A small Italian colony retains its culture in the jungle of Peru

El Comercio
Adapted from Spanish by Diana Schwalb

In the mountains of Chanchamayo, in a beautiful valley nestled in the central jungle of Peru surrounded by beautiful plantations, there is a little-known Italian colony the past 150 years. Trying to preserve their traditions, some 300 people still live in buildings designed in the nineteenth and twentieth century. This is a beautiful piece of Europe in the center of the country.

The first Italians arrived in the area during the second half of the nineteenth century following the founding of La Merced. In 1871, twelve Italians and three French arrive in the area thanks to the efforts of the European Society of Immigration, an organization whose objective was to move people from the Old to the New World so that they would have a better quality of life due to poverty in Europe at the time. Then, more immigrants arrived.

The Peruvian government gave them land and they worked there. In the early 20th century about 13,000 Italians arrived in Peru, but only a small group settled in the district of La Merced, Chanchamayo. The majority came from Liguria, Chiavari, Sori, Spotorno, Piedmont and Lombardy.

Today, the 60 families of Italian descent are located in the so-called Quebrada del Carmen and work in the production of coffee, sugar cane and fruit. There, it is common to hear the names Mapelli, Carrara, Tremolada, Gerbi, Colombo, Alle, Armorique, among others.

“Very few know of the existence of our colony. It is not known that there were Italians among the first settlers of San Ramon and La Merced,” says Miguel Angel Gerbi, who together with his wife Lilian Alle, has formed a group of typical dances from his country. Thanks to them, the tarantella is currently practiced there, which is a traditional dance from southern Italy. Also the Monferina, the quadriglia and saltarello.

Both are some of the people who head, for a some years now, the promotion of experiential tourism in Quebrada del Carmen. Here tourists can visit the coffee, fruit trees and cassava farms and plantations. They can also enjoy their cuisine, take part in the harvest and see how one of the best coffees in the country is processed.