RELEASE DATE: 01 Jun, 2011


In a country such as Bolivia, to talk of minorities is paradoxical since practically everybody belongs to one. This is the land where, for every trait a group of individuals share, they are divided by at least twice as many differences. Who or what the majority is has always been open to interpretation and the official answer has changed over time largely due to shifts in people’s self-assigned identities (recent Censuses report an increasing number of people identifying as indigenous). However, one of the few hints of certainty in this impossible tapestry of communities, ethnic groups and nations is the influence played by Western cultures over the past five centuries. From the Spanish conquest to the present, indigenous groups have come under increasing pressure to abandon their original traits and customs in order to survive, first through enforced Catholicism and more recently through migration to urban areas.

In spite of this, the local customs never really went away; they were passed on through the pueblos and waited until the dawn of the 21st century to emerge again in the cities. Indeed, over the last few years, many efforts have been made to reinstate and preserve these original cultures, as well as to put an end to oppression against individuals on the base of their culture, ethnicity, or creed. Indigenous languages (such as Aymara) are nowadays both taught in schools and demanded from all civil servants. Discrimination against groups of people - (such as the cholitas or Afro-Bolivianos we cover in this issue) is punishable by the law, opening new possibilities for groups which were hitherto relegated to the margins of society. They now increasingly constitute government and occupy a larger range of positions of authority in society.

Although these changes in the law have been celebrated across the borders, it would be naive to assume that they will have an immediate and lasting impact on social barriers and power structures. Certain prejudices have been ingrained for so long that it may take generations for things to truly change. This has meant that vulnerable groups can- not always fully integrate in a society with too many margins and no clear unifying centre around which they can coalesce.

Interestingly, the ensuing process of amalgamation between disparate peoples has not been a homogenising one: if anything, it has produced a yet larger fragmentation of cultures and customs, as well as the emergence of new ones. Notably, emerging groups which are perhaps byproducts of modernity and liberalism (such as drag-queens and expats) have been added to this interminable list of minorities. Bolivia is a land of extremes. This not only applies to its landscapes but also to its people, whose multiple backgrounds and cultures are said to be represented on the wiphala, the indigenous flag. Faced with the irreconcilable tension between traditions and modernity, groups must anchor their identities more strongly, lest they become diluted and vanish completamente.


Back to Aymara

18 Jul, 2011 | Maryam Patwa

It is dispiriting (though perhaps inevitable) that Aymara, once the dominant language of large sections of Bolivia and neighbouring Andean regions, has become relegated to the backstage of everyday li...

Blonde but Bolivian

18 Jul, 2011 | Camilla Swift

Expats and their offspring After 5 months of living and working in La Paz, I became increasingly intrigued with the idea of expats who, by moving abroad, end up raising their children in a differen...

Cochabamba express

18 Jul, 2011 | Matthew Grace

Life in Bolivia behind bars On may 19, 2008, three young Norwegian women, Stina Brendemo Hagan, then 17 years old; Madeleine Rodriguez, then 20; and Christina Oygarden, then 18–along with Madeleine...

From Africa to the Andes

18 Jul, 2011 | Nina Triado and Georgia Wolf

After a frightening number of cases of discrimination against afrobolivians were disregarded by the Bolivian government, Jorge Medina eventually made a breakthrough in his struggle for the recognition...

Ser Cholita

18 Jul, 2011 | Seneca Garrison

What makes a cholita a cholita. There’s no need to go looking for cholitas around La Paz. It would be unusual and even noteworthy not to bump into one while walking around town or glancing down a bu...

Night at the museums

19 Jul, 2011 | Seneca Garrison

Saturday May the 21st marked the fifth annual ‘Noches de Museos’ in La Paz. Every year, the doors of museums and galleries are left open from the evening, through the wee hours of the morning, and unt...

Living the death road

19 Jul, 2011 | Ivan Rodriguez P.

Part 1 As you wake up early in the morning, you experience your first adrenaline rush as you understand that you’re about to start one of the most intense days of your life; or at least, that’s w...

Bolivia in drag

18 Jul, 2011 | Amaru Villanueva Rance

A portrait of the familia Galan. “What questions do you usually get asked in interviews?” is the last question I ask David Aruquipa. This is perhaps the best place to begin. ‘I get asked a lot of...