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Arequipa, Peru – 466 years young

Festivals, dances, bullfights and parades – all grandiose events taking place in honor of Arequipa’s Anniversary every August 15. While none of these events mark a time in Peru as particularly special or unique – a parade or procession takes place at least monthly, as do festivals, dances, and even bullfights – the manner in which these activities come together, now that is truly spectacular.

Patriotism is alive and well in Peru. At times it seems coerced, the way in which we all hang flags on our roofs a few days prior to July 28th, or the many monuments and memorials to Peru’s military and her fallen hero’s, tributes to battles most locals cannot accurately explain to us. On this day, however, and in those days leading up to it, Peruvian patriotism and Arequipeñan pride are very real.

While the “official” anniversary of Arequipa holds court on the 15th of August, the people of Arequipa take advantage of the holiday by celebrating throughout the month. School children put together special programs highlighting the history of this city, showcasing regional languages and gastronomical delights while parents revel in what their children have learned, no matter how obscure it all seems.

For adults, too, there is entertainment galore throughout the city, sometimes of the not so traditional nature. On Saturday, just two days prior to the culmination of festivities the Plaza de Armas in downtown Arequipa was turned into the hottest parking lot in town as members of the ‘Club del Automovil Antiguo del Peru’ hosted a classic car show. Several vintage Ford Mustangs made their presence known, as did a number of VW Bugs.

Standing out quite impressively amongst the rows of beautiful cars was a 1967 Cheverolet Camaro, a rarity even in the U.S. Bringing joy via the eyes to the crowd were several other European and North American classic autos, the likes of Fiat, Chevy, Studebaker, and even an amazing ’53 Austin Princess. Rounding out the crowd there sat what could be considered a ‘classic car’ only in Arequipa, a 1981 Chevy Malibu – clean, to be sure, but most certainly out of place.

True, the celebration begins on July 28th, Peru’s Independence Day, and carries on throughout the month of August, but it is the 15th that brings to life the true Arequipeñan in us all. The promise of the years grandest desfilé (parade), scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. and carry on through early evening, left the Plaza with nary a place to stand, let alone sit, as families and individuals, children and the elderly, tourists and locals all vied for space along the Plaza streets. Children swung from trees, and youthful Peruanos scaled the fence of the Cathedral all with likeminded ambitions of seeing each and every float, dancer, and soldier in all their glory.

The parade lasted some six or eight hours, far longer than even the biggies of the U.S., yet the people remained, intensity rising as the night carried on. For those able to withstand only a portion of the festivities, the entire parade was viewable on local television, and if the live turnout was any indication the aired version was likely the most popular show on TV today. For all that Arequipa celebrates throughout the year in the form of patriotism, historical remembrance, or religious duty, the 15th of August stands out as the most recognized, most anticipated, and so it seems, the most unifying of all.

Article by Micah Cantley

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