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Immigrant Stories: Peru

Rosa Schwartz, Peruvian Immigrant

August 3rd, 1963 Rosa Schwartz arrived in St. Louis along with her little boy and the hope of a better life. What greeted her was unbearable humidity, language barriers and an isolation she had never felt before, but with her perseverance and willingness to learn, she was able to create a name for herself and build her own little piece of the “American dream.”

Rosa was born to a Spaniard father and a Peruvian mother in Iquitos, coined “the capital of the Amazon” located in the rainforests of Peru. The youngest of eleven children, she graduated with a degree in chemistry and went on to marry a psychiatrist from Lima. Her husband led them to many adventures from moving to Montreal, Canada to work at McGill University, where she found work at the Royal Victoria Hospital as a lab technician and finally, on to St. Louis, Missouri, in which her husband was appointed by Washington University as an instructor in psychiatry. It was here in St. Louis, that Rosa’s story begins to intertwine with the International Institute.

Rosa had many firsts on the streets of St. Louis. She purchased her first house, raised her first son, and took her first office on the board of the International Institute. One of her greatest achievements was the citizenship award bestowed upon her by the Institute. She calls it her “biggest treasure.”

Rosa is/was involved in many organizations as a U.S. immigrant including: the International Institute of St. Louis, the subsidized department of Americana, the International Center for Tropical Ecology, and the sole founder of the Peruvian society. In her spare time she is also dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the Hispanic/Latino(a) community. She participated in medical missions to the remote regions of Peru, taught Spanish at Washington University, housed famed members of the International Latin Arts community, and taught dance to the youngest members of the Peruvian-American society.

Through all of her work, Rosa has faced many struggles though she handled them with grace. When confronted by parents of her son’s school about her traditional dress, she looked to it as her uniqueness and an opportunity to educate those unaware of the ethnic diversity that lies beyond the suburbs of Saint Louis. The English language was another personal struggle. She found it hard to grasp and her weekly trips to the grocery stores helped her to learn, though she credits her high school career for most of her English abilities and her time spent in Montreal among the Canadians.

The International Institute created a safe harbor to make friends and lean on other immigrants facing the same struggles that she herself was facing in her daily life. Rosa believes that the International Institute has taken huge strides in breaking down the barriers between immigrants and Americans in the St. Louis region and in turn, dissolving the sense of isolation that many feel. The Institute has helped create a dialogue between citizens and those seeking citizenship. Rosa no longer feels that she must bear the weight of her journey on her shoulders alone but can spread it amongst the friends that she has made along the way.

Facts about Peru

Ancient Peru was the seat of several prominent Andean civilizations, most notably that of the Incas whose empire was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. Peru declared its independence in 1821, and remaining Spanish forces were defeated in 1824. After a dozen years of military rule, Peru returned to democratic leadership in 1980, but experienced economic problems and the growth of a violent insurgency. President Alberto FUJIMORI’s election in 1990 ushered in a decade that saw a dramatic turnaround in the economy and significant progress in curtailing guerrilla activity. Nevertheless, the president’s increasing reliance on authoritarian measures and an economic slump in the late 1990s generated mounting dissatisfaction with his regime, which led to his resignation in 2000. A caretaker government oversaw a new election in the spring of 2001, which installed Alejandro TOLEDO Manrique as the new head of government – Peru’s first democratically elected president of indigenous ethnicity. The presidential election of 2006 saw the return of Alan GARCIA Perez who, after a disappointing presidential term from 1985 to 1990, oversaw a robust economic rebound. Former army officer Ollanta HUMALA Tasso was elected president in June 2011, and carried on the sound, market-oriented economic policies of the three preceding administrations. Poverty and unemployment levels have fallen dramatically in the last decade, and today Peru boasts one of the best performing economies in Latin America. Pedro Pablo KUCZYNSKI Godard won a very narrow presidential runoff election in June 2016. Facing impeachment after evidence surfaced of his involvement in a vote-buying scandal, President KUCZYNSKI offered his resignation on 21 March 2018. Two days later, First Vice President Martin Alberto VIZCARRA Cornejo was sworn in as president.

Population: 31,331,228 (July 2018 est.)

Location: Western South America, bordering the South Pacific Ocean, between Chile and Ecuador

Languages: Spanish (official) 84.1%, Quechua (official) 13%, Aymara (official) 1.7%, Ashaninka 0.3%, other native languages (includes a large number of minor Amazonian languages) 0.7%, other

Religions: Roman Catholic 81.3%, Evangelical 12.5%, other 3.3%, none 2.9% (2007 est.)

Ethnic Groups: mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white) 60.2%, Amerindian 25.8%, white 5.9%, African descent 3.6%, other (includes Chinese and Japanese descent) 1.2%, unspecified 3.3% (2017 est.)

Information from the CIA World Factbook