What We Can Learn From the Peruvian "Wall of Shame"

Ryan Heshmati

September 22, 2023

The Constitutional Court of Peru demanded the destruction of a barrier in December of 2022. This barrier, however, is much more than a wall. Generally, consideration of inequality draws connections to pre-revolutionary France or, in today’s world, amounts of great wealth concentrated in the likes of the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York City, however, Peru’s capital, Lima, faces its own severe unequal distribution of wealth at its “Wall of Shame” stands as evidence. Built to divide the mansions of wealthy residents in two neighborhoods from the impoverished right beside them in two others, the wall is a testament to the power of an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude. 

The wall’s construction dates back to the 1980s, when the first part was built as wealthy La Molina district residents sought to protect themselves from rebels who aimed to overthrow the government. The conflict between government forces and the rebels came and went, but the wall stayed and likely would have continued to remain were it not for the Constitutional Court’s interference.

It seems like an idea of the past to divide individuals on social class and blind oneself to the existence of those individuals below them, but does the United States not do just the same? Sarah Goodyear of Bloomberg writes that six and to million Americans live in gated communities. Perhaps on more spread-out suburban maps, the imposition of “out of sight” measures is not so immediately egregious, but the division exists anyway. 

Americans constantly separate themselves; it is ingrained in their behavior. From the schools their children attend to the spots they frequent for leisure, the separation of Americans by class goes far beyond walls and gates. Behavior cannot be ordered torn down.

It is understandable that lifestyles change based on resources, but limiting interaction with those with less can have negative effects. How can one have compassion for those struggling when they never have to see them? The allure of a gate falls under the bliss that comes with ignorance. It is dangerous, however, and individuals should not lock down their interactions with only those who paint a perfect picture of the world. 

The tearing down of the “Wall of Shame” in Lima is a step towards progress for Peru, but it should also push Americans to look inward and wonder whether the United States has its own physical and social walls that need addressing.