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.

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

MUSEF Panel
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.

Santacruz
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!

Interview with Afro-Bolivian activist & organizer, Caren Paola Yañez Inofuentes

Caren Paola Yañez Inofuentes was an active youth member of MOCUSABOL in La Paz when “Solidarity in Saya” was filmed.
I interviewed her in the Spring of 2012 to see what she had been up to since the filming of the documentary.

paola21

Maya: Do you still live in La Paz?

Paola: Yes, I am still living in La Paz.

M: Are you still involved with MOCUSABOL?

P: When you came to do the documentary, the Afro-Bolivian Center for Comprehensive and Community Development – CADIC, was in the process of forming under the leadership of Jorge Medina, to be the technical, political, and social branch of MOCUSABOL. This was a way to create a branch separate from the cultural, to influence the state in the Constituent Assembly (100% political vindication) So I had been an active part in the cultural activities of MOCUSABOL during that transition of forming CADIC and until the end of 2008.

From there I have dedicated myself only to the social and political demands of the Afro-Bolivian people, succeeding Jorge Medina as the Executive Director of CADIC in the period 2010 – 2011, when he became a member of the Parliament.

M: How is everything going with the organization?

P: This year, the president of MOCUSABOL is Jaime Flores, one of the activist youths since 2002 and the head of CADIC is Renan Paco, with MOCUSABOL in the cultural front and CADIC leading political processes and training Afro-Bolivian people nationwide.

M: How do you think the organization has changed over the past years that you’ve been involved?

P: As I explained earlier, it has changed considerably, from actors to the new struggles.

M: In your experience, how do you think the condition of Afro-Bolivians has changed over the past 6 years?

P: The recognition of the Afro-Bolivian people in the state constitution has enabled and guaranteed our participation in policy areas of the country; the arrival of Jorge Medina as a deputy on the Pluri-national Legislative Assembly, who has proposed and passed laws recognizing Saya [music] and Afro-Bolivian people as part of Bolivia’s cultural heritage; the declaration of September 23 as the day of Afro-Bolivian people, commemorating the abolition of slavery in Bolivia.

The Afro-Bolivian people are now visible and which allows us to hold the state to our specific rights.
For the first time this year, the population census will include a box of ethnicity for us.

Almost all Afro [-Bolivian] communities now have an organization and play Saya.

This among many other things.

M: What are some of the current goals/objectives of the Afro-Bolivian movement?

P: There are many. Now that we achieved constitutional recognition, now with the decentralized state through the autonomies, we seek to influence and make demands of each part of the Autonomous Departmental Statues and Municipal Organic Letters

Create an Afro-Bolivian people’s educational curriculum, agricultural insurance

On the cultural side, to innovate and get to know more about afros in other countries.

M:. Do you still have family living in the Yungas?

P: Still live there my uncles and some cousins and a grandmother

M: How are they doing? How has life in the villages changed in the past 5 years?

Bolivia has changed a lot, the condition in the villages has changed. We are guaranteed our participation, we are now familiar with our rights, despite all the problems and inconsistencies the process of change is moving forward with them and we Bolivians are rebuilding ourselves.

M: What else are you up to these days besides the SAYA organization?

P: I finished university, and I’ve been dedicated to formative processes of Afro-Bolivian women and activities with other organizations on the issue of rights of women, young and etc.

M: Do you have any plans or dreams for the future that you would like to share, either for your personal life or for the Afro-Bolivian movement?

P: The struggle of a people does not stop, there’s always more to do.

Interview with Enzo Pinedo

Enzo Pinedo was an active youth member of MOCUSABOL in La Paz when “Solidarity in Saya” was filmed.
I interviewed Enzo in the spring of 2012 to see what he has been up to.

Maya: Do you still live in La Paz?
Enzo: In this moment, no.

M: Where do you live?
E: Right now in Chile

M: Where in Chile?
E: In Santiago, the capital of the country.

M: Why did you move to Santiago?
E: Because I have to practice in my career and I realized that in Chile I can practice and I can make more money than in my country.

M: Which career?
E: Auto mechanics

M: How is Santiago? And what is your experience as an Afro-Bolivian living there?
E: You tend to draw more attention.

M: Do you know other black people in Chile? Afro-chilenos or people from other countries?
E: Yes where I work, there is a man from the Congo and many from Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

M: In the past years since I filmed the documentary, before you left Bolivia, were you still involved with MOCUSABOL?
E: Yes for about 2 years more.

M: How is everything going with the organization?
E: It is more organized from what they have told me and because you hear in the news that we have a representative deputy [in parliament].

M: You’re speaking about Jorge Medina?
E: Yes I spoke with him. He has connections with everyone.

M: Were the Saya organizations very involved in the campaign for his election?
E: Yes but it was also that this was the only opportunity to have a representative in power.

M: Can you explain a little more what you mean by that?
E: Well there were many candidates but very few had the popularity that Jorge had. For him the only thing left was to organize the people on the day of the elections.

M: In your experience, how do you think the conditions for Afro-Bolivians have changed over these last 6 years?
E: We have gained much. We are past being just a group of immigrant afros mixed with the indigenous people to being a group with and impact with political representation.

M: How do you think the changes in the constitution and having a representative has affected the lives of Afro-Bolivians.

E: Look, these were things that before this, one didn’t think about because they were things only for people very involved in politics. Many therefore only thought that you had to accept your condition with little possibilities for changing things. The changes in the government really helped because it has been showing a different form of politics.

M: What do you mean by a different form of politics?
E: Different because now they speak about Afro-Bolivians and their needs and we have representation. Different because the people from each ethnic group have become equal citizens.