During the patron saint fiesta in the Andean town of San Jerónimo, Peru, crowds gather at sunset in the town square, eagerly awaiting the entrance of the colorful dance troupes, or comparsas. With their masks, music, and surprising interpretations of contemporary events, the comparsas of the Cusco region are the focus of this multifaceted work. At the crossroads of folklore and ritual, mass media and local preferences, and regional and national identity, the comparsas—recorded here on video and compact disc—have become a powerful way for the local people to make sense of their place in Peru and in the world. As Zoila Mendoza shows, they do more than reflect societal changes, they actively transform society.
In this fluid world, she argues, racial and ethnic identities are shaped more by notions of what is decent, elegant, and modern rather than by skin color or status. As the different troupes vie for the townspeople's recognition as the most "authentic" group, these notions are challenged and reworked. A fascinating look at a rich tradition, this innovative work is also a compelling example of the critical anthropology of performance.
"Mendoza provides a fascinating picture of both the comparsa performances themselves and the constructed and contested nature of identity among mestizos in a Peruvian community. Folklorists, both festical scholars and Latin Americanists, will find [the book] a solid, valuable work of scholarship that speaks to contemporary concerns in cultural studies."