Complicated Relationships

I love the street art of La Paz.  I love to look at the big painted murals that I pass on almost every street, and I try to read all the sayings that I can.  They are all vibrant and bold and portray many different aspects of daily life.  I’m drawn to the colors and the expressiveness, especially of the portraits of different people.

One morning on my daily hike to the Teleférico that I take in Sopocachi to get to school, I noticed “USA TERRORISMO” spray-painted in capitalized black letters.  I was shocked and honestly a little offended because I couldn’t help but take it personally.  What have I done? What have my friends/family/school/acquaintances done to make these people feel so passionately that they feel the need to write that we are terrorizing their country!  No one that I know at home has ever had anything negative to say about Bolivia so it did not make sense to me as to why that would be written.  I understand that street art is a way to express oneself anonymously so there are no repercussions to saying whatever one wants, but to me that goes with criticizing ones own government.

Today in class we discussed the complicated US/Bolivia relationship.  Bolivia kicked the ambassador out, yet we still have a large (and working) embassy here.  Bolivia receives aid from the US, which puzzled me at first because why would we offer aid to 1) a country who has residents that think we’re harming their country and 2) that will not allow us to have an ambassador here.  When I thought more about this after listening to Dr. Kate talk about how the US has interests here such as land, I couldn’t help but think about how many countries see the US as “terrorismo.”  Every single person here that I have encountered has been nothing but friendly and welcoming to Americans, yet obviously there are some that do not share this sentiment.  I’m curious by nature so I wish that I knew who the artist of that specific piece of writing was so I could ask he/she why he/she feels this way.  This is why I like the idea of ethnographic field work; I would love to be able to sit down and hear everything this person has to say.  This is such a small, trivial example of field work, but I think little things like these could make a big difference.

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  1. The “US terrorista” graffiti can be shocking to see, for sure. I once saw similar graffiti in Barcelona, Spain, many years ago. We’re certainly never used to thinking of ourselves that way. But, step back, and see our country from outside. With military interventions still ongoing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our history of involvement in Colombia and Bolivia (the drug war) … how might we be perceived? Why? How can we change that perception?

    But the street art in La Paz is clearly fascinating, and often very political. Even when it doesn’t seem that way. I know that particular mural you photographed. My youngest daughter spent most of our dinner looking back at his face, very concerned with why he was sad. Why was he painted that way? What “political” message was being conveyed?

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