Civil Disobedience

Protests against the government’s actions, just like in the US, are very common here in La Paz.  While the protests here in Bolivia are generally peaceful, the use of fireworks to spark explosions threw me off guard the first time I experienced a protest myself.  One night, I kept hearing what I thought were gunshots, but I reassured myself that I was staying in a nice area and the threat of violence was very low.  However, the next morning, I still heard the explosion-like noises.  At that point, I had no idea where they were coming from.  I was on my way out the door to go to class when my abuela came down and told me a protest was blocking the way to school today.  I was shocked; this is something I had definitely never experienced back at home.  The protesters had the street blocked with huge logs all the way down the main Avenida Ballivián, effectively trapping us in the Zona Sur until they cleared the road.  I was so thankful I was only missing class that day, and that I didn’t have an important flight to catch.

Later that day, our wifi went out, so we had to walk to the nearest Tigo store to get some help fixing it.  From there, I could see some of the protesters: they were crowding the streets with homemade signs and setting off firecrackers.  The police presence was much higher than I’d seen before in La Paz.  I asked someone what they were protesting, and they said that the government wanted to expand a building project and add more floors, and the people didn’t want to pay for the expansion through taxes.  I assume a part of this protest was against paying extra money, but another large part of it was to stop urbanization.  From what I have observed, the Zona Sur has, by far, the largest number of freestanding homes remaining in the La Paz metropolitan area.  I assume a lot of these homeowners value the less-urban environment of their area of the city, and want to keep it that way.  The expanding of skyscrapers in this area would bring more people to live in the Zona Sur, as well as more businesses and traffic.  I was surprised at first that this huge day-long protest was only about building construction, not a presidential policy, etc., but after thinking about it, it made perfect sense.

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Amazonian Apprehension

I had always pictured the Amazon as a dark, humid jungle, where one needs a machete to fight off the bugs the size of your hand. My experience was surprisingly quite different from that, except for needing the machete. After traveling several hours from Santa Cruz in a bus and then in a 4×4, we found ourselves in the in the Amazon. It felt more like the forests of Middle Tennessee than it did of a ferocious jungle. The beginning of our four-hour hike was actually spent walking past cows, chickens, and other types of farm animals. I was surprised at how much it felt like home, yet there was something extremely different.

As a self-proclaimed “worry wart”, I could not help but run through my mind what would happen if something disastrous were to happen while we were on our hike. As scary as many of the possible situations I thought of were, I thought also of our two tour guides. They make this trek all the time, yet they had no visible worry when it came to the power of nature. The seemed to have a healthy fear of nature and what it was capable of, yet they did not let it control them in any way.

The guides seemed to have a relationship with nature. It made me evaluate my own relationship with nature, and it made me realize that in a lot of ways, I am afraid of nature. It is scary to me the power that it holds, but I believe that completing this hike helped me overcome the fear I have of nature in some way. I learned to appreciate nature while still maintaining, what I consider, a necessary amount of apprehension to not do something foolish. At the end of the day, hiking through the Amazon was most likely the high point of the trip for me.

Hemeroteca Research

Before I came on this trip, I never considered myself someone who enjoyed doing research.  However, I knew that as part of my undergraduate studies, I would need to conduct research through a senior thesis.  A big part of the reason I came on this trip was to introduce myself to field research for the first time.  One of my favorite research opportunities I received during my time here was when I got to do a content analysis of old periodicals at the Hemeroteca in the Office of the Vice President.  In addition to feeling that this was a prestigious and unique opportunity, this opened my mind up to the sense of accomplishment that comes from research.  Looking through thousands of files in multiple rooms to find exactly what I was looking for and actually succeeding was extremely fulfilling for me.

I also really loved the freedom we have been given with our entire research topic proposal.  The only other research I’ve done before going on this trip was when I was assigned a given topic and was only able to collect information on it from books or websites.  Collecting data from primary sources that gave me specific cases that demonstrated a topic, rather than just researching the topic on its own, was exciting for me.  I have been researching discrepancies in crime rates across different parts of Bolivia, and I found really useful accounts of a jewelry robbery from a religious statue in Copacabana in the 1980’s.  While not contemporary, I gained perspective on how different newspapers reported and prioritized stories differently, allowing me to get an idea of the newspapers’ biases.

