Meet ISS Changemaker Roland Alvarez

['Estampas Maricas de Lima'] aims to make it clear that LGBT people are present in the history of Peru.

Roland Alvarez, Peru

Name: Roland Alvarez
From: Peru
Background: Experienced Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Specialist

A Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Specialist. Sociologist. Author. Activist. Roland Alvarez takes pride in the path he has carved in his professional life. Recently, the ISS alum co-authored a book with friends called Estampas Maricas de Lima (written in Spanish), which fuses historical, journalistic, academic and testimonial materials with fiction to recover and reconstruct the memory of sexual diversity around the experiences of queer people in Lima, Peru. The book was released on 23 March 2023 in select stores and was formally launched on 16 and 27 June. Following ISS' Pride Month, we sat down with our latest ISS Changemaker to briefly touch on his MA experience and go in-depth about co-writing and researching for Estampas Maricas de Lima.

Roland leads a multi-faceted life. As a technical specialist by day, he embraces a creative approach to his professional life through writing. While conversing with Roland, he shares that these sides—technical and imaginative—have long co-existed since his days of studying in the MA in Development Studies programme at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).

Roland attended ISS from 2010-2011. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, this experience was his first time living and studying abroad. He enthusiastically tells us how connecting with people from around the world reshaped his perspective. From trying the different cuisines of his classmates to playing sports together every Sunday, attending ISS was like 'opening a window to the world'.

In the classroom, Roland enjoyed stimulating debates. He specialized in work, employment and globalization in his MA, which included course components in economics. Roland learned through his educators and peers that a plurality of views—humanitarian, gender and queer perspectives—can exist within development economics. 'LGBT and queer people, we are part of economics’, he says. 'You have to do something to challenge economics'. Since graduating in 2011, Roland has done just that. Now he is a MEAL specialist in humanitarian response. He works to enable social interventions for vulnerable communities, like LGBTQ+ folks and people living with HIV, at a regional level in Peru.

Roland Alvarez

Roland's creativity comes through his writing. He has previously written two books, one related to masculinity and written in Peru and the second an LGBTQ human rights report. In his third book, Estampas Maricas de Lima (which translates to Queer Prints of Lima), he shares the joy of co-authoring the publication with beloved friends and fellow researchers Vero Ferrari and Carlos Jaramillo.

The book features a collection of ten fictional narrative essays that reconstruct historical moments in Peru over 200 years; from the founding of the Republic of Peru in the 19th century to the present day. Each story uses academic and historical accounts to recreate stories in which queer, tomboy, cross-dressing, transgender and bisexual characters are the central characters. Where needed, the authors use radical reimagination to tell the stories of Lima's past and present. In this reconstruction, sexual diversity is front and centre, no longer in the margins.

Lima through a queer lens

The idea of Estampas Maricas de Lima was born in July 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and, coincidently, a year before the bicentennial of Peru's independence. Roland and co-author Carlos were talking about their expectations for the bicentennial. They hoped that queer people's contributions would be recognized as part of Peru's history. Sadly, they noticed this aspect was missing when celebrations for the country's bicentennial occurred a year later. That didn't stop them from taking matters into their own hands. 'We decided to celebrate [Peru's] bicentennial our way by creating our own story that commemorates the resistance against [queer] erasure and invisibility from the Peruvian state and society.'

Ideas began to churn. Estampas Maricas de Lima was ultimately their call to 'identify the milestones' of Peru's queer community. From Roland's perspective, far too many stories of queer Peruvians go underexposed. 'What happened with LGBT people of colour in the movement? What happened with the LGBT indigenous or racialized people? What were LGBT people doing in the seventies, eighties and nineties? Because we have stories, too.'

Queer indigenous, black and Peruvians of colour were, in essence, prioritized as the focal character of each essay in the book. Roland and co-authors Vero and Carlos combed various historical references in their research. 'One of the main characters [of the book] is related to Juan Jose Cabezudo. He lived during the time of Peru's independence. For us, it's very important that the first [openly] gay man who was totally visible in Lima in the 19th century was a black person.'

Their search for historical references of and from queer Peruvians was admittedly challenging. It led the co-authors to engage with 'memory work', a methodology that sees memories as raw data and uses it as a tool to study the past. In some cases, the lack of queer points of view led the co-authors to re-envision key historical moments. Roland reveals that readers can enjoy queer stories and reimaginations of Lima's history, including the draft of Peru's Declaration of Independence, queer perspectives during Lima's occupation and conflict with Chile, and transgender and lesbian radical activism in the contemporary period. ‘The book aims to make it clear we are present in the history of this country.’

Offering hope through storytelling

Creating the book served a major purpose for Roland and his co-authors: it was a deeply personal endeavour. Much of their hearts went into crafting Estampas Maricas de Lima through an academic and activist perspective. Today, the book serves as their gift to the queer community in Peru. 'This was the aim [of the book], to see Peru's history from the eyes of the queer community and to realize the importance of the recovery and the building of memory.'

As Peru faces a conservative tide, Roland is profoundly aware of the country's current state of LGBTQIA+ rights. From his outlook, there is much work to do. 'Peru is at the bottom of the line in recognizing LGBT rights. We don't have recognition of gender identity for transgender people. We don't have a lot of protection for same-sex couples and same-sex marriage isn't allowed. We also don't have a constitutional law to protect people from discrimination.'

Roland Alvarez

Because of this, Roland and his co-authors want to encourage dialogue in several stages. Since Estampas Maricas de Lima's release in the spring, they have presented the book to Latin American grassroots and queer advocacy organizations. They also hope that the book will reach academia and politicians. With the help of their editor, Gafas Moradas, they will co-organize community workshops on memory work. Each session will offer guidance and support for queer people to write personal stories. Roland recalls several accounts of his loved ones who lived in shame due to their sexual or gender orientation. 'Many are willing to burn their own memories if that means they don't have to face judgement’, he shares. They hope these community workshops can bring healing. 'By writing their stories, they can find a place to heal, a place to talk to themselves and a place to try a new beginning.'

Estampas Maricas de Lima is available now in select stores based in Peru, Brazil, Argentina and Spain.

Are you interested in ISS after reading Roland's story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme.

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