Bolivian Americans

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by Tim Eigo


Bolivia, the only landlocked country in the Western Hemisphere, is home to almost eight million people. Twice as large as Texas, Bolivia is a multiethnic society. Of all the South American countries, Bolivia has the largest percentage (60 percent) of indigenous Indians. The next largest ethnic group in the Bolivian population is the mestizos, those of mixed-race heritage; they make up 30 percent. Finally, 10 percent of the Bolivian population are of Spanish origin.

These figures mask the true breadth of the Bolivian population map. The largest ethnic groups are the highland Indiansthe Aymara and the Quechua. The most ancient people of the Andes may be the ancestors of the Aymara, who formed a civilization as early as 600 A.D. The rural lowland regions are home to more ethnic diversity. Other Indian groups include the Kallawayas, the Chipayas, and the Guarani Indians. Ethnicities from most of the other South American countries are represented in Bolivia, as well as people of Japanese descent and origin. Those known as Spanish are called "Whites," not so much for their skin color as for their social status, identified by physical characteristics, language, culture, and social mobility. The blending and intermarriage of races for over 500 years has made Bolivia a heterogeneous society.

Bolivia is bordered to the west by Chile and Peru, to the south by Argentina, to the southeast byParaguay, and to the east and north by Brazil. One of the most striking features of Bolivia, its high plateau, or Altiplano, is also home to most of its population. The Altiplano sits between two chains of the Andes mountains and it is one of the highest inhabited regions in the world, reaching an average height of 12,000 feet. Although it is cold and windswept, it is the most densely populated region of the country. The valleys and ridges of the Andes' eastern slopes are called the Yungas, where 30 percent of the country's population lives and 40 percent of the cultivated land sits. Finally, three-fifths of Bolivia are sparsely populated lowlands. The lowlands include savannas, swamps, tropical rainforests, and semi-deserts.


To those in the relatively recently settled Western Hemisphereand, in fact, to most people anywhere in the worldthe length of Bolivian history is staggering. When the Spanish arrived to conquer and subjugate South America in the 1500s, they found a land that had been populated and civilized for at least 3,000 years. Early settlements of Amerindians probably lasted until about 1400 B.C. For another thousand years, an Amerindian culture known as Chavin existed in Bolivia and Peru. From 400 B.C. until 900 A.D., the Tiahuanaco culture thrived. Its center for ritual and ceremonies was on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the largest navigable lake in the world and a dominant part of Bolivia's geography. The Tiahuanaco culture was highly developed and prosperous. It had superb transportation systems, a road network, irrigation, and striking building techniques.

The Aymara Indians subsequently invaded, probably from Chile. At the end of the fifteenth century, the Peruvian Incas swept into the land. Their rule continued until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1530s. Spaniard rule was known as the colonial period, and was marked by the development of cities, the cruel oppression of the Indians, and the missionary work of Catholic priests. The struggle for independence from Spain began in the seventeenth century, and the most significant rebellion occurred when the Aymara and Quechua united at the end of the eighteenth century. Their leader was eventually captured and executed, but the rebels continued to resist, and for more than 100 days, about 80,000 Indians besieged the city of La Paz. General Antonio Jose de Sucre, who fought alongside Simon Bolivar, finally gained independence from Spain in 1825. The new nation was a republic, with a senate and a house of representatives, an executive branch, and a judiciary.

Almost as soon as Bolivia obtained its independence, it lost two disastrous wars to Chile, and in the process, lost its only coastal access. It lost a third war in 1932, this time with Paraguay, which further reduced its land holdings. Even at the end of the twentieth century, such setbacks continued to weigh heavily on the Bolivian psyche and affected political actions in the capital city of La Paz.

Bolivia's historic success at getting valuable riches from beneath its soil has been a mixed blessing. Only a few years after the arrival of the Spaniards, silver was discovered near the city of Potosi. Although Indian legend warned that the silver should not be mined, the Spaniards instituted a complex mining system to retrieve the ore from Cerro Rico ("Rich Hill"). The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw Bolivia's most valuable resource flow into the coffers of Spanish royalty. Much of the silver supply was exhausted after only 30 years, and a new method of extracting the ore was needed. Methods using highly poisonous mercury were developed, and allowed the extraction of lower-grade ore for centuries. The cold and inaccessible region around Potosi rapidly became the most populated city in Spanish America; by about 1650, its population was 160,000. However, for those who had to work beneath Cerro Rico, almost always Amerindians, the good fortune of mining meant injury, sickness, and death. Thousands died beneath the steep slopes.