Public Transport in La Paz

Public transport in La Paz is unlike any I’ve ever experienced anywhere else in the world. Unlike most large cities, La Paz is unable to have a subway or train system due to the elevation and unevenness of the city. In addition to this, buses are rarely seen and are in fact a newer addition to the public transit system. The most popular way of transport would most likely be the minibus. Minibuses can carry up to around 15 people, although one cannot expect much personal space.

The most interesting form of transportation in my opinion however is the Mi Teléferico, the gondola lift style of transportation. While in the lift, one gains a bird’s eye view of the city. This is my favorite form of transportation in La Paz most likely due to its uniqueness. I love being able to look out over the city and see things that I would not be able to otherwise. Riding the Teléferico has been one of the most interesting things I’ve done while in La Paz. It would be something I highly recommend to any tourist coming to La Paz. Something I find rather funny about the situation is that typically locals will avoid the touristy attractions of their city, however in this case, when one rides the Teléferico, they’ll likely be sharing the experience with La Paz locals as well.

 

 

Plaza Murillo

During my time here in La Paz, I have been able to see many different culturally or historically important places across the city, from the Prado in the city center, to the dirt-paved roads of outer El Alto, to the Office of the Vice-president, where the congressional archives are located.  Out of everything I’ve seen, la Plaza Murillo has been my favorite.  Originally built as part of the old Spanish colonial city, this beautiful plaza has design elements from the both the Greeks and the Spanish.  In the center of the plaza, there is a huge statue of Pedro Murillo, a hero in the Bolivian struggle for independence.  Surrounding the central paved portion of the plaza are Grecian statues of the nine muses.  I’m not sure of the significance of the statues of the muses, but for me, they seem to represent the rich mixing of cultures and traditions in Bolivia and an appreciation for the arts.

The plaza is surrounded by some of the most important buildings in the city.  Some of these buildings include the Presidential Palace, the La Paz Cathedral, and the Plurinational Assembly, Bolivia’s congress.  Within the plaza, in addition to the beautiful statues and plants, you will find grandparents and their grandchildren feeding the hundreds of pigeons that reside in the Plaza.  This is a La Paz tradition that’s gone on for generations.  The historical and cultural significance of this place makes it an ideal place for people-watching.  I have found that the times I’ve appreciated Bolivian culture the most were when I was observing the sights around me in this plaza.  I wish I had more time here to really immerse myself in the history of all the buildings here.

15/7/2017: Texas to Santa Cruz (Not Brazil)

 

_MG_3103Earlier in the program I talked about the similarities between certain aspects of Southern culture and certain aspects of Bolivian culture. Most of those were pointed out by Dr. Miguel on a 15 minutes teleférico ride, but they still rang true and I was able to find more on my own not too long after.

I was able to find more of these during our visit to Texas Santa Cruz. The most obvious was state, or rather departmental, pride. Much like Texas (who saw that coming?) Santa Cruz is very proud of its heritage and departmental culture. Most, if not all, of the flags I saw in Santa Cruz were the departmental flag: the white of purity and the green of agriculture. How much more Texas can you get? or is it the other way around?

But deeper than the surface similarities are the similarities between race and ethnicity issues. Much like Texas, Santa Cruz found itself in a period of stark division when it came to race and ethnic status. But to be fair, so has most (if not all) of Latin America at one point.

For the rest of the time that we are here in Bolivia, I’ll be keeping an eye out for any more similarities. This is something that I would like to research outside of the program because I find southern culture itself very interesting.

(Fun Fact: There is a town in Texas called Santa Cruz)

Racism in Bolivia and Shaping Identity

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One of many things about Bolivia I really want to have an in-depth understanding of? That would be racism and its history and impact on how people live, what resources they have access to, and the impact of racism on identity.

One thing I can’t help but notice in La Paz and Santa Cruz as well, are signs against racism. The banner pictured above was a new one I hadn’t seen before outside of La Paz. In Santa Cruz as well as La Paz, I’ve seen many small signs on windows noting, “Somos iguales antes de la ley” or something very similar to that. But this sign (pictured) really got to me. “Libre de racismo,” okay, that sounds unbelievable. Perhaps it’s more “aspirational” for Bolivia to be free of racism. I am curious how the Morales government has handled this issue and how it intends to combat or “end” racism. I am assuming this sign must be a government-supported campaign, and if so, I can’t help but question the manner in which this sign aims to signal an end to racism.

Being immersed back home in education about American racism and “diversity” campaigns, and as a young woman of color, I see this sign and think, “Uh, I’ve never seen a blue person in my life.” I’ve never seen a person of any of these colors. So what do these colors represent- why use these colors? It seems like a poor attempt to visually represent all peoples as equals, but how does that work when you have figures instead of real people, and all of those figures come in a strange selection of colors.

