With houses barely separated by narrow dirt pathways, the residents of Cantagallo have maintained the essence of a native village: they cook outdoors, leave their doors open, and their mindset is always collective. “Here, we all take care of each other,” notes Olinda. This is something Carlos Pimentel is well aware of: he recovered from pneumonia thanks to the support of his people.
“We have overcome all of this, thank God, but it’s not over yet,” says Ashirel’s leader, speaking thoughtfully as someone who knows the needs of his people. He is convinced that the lack of safe drinking water —a problem for 21 years now— made the wave of infections even worse. And while he values the curative properties of the matico plant, he also believes that access to medicine is essential.
Another major concern right now is getting people back to work. Olinda has gotten the artisan mothers to organize once again. She is certain that the new cultural center will bring visitors back to Cantagallo. “We not only need water, electricity, and sewage services but visitors,” she says. Olinda, who has taken her art to Canada, Mexico, and Spain, knows how to be patient.
Cantagallo is resilient. It always has been. That’s the motto that has been immortalized in posters and murals. Since the year 2000, when the community settled on a landfill on the banks of the Rímac river, just behind the Presidential Palace, it became an enclave of cultural resilience, a symbol of the migration that often goes unnoticed.
“We’re a small piece of the jungle right here in Lima,” says Pimentel, originally from Lamas, a province in the high jungles of San Martín. Unlike the Shipibos-Konibo, an Amazonian ethnic group from places like San Francisco, Belén, and Bethel in the upper Ucayali, he is part of a minority that arrived in Cantagallo with different blood but the same hope: to build a better future in the capital.
The pandemic has just made their demands for access to adequate housing and basic health services more visible. “We may be indigenous, we may be Shipibos, but we are from this country,” says Olinda, whose indigenous name is Reshijabe. In the Shipibo-Konibo language, her name means "first breath." As a COVID-19 survivor, she says she has a long way to go until her last.