The Souths

When I was taking a walking tour of the city I will call home for a month, something in the Plaza Murillo took me by surprise while I was in the epicenter of colonial La Paz. Of course, the clock that sits atop the vibrantly orange Congress has been turned around to go backwards. When the students of the Univeridad Católica Boliviana explained this oddity as a reminder of cultural identity, I shrugged my shoulders and went on. However, as I was reviewing my day to write in my journal, the clock came back. My curiosity once again returned, I had to look it up on the Internet.

It was indeed a reminder of cultural identity. However, admitted the Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca it actually has a two-fold purpose. When describing the initiative taken in 2014, Mr.Choquehuanca noted, “We don’t have to complicate matters, we just have to be conscious that we live in the south, not in the north.” It’s almost as if I’ve heard this story line of the South trying so hard to separate itself from the North before…

As someone who loves to travel, I always feel like I can find similarities, even the most minute, between whichever foreign land I visit and my home Mississippi. This is one of the most beautiful parts of traveling to me because I can go home with a newfound appreciation or at least an understanding of something right in front of me that I would have never noticed. In many ways, Bolivia is giving me many ways to relate to back home.

Besides our grand declarations of Southernness (or perhaps more accurately not-Northernness), I see a lot in common here and back home. For starters, these are two lands set in their ways. Mississippians resist change at whatever cost, and Bolivia, well, it took having dancing zebras for La Paz’s citizens to obey basic traffic rules. Despite putting our concept of Southernness on a pedestal, we have a tendency to disparage our neighbors. Here, I’ve heard “Argentinians” be synonymous with “cowards,” and the Chileans, of course, are the great adversaries that took control of Bolivia’s beach. On a sadder note, both places have a dark history that has brought about tense race relations.

That being said, I probably would have never thought to relate Mississippi to Bolivia had I not looked up the reasoning behind the clock. These are frankly two very different places. As matter of fact, I don’t understand a lot more here than I do understand. However, these little bits I can relate to will give me keys as I tackle the themes here which aren’t as readily understandable to me.

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  1. Because both the US and Latin American countries are “post-colonial” nations, there are actually a lot more parallels than you might imagine. It helps explain why in so many ways the US is different from European countries. Our high levels of inequality, poverty, and not to mention legacies of racial and ethnic exclusion make us more like Latin America. In particular, the South looks a lot more like the kind of economy and society that developed out of a monocultural (cotton, tobacco) dependent development.

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