Yes, there are signs against racism in Bolivia and so shows some level of proactive measures. And because they are there, I know without having to ask that racism is most definitely an issue in Bolivia. What’s more, I’m curious and also frustrated by how racism impacts identity.  Just how many Indigenous Peoples are in Bolivia? I can’t remember the year now, but one census did not include the “mestizo” (historically signifying mixed Indigenous-European) category. That had to be a conscious choice to do so. How did people feel about it? Just how strongly do people identify with “mestizo?” And how strongly do people stand by their racial identities as white, Indigenous, Afro-Bolivian, Japanese-Bolivian, etc.? What does it mean to identify with a historically mixed-race category, when historically, in other countries (can’t say I know about Bolivia) mixed-race people were exploited by white elites to stamp out uprisings of people of color. What does it say about racism and identity when people change their racial identities, especially when done so to find work or educational opportunities?

I can’t help but feel frustrated by this identity and race categorization. To put it simply, for me, mestizo is a product of colonization and racism, so what are the reasons or motivations to maintain “mestizo,” both by the government historically and the people of Bolivia? I can’t hide the fact that I loathe the term mestizo and refuse to use it for myself, yet others are proud to be mestizo.

I am very curious about census data for race in Bolivia historically, and how race and identity may change in the future. I am also wanting to know how others identify themselves and why they identify the way they do.

Cooperation Taking Root in The Altiplano

This past Monday, July 17th, our class headed to Los Andes Province located high in the rural Bolivian Altiplano to visit the leaders of a project in the community of “Jaillihuaya.” The project’s goal is to research ways to solve the water problem that many villages and cities in the arid southwestern region of Bolivia currently face, and to begin implementing the discoveries made. Previously, many cities in this sector of Bolivia depended on water yielded by glacial runoff high in the mountains, but because of the pressing phenomenon of global warming the glacial water has become less and less of a reliable option. The indigenous people who work daily on the project in Jaillihuaya have introduced over 15 species of plants to see which ones are able to survive in the harsh climate of the Altiplano, and they also test completely unique methods of protecting the young plants from the constant wind and cold. So far the project has found 4 species that are able to survive, and these will continue to be planted and maintained with the intention that they will release chemicals that will rectify the inconsistent water patterns. In addition, these indigenous groups have given up their own land to make the project possible – land that they would typically use to grow quinoa or other crops – meaning that people in the altiplano are sacrificing some of their own income for the opportunity to solve the environmental issues plaguing their community.

Seeing individuals from very different backgrounds cooperate on a project that aims to help themselves as well as people of other varying backgrounds was an extremely positive experience. The fact alone that Bolivian citizens are realizing the importance and necessity of working to cope with changes ushered by global warming was fantastic in itself. Considering how Native Americans in the United States and the non-native people from the US continue to struggle to cooperate with one another on even the most basic issues, I enjoyed seeing what coordination like this could resemble. Perhaps this partnership in Jaillihuaya only exists because the situation is dire, but either way it is a step in the right direction that not only Bolivian citizens, but citizens in any country with native populations can learn from.

13 & 14/7/2017: You Can Own the Earth and Still, All You’ll Ever Own is Earth

_MG_2715“What I love most about rivers is you can never step in the same river twice, the water is always changing, always flowing” — Pocahontas, 1995

Amboró is without a doubt the most beautiful and breath taking place on earth I have ever had the opportunity to visit. During the day, its towering trees reach for the sun through the clouds. During the night, an infinite amount of stars illuminate the sky while the moon filters through the canopy. This kind of poetic imagery is what I was fortunate enough to capture during our time in Amboró.

The beauty of Amboró is something that I will never be able to forget. That same beauty is also what reminded me of how important the earth’s natural resources really are. Our visit only fortified my stance on the preservation of the earth’s resources, such as Amboró. I’m hoping to take that fortified stance back to the US so that I can share what I have been able to learn.

Everything that I learned in Amboró came from our guides who all had prolific knowledge of the region. This was evident in everything they did. From the knowledge they shared all the way down to their light-footed movements through the ravines we traveled through. Their knowledge and respect for the park was what earned them my respect and admiration.

I wish more people knew about the Amboró park and its history. Like Dr. Kate explained, it’s remoteness has been both blessing and curse in its preservation and lack of exposure, respectively.

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