Solidarity in Saya Blog

Back to Bolivia

In January this year, I went back to Bolivia for the first time since I first began the “Solidarity in Saya” project in 2006. It was really incredible to be back there after so many years. I arrived in La Paz and was thrilled to connect with the breathtaking Andean mountains again and spend the next several months reconnecting with the people I hadn’t seen in so long and meeting many new people.

Photo with Mount Illimani in the background of La Paz
Over looking la Paz.

It was exciting to see how much has changed in Bolivia and how much the Afro-Bolivian community has accomplished over the past 8 years. There are so many new Afro-Bolivian organizations and representatives in the government working to address a variety of issues and needs of the Afro-Bolivian community.

With the help of many friends, “Solidarity in Saya” screened in many locations in La Paz, premiering at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore with a panel discussion and a live Saya performance by MOCUSABOL. There were also screenings at la Cinemateca, an art house cinema, the Spanish Cultural Center, and a small art gallery, la Casa Espejo. “Solidarity in Saya” also screened in Cochabamba at the Museum of Archaeology followed by a live performance by Mauchi and another screening in Santa Cruz. Many of the screenings were followed by panel discussions with various Afro-Bolivian activists and led to great discussions and questions from audience members. I also went to the villages Tocaña and Chicaloma in the Yungas and had screenings there.

MOCUSABOL performing Saya at MUSEF (Museum of Ethnography and Folklore) after the La Paz premier of “Solidarity in Saya.”

Panel discussion at MUSEF (Museum of Ethnography and Folklore) after the La Paz premier of “Solidarity in Saya.”

It was so rewarding to reconnect with the Afro-Bolivian communities that I had worked with and be able to bring the finished movie back to them and share it with Bolivian audience members. Distributing the DVDs to the Afro-Bolivian villages and urban activists whose stories created this project, I really felt more than ever how much all the work for all these years has been worth it.

With every screening, I was nervous to show the documentary to Afro-Bolivian audiences, since this was the audience that mattered most and who would be affected most personally by this work. Luckily the feedback was positive and people said that it was great to be able to have this work as a reflection of where their movement began and how far they had come and how much more work there was to do.

So many people I spoke to in the Afro-Bolivian community told me that people often come to study, interview, film or photograph them and they rarely hear from those people again or even see the work that featured them. After hearing that, I felt so grateful that I was able to have the support from so many people and resources to be able to make a finished product and travel back to Bolivia.

It was so inspiring to see all that has happened in the Afro-Bolivian community and how much they keep moving onwards in the work of empowering and celebrating their culture and community and working to overcome the struggles they face. It was great to see the various Afro-Bolivian organizations working on so many different projects such as organizing workshops and retreats for young Afro-Bolivian women to discuss and learn about feminist issues and sexual and reproductive health. Another organization was working with the Ministry of Education to implement a school curriculum about Afro-Bolivian history and culture.

After “Solidarity in Saya” screening in Santa Cruz at the Ministry of Culture.

After reconnecting with so many friends and making new friends and getting used to the lifestyle in Bolivia, it was sad to leave not knowing when I would be able to come back. But I did feel refreshed and fulfilled by everything I had learned and experienced while I was there and felt that I had completed a cycle in this long journey I began when I went to Bolivia years ago not knowing what I was actually beginning…
Now I’ll be continuing on in distributing the DVDs and sharing this story as widely as possible!

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