I hadn’t noticed until now how little I remember about the time I first read Yawar Fiesta. I know I had already received my bachelor’s degree and was working as an engineer. Was it 12, 15 years ago? I don’t know the exact time, nor the reason I decided to pick it up. Also, no matter how hard I try to remember, I can’t picture myself in the process of actually reading the book. I just remember a feeling. The feeling of knowing that my life was not going to be the same. The feeling that things will never go back to what they were before. With a feeling like that, I guess the details are not that important.

Yawar Fiesta is Jose Maria Arguedas’s first novel. Arguedas was a Peruvian anthropologist and writer. Yawar Fiesta narrates the intended and unintended consequences of the prohibition of a traditional Indigenous way of bullfighting by the Peruvian government, under the excuse that the practice needed to be banned to protect the “savage Indians” of an Andean town from themselves. In the story, the Native inhabitants defy the prohibition, which leads to a series of events that force all citizens of the town to challenge and question their identities, and to reconsider their connection with their Indigenous heritage.

Yawar Fiesta illuminates all the complexities and contradictions of the Peruvian national identity, one that at the same time incorporates sanitized notions of “Indigenous culture” and rejects Indigenous peoples’ full membership in the Peruvian society.

Before reading Yawar Fiesta, my only previous interaction with Jose Maria Arguedas’s work had been a really bad one. While in high school, I was assigned Agua, a collection of short stories. I couldn’t even finish it. I found it slow, and its blend of Quechua grammar and Spanish words impenetrable. I also lacked the relevant sociohistorical background to connect, as a coastal Peruvian citizen attending a private school, with these stories set in the rural Andes. Sadly, my school didn’t provide any of that background. So at the time, my conclusion was that Arguedas’s work wasn’t for me.

When I read Yawar Fiesta, I realized that not only Arguedas’s work was indeed for me, but that it was exactly what I needed to rethink and reshape my identity as a Peruvian, and my ideas and attitudes about the country, and its past, present and future. It’s been more than a decade since I first read Yawar Fiesta, and it still feels as relevant as ever. When I decided to pursue a doctoral degree in Native American Studies, Arguedas’s work and life informed and inspired my decision. I aspire to become a scholar that shows a level of care and love for the people I work for and with as the one Arguedas’s had for his interlocutors. And I hope that my scholarship, like Arguedas’s, aids in the fight of Indigenous peoples in Peru and all over the world to dismantle the sociopolitical structures that sustain the racism that directly affects them.

– Carlos A. Tello Barreda (Ph.D. candidate in Native American Studies)