Music has always been a part of Merian Eyzaguirre's life. Growing up in a family full of musicians in Lima, Peru, family gatherings were always full of singing and playing the charango, a small Andean guitar. "For me, that's really where everything started. Listening," Eyzaguirre said. "I believe this is the true beginning of making music."
Today, the 24-year-old Peruvian folk singer is drawing upon all aspects of their identity to create songs that will inspire others as much as the songs that have inspired them (Eyzaguirre uses gender-neutral pronouns, such as "they" and "their" instead of "he" and "she"). "I look for songs with history, with soul, with poetry," Eyzaguirre explained. "Songs that are related to my own life experiences as a Latin American, as a descendant of immigrants on my father's side, as an LGBTQ person, as a person living during this time and on this earth."
Growing up in Lima, Eyzaguirre first came out at 13, when they told their best friend they were bisexual by writing it down on the desk the two shared. Two years later, Eyzaguirre was forced to come out again, when leaders of the Catholic community they belonged to decided to intervene after discovering Eyzaguirre was in a relationship with a girl. "They spoke to my mother without warning me beforehand, and I went through a really rough period in which I tried to change my sexual orientation to fit in with the Church," Eyzaguirre explained.
It was at this time that Eyzaguirre picked up the guitar for the first time, and started composing their first songs, which led to them attending the Music School of Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima. This would be Eyzaguirre's formal initiation into the world of music.
It was during this period that Eyzaguirre was coming into their own as a musician that they also made another important life decision. "Once I realized that my happiness was directly related to accepting and feeling empowered by my own sexuality, I left the Church," Eyzaguirre explained. "That was when I really came out, I stopped hiding and began to be free."
Today, Eyzaguirre identifies as non-binary, which they explain as the need to "inhabit this space that exists outside of the static categories of man and woman." This identity has not only helped influence their music but has also compelled them to become an active member of the activist community in Peru. "Identifying as LGBTQ has awoken in me this need to sing for justice, it has made it impossible not to use my singing as a vehicle for protest," Eyzaguirre said. "Singing is one of my forms of activism."
Eyzaguirre describes Peru as a country with a complicated reality in terms of LGBTQ and women's rights. Rates of violence against the LGBTQ community are very high and laws to protect victims of violence based on their sexual orientation have failed to pass Congress. This year, on the Peruvian National Day Against Hate Crimes for Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, a 14-year-old transgender girl was killed in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo.
All of this is on Eyzaguirre's mind as they write songs and perform for audiences. In one song, they sing on the theme of loving a woman. Eyzaguirre's performances are done in intimate spaces, where their audiences are relatively small, and they are allowed to feel a strong connection to the public they are expressing themself to. Standing alone on a stage with a guitar and an upright bass, Eyzaguirre's voice is melodic and light, but their message is quite powerful.
Gabriel Dela Cruz Soler, an activist in Peru, describes people like Eyzaguirre as change makers who work for progress through their art. "People like Merian go up on stage to share their art and question gender as a political act," Soler explained. "[Eyzaguirre] changes hearts. It's an act of love that Peru and the world needs."
When asked if being so open in their identity would have a negative effect on their career as a musician, Eyzaguirre's answer was frank.
"If we are talking in terms of consumption, then yes, my openly identifying as LGBTQ and being an activist might greatly influence a large portion of the Peruvian or Latin American public to reject my music," Eyzaguirre explained. "But I think it presents a kind of opportunity …to keep pushing myself as an artist and activist…and see what kind of effect my music can have on the society I live in [while bringing] more visibility to the LGBTQ fight."