History was made this week as Susana Baca became the first Afro-Peruvian woman to be appointed Minister of Culture in Peru’s newly elected government. She is one of my favorite singers and I’ve seen her perform almost every time she has been in San Francisco — but as I proudly read the news, my thoughts turned to the day, almost two decades ago, when I met her for the first time, and she cooked lunch with my mom.
After one of her concerts, we got to meet her backstage, and as often happens when Peruvians get together, our conversation quickly turned to food. It must have been a good conversation because we made plans to meet up the next day, at a friend’s house for lunch — Susana, her band, my friends, me, and my mom. I thought that since she was on tour, she would take the day off, but she spent all afternoon in the kitchen.
I can still see my mom next to Susana, making the ceviche, and getting the chicken ready for the arroz con pollo, while Susana was looking for dark beer to add to the broth — her secret ingredient. Before long we were all sitting around, having a home cooked Peruvian lunch, while Susana and her band picked up their instruments and started to sing and play. I smiled and thought, “on their day off, they cook, eat, and play music!”
The songs of Susana Baca and other Afro-Peruvian musicians are always playing in my kitchen and in my mom’s kitchen — specially when we cook together. One of those songs is called Liberta, or Freedom, and begins with the wish that “One day, an Afro-Peruvian will become President, an Afro-Peruvian will become Minister.” Just in time for Peruvian Independence Day on July 28, it’s inspiring to see that wish finally come true.