In addition to being a silver exporter, Bolivia also became a leading supplier of tin for the world's markets. Ironically, working conditions in the mines led to the evolution of Bolivia's modern political state. Conditions in the mines continued to be so abhorrent that a workers' party, the National Revolutionary Movement, or MNR, formed. Under the leadership of President Paz Estenssoro in the 1950s, the MNR nationalized the mines, taking them from private companies and transferring ownership to the government. The MNR also began important land and industrial reforms. For the first time, Indians and other working poor had an opportunity to own the land that they and their ancestors had toiled on for generations.

From the 1970s onward, Bolivia suffered setbacks due to rampant inflation, other deteriorating economic conditions, and a series of military dictators. However, by the end of the twentieth century, some measure of economic stability had returned. Bolivia's economy has always been dominated by mining, cattle and sheep herding but the growth of coca leaves became a major problem by the 1980s. From the leaves, coca paste can be made illegally, which then is used in the manufacture of cocaine. In the 1990s, the Bolivian government sought to reduce the drug trade. The illegal manufacture and sale of cocaine has been a major point of contention between the United States and Bolivia. In Washington, D.C., Bolivia, like other countries, must be regularly "certified" as a partner that is working hard to end the drug trade; this process is often politically charged and lengthy, leaving poor nations that are dependent on U.S. trade, grants, and credits to bide their time. This process is made difficult by the fact that coca leaves have always been a part of the daily lives of millions of Bolivians. It is not uncommon to see rural Bolivians chewing coca leaves.

Bolivian immigrants arrive in the United States with advantages not shared by many other immigrant groups. Bolivian Americans stand out from other immigrant groups because, unlike others who flee brutal regimes, Bolivians travel to the United States seeking greater economic and educational opportunities. As such, they fare better than do those who seek political asylum, such as the Salvadorans and Nicaraguans. Also, Bolivians usually come from large cities, and adapt more easily to urban American areas. They are well-educated and have high professional spirations. Their families are usually intact, and their children do well in school because the parents come from a higher educational background. In the 1990s, Stephanie Griffith, an activist in immigrant communities stated that, of all recent immigrants, the Bolivians come closest to achieving the national dream.


Since 1820, more than one million immigrants from Central and South America have settled in the United States, but who they were or where they came from remains a mystery. It was not until 1960 that the U.S. Census Bureau categorized these immigrants by their nation of origin. In 1976, the Census Bureau estimated that Central and South Americans from Spanish-speaking countries made up seven percent of the Spanish-origin population in the United States. In addition, the size of the Bolivian American community has been difficult to ascertain because many Bolivians arrive in the United States with tourist visas and stay indefinitely with friends or family. Because of this, and because the total number of Bolivian immigrants to this country has been relatively small, estimates of Bolivian immigration waves to the United States may be impossible to determine.

U.S. Census figures show that, in the 10 years between 1984 and 1993, only 4,574 Bolivians became U.S. citizens. The annual rate of immigration is steady, ranging from a low in 1984 of 319 to a high in 1993 of 571. The average number of Bolivians naturalized every year is 457. In 1993, 28,536 Bolivians were admitted into the United States. In the same year, only 571 Bolivian immigrants were naturalized as U.S. citizens. This low rate of naturalization reflects the rates of other Central and South American communities. This suggests that Bolivian Americans have a continued interest in Bolivia, and hold open the possibility of returning to South America in the future.

Although relatively few Bolivians immigrate to the United States, those who do are often clerical and administrative workers. This exodus, or "brain drain," of educated workers has harmed Bolivia and South America as a whole. It is a middle-class migration from one of the poorest nations in the world. Of all South American immigrants, Bolivia's immigrants represent the highest percentage of professionals, from 36 percent in the mid-1960s to almost 38 percent in 1975. In comparison, the average percentage of professional immigrants from other South American countries was 20 percent. These educated workers largely travel to American cities on the coasts of this country, settling in urban centers on the West Coast, the Northeast, and the Gulf states. There, they and most immigrants find a comfortable population of people with similar histories, status, and expectations.

The largest communities of Bolivian Americans are in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. For example, an estimate from the early 1990s indicated that about 40,000 Bolivian Americans lived in and around Washington, D.C.

Like most South American immigrants, most travelers from Bolivia to the United States enter through the port of Miami, Florida. In 1993, of 1,184 Bolivian immigrants admitted, 1,105 entered through Miami. These numbers also disclose just how small the Bolivian exodus has been. In the same year, for example, Colombian immigrants to the United States numbered almost 10,000.

American families adopt a small number of Bolivian children. In 1993, there were 123 such adoptions, with 65 girls adopted and 58 boys adopted. The majority of those children were adopted when they were less than one year old.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Bolivian Americans generally find that their skills and experience prepare them well for life in the United States. However, by the late twentieth century, anti-immigrant sentiments were growing, particularly toward Mexican American immigration, and these feelings often failed to distinguish between Central and South Americans and between legal and illegal immigration. Thus, the move to the United States is challenging for Bolivians.


