father and many of his friends have the same problems after having worked for Centromin for many years. That's why I'd like to study and work in this field.

That's a good idea, good luck with this ambition. And if you finish your studies will you come back to La Oroya to work here as a lawyer for the miners?
It depends, yes why not? But I would like to be near my family, my brothers and sisters and my parents.

It looks like you are very attached to your family.
Yes I like being with them, I missed my parents such a lot that time they went to Lima, that's why I think I'll live near them.

Even once you get married and have your own family?
Hmm, I'm not going to get married...

Of course you will, don't you want to get married?
Yes, .... maybe.

I understand, you want to study first, get into university and become a lawyer first, don't you?
Yes that's what I hope to do, what I'd like to do.

I think you will achieve this, I see you are very clear about what you want from life and I'm sure you'll do it.....

Carmen, I wish you the best of luck. It's been a pleasure to talk to you and I hope all your dreams come true and most of all I hope that all goes well for you and your family with the new life you are about to begin leaving La Oroya and moving to Lima. Good luck and until the next time.