Peru Takes Steps Forward to Reconciliation

The 1980s and 90s saw political upheaval, guerrilla warfare, and great tragedy in areas of Peru. The aftermath of the violence is still being worked through to this day, including by groups such as the National Association of Family Members of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared People of Peru (ANFASEP).

Professor Zoila Mendoza of the Native American Studies department at UC Davis and board member for the DHI co-produced and co-edited a documentary called Memory Walkers that explores this aftermath. The first official screening of the documentary in the United States took place here at Davis on Wednesday, May 6.

In order for reconciliation and peace to truly begin, the truth must first be unearthed. This belief in the importance of the truth of what happened is the impetus for Memory Walkers, which was funded by the Fetzer Institute.

The film showcases, among other things, the efforts of certain Peruvian groups to create a sanctuary of memory at La Hoyada, a site where hundreds of men, women, and children were “disappeared” during the conflict and where their bodies were often cremated in a vast oven.

The film itself represents a sort of memory sanctuary, a vehicle for Mendoza and others involved in the project to tell the stories of the dispossessed and disappeared.

Many of the women whose husbands and children were killed in the conflict speak only Quechua, a native language, or only very basic Spanish. This has meant that their voices, their specific stories, are often quite literally lost in translation.

Memory Walkers, on the other hand, consists of a number of interviews with men and women who experienced the violence for themselves, allowing them to tell their own stories as they search for their disappeared loved ones and try to reconcile themselves with the past.

The documentary is dedicated to showing this turbulent time in Peru in all of its complexity. Therefore, it also includes interviews of the perpetrators, such as a former member of the Peruvian armed forces, Collin Collantes, and a former member of the Shining Path, the Maoist terrorist group also known as the Sendero Luminoso. “It’s so complicated; therefore, reconciliation is complicated too,” Mendoza explained in a Question and Answer session after the film screening.

Debates about what actually happened, legal action, and attempts to find the bodies of those killed are taking place in Peru alongside more artistic efforts. Processing so much violence and grief is taking the form of many festival dances, novels, poetry, and other forms of art.

After all, as the film reminds viewers, reconciliation can’t just occur as the result of passing laws. It must be an emotionally based and mutual decision on the part of the victims and the perpetrators of the violence.

One of the final parts of the movie, which follows one man as he shows the area where he grew up, a small village near Ayacucho, reveals some of the rationale behind the documentary’s title. The man walks through the hills and looks for where his mother’s body is buried – he feels that it is his duty as a son to find her and give her a proper resting place, so both she and he can move on. “What could I do? How could I find her?” he asks.

The “memory walkers” of Peru are everyone – victims, orphans, and perpetrators. All are on a journey forward, a journey that often includes a lot of physical walking as they searching for the bones of their loved ones and reclaim land that has been lost to them.

The film, now that it has been screened publicly in the US for the first time, is available for free to view online (here: After all, as Mendoza reminded the audience, “the idea is for this document to be disseminated and have some impact.”

– Katja Jylkka, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in English