Bolivian Americans seek to instill in their children a strong sense of the culture of the country from which they emigrated. As such, children's education includes Bolivian history, traditional dances, and music. In modern-day Bolivia some belief in the gods of the ancient Inca remains. Although these pre-Columbian beliefs are today little more than superstition, they are often followed strictly, by Indians and non-Indians alike. To the Quechua Indians, respect must be given to Pachamama, the Incan earth mother. Pachamama is seen as a protective force, but also a vengeful one. Her concerns range from the most serious events of life to the most mundane, such as chewing the first coca leaf of the day. Before beginning a journey, Indians often leave some chewed coca by the side of the road as an offering. The average highland Indian may purchase a dulce mesa sweets and colored trinketsat a witchcraft and folk medicine market to give to Pachamama. Even among more worldly Bolivians, respect for her is seen in the practice of pouring a portion of a drink on the ground before taking the first sip, in recognition that all treasures of this world come from the earth. Another ancient god who plays a role in everyday life is Ekeko, "dwarf" in Aymara. Especially favored among Mestizos, he is believed to oversee the finding of a spouse, providing shelter, and luck in business.

One famous Bolivian tale is about the mountain, Mount Illimani, which towers over the city of La Paz. According to the legend, there once were two mountains where one now stands, but the god who created them could not decide which he liked more. Finally, he decided it was Illimani, and threw a boulder at the other, sending the mountaintop rolling far away. "Sajama, " he said, meaning, "Go away." Today, the distant mountain is still called Sajama. The shortened peak that sits next to Illimani is today called Mururata, meaning beheaded.


Events occurring in the late 1990s provided an opportunity for Bolivia and the United States to assess their relationship and for Bolivian Americans to feel pride in both of their cultures. In a landmark case for native people seeking to maintain their cultural heritage, the Aymara people of Coroma, Bolivia, with the help of the U.S. Customs Service, had 48 sacred ceremonial garments returned that had been taken from their village by North American antiquities dealers in the 1980s. The Aymara people believed the textiles to be the property of the entire Coroman community, not owned by any one citizen. Despite this, some community members, facing drought and famine during the 1980s, were bribed into selling the garments. An art dealer in San Francisco, California, when threatened with legal action, returned 43 of the textiles. Five more textiles held by private collectors were also returned.


As in most countries, the Bolivian diet is influenced by region and by income. Most meals in Bolivia, however, include meat, usually served with potatoes, rice, or both. Another important carbohydrate is bread. Near Santa Cruz are large wheat fields, and Bolivia imports large quantities of wheat from the United States. In the highlands, potatoes are the staple food. In the lowlands, the staples are rice, plantain, and yucca. Fewer fresh vegetables are available to those in the highlands.

Some popular Bolivian recipes include silpancho, pounded beef with an egg cooked on top; thimpu, a spicy stew cooked with vegetables; and fricase, pork soup seasoned with yellow hot pepper. Also central to the urban Bolivian diet is street food, such as saltenas, oval pies, stuffed with various fillings and eaten as a quick meal. They are similar to empanadas, which are usually filled with beef, chicken, or cheese. Diets in the lowlands include wild animals such as the armadillo. The most common Bolivian drink is black tea, which is usually served strong with lots of sugar.

In urban areas, most Bolivians eat a very simple breakfast and a large, relaxed, and elaborate lunch. On weekends, lunch with friends and family is a major event. Often, lunch guests remain long enough to stay for dinner. In La Paz a popular dish is anticuchos, pieces of beef heart grilled on skewers. The cuisine in rural areas is simpler and only two meals are eaten per day. Native families usually eat outside. Bolivians who live in rural areas are often uncomfortable eating in front of strangers. Therefore, when they must eat in a restaurant, they often face toward a wall. Eating in front of strangers makes a Bolivian in rural areas feel uncomfortable. Thus, men, particularly, will face a wall when they eat if they must do so away from home.


The use of pre-Columbian musical instruments remains an important part of Bolivian folklore. One of those instruments is the siku, a series of vertical flutes bound together. Bolivian music also uses the charango, which is a cross between the mandolin, guitar, and banjo. Originally, the soundbox of the charango was made from the shell of an armadillo, which gave it a unique sound and appearance. During the 1990s, Bolivian music began to incorporate lyrics into mournful Andean music. Thus, a new genre of songs was created.


Traditionally, Bolivian men living on the Altiplano would wear homemade trousers and a poncho. Today, they are more likely to wear factory-made clothes. For headgear, however, the chulla, a woolen cap with earflaps, remains a staple of the wardrobe.

Traditional native clothing for women includes an apron over a long skirt and many underskirts. An embroidered blouse and cardigan is also worn. A shawl, which is usually in the form of a colorful rectangle, serves many purposes, from carrying a child on the back to creating a shopping pouch.

One of the more striking types of Bolivian clothing is the bowler hat worn by Aymara women. Known as a bombin, it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers. It is uncertain why more women tend to wear the bombin than men. For many years, a factory in Italy manufactured bombins for the Bolivian market, but they are now made locally by Bolivians.


More than 500 ceremonial dances can be traced to Bolivia. These dances often represent important events in Bolivian culture, including hunting, harvesting, and weaving. One dance performed at festivals is the diablada, or devil dance. The diablada was originally performed by mine workers seeking protection from cave-ins and successful mining. Another famous festival dance is the morenada, the dance of the black slaves, which mocked the Spanish over-seers who brought thousands of slaves into Peru and Bolivia. Other popular dances include the tarqueada, which rewarded the tribal authorities who managed land holdings for the past year; a llama-herding dance known as the llamerada; the kullawada, which is known as the dance of the weavers; and the wayno, a dance of the Quechua and the Aymara.

In the United States, traditional Bolivian dances are popular among Bolivian Americans. During the late twentieth century, Bolivian dances began to appeal to a broader audience as well. The participation of groups of Bolivian folk dancers from around the country has increased. In Arlington, Virginia, which has a large community of Bolivian Americans, folk dancers participated in about 90 cultural events, nine major parades (including the Bolivian National Day Festival), and 22 smaller parades and festivals in 1996. The dancers also participated in almost 40 presentations in schools, theaters, churches, and other venues. Sponsored by the Pro-Bolivia Committee, an umbrella organization of arts and dance groups, these Bolivian folk dancers performed before 500,000 spectators. Millions more watched the performances on television. Held every year on the first Sunday of August, the Bolivian National Day Festival is sponsored by the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation and attracts about 10,000 visitors.


Bolivian Americans maintain strong ties to their former country. This is emphasized by the fervor with which they celebrate Bolivian holidays in the United States. Because Bolivian Americans are primarily Roman Catholic, they celebrate the major Catholic holidays such as Christmas and Easter. They also celebrate Bolivia's Labor Day and Independence Day on August 6.

Festivals in Bolivia are common and often fuse elements from the Catholic faith and from pre-Colombian custom. The Festival of the Cross is celebrated on May 3 and originated with the Aymara Indians. Another Aymara festival is Alacitas, the Festival of Abundance, which takes place in La Paz and the Lake Titicaca region. In Alacitas, honor is given to Ekeko, who brings good luck. One of the most famous of Bolivia's festivals is the carnival in Oruro, which takes place before the Catholic season of Lent. In this mining town, workers seek the protection of the Virgin of the Mines. During the Oruro festival, the diablada is performed.


The three official languages of Bolivia are Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara. Formerly dismissed as simply the languages of poor Indians, Quechua and Aymara have gained favor due to increasing attempts to preserve Bolivia's customs. Quechua is primarily an oral language, but it is one with international importance. Originally spoken during the Incan empire, Quechua is still spoken by about 13 million people in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile. About three million people in Bolivia and Peru speak Aymara. It has survived for centuries despite efforts to eliminate its use. Spanish remains the predominant language in Bolivia, however, and is used in all modern forms of communication, including art, business, and broadcasting. Bolivia is also home to dozens of other languages, most spoken by only a few thousand people. Some of the languages are indigenous, whereas others arrived with immigrants, such as the Japanese.

Bolivian Americans, when they do not speak English, usually speak Spanish. In their careers and family life in the United States, immigrants have found these two languages to be the most useful. Bolivian American schoolchildren new to the United States, for whom English is a second language, have experienced increased difficulties becoming adept at English as support and funding for bilingual education shrinks in the United States.


Nonverbal communication is important to Bolivians when they meet and converse. Bolivians who are descended from Europeans often use their hands when they speak, whereas indigenous people from the highlands normally remain immobile. Similarly, urban dwellers often greet each other with a single kiss on the cheek, especially if they are friends or acquaintances. Men usually shake hands and perhaps embrace. Indigenous people shake hands very lightly and pat each others' shoulders as if to embrace. They do not embrace or kiss. Bolivian Americans tend to utilize expansive gestures when they communicate. This is due to the fact that most Bolivian Americans are of European extraction and are more likely to have emigrated to the United States.

Family and Community Dynamics


In colonial times, only upper-class men were educated, either privately or in schools run by the Catholic Church. In 1828, President Antonio Jose de Sucre ordered public schools to be established in all states, known as departments. Primary, secondary, and vocational schools soon became available to all Bolivians. Education is free and compulsory for children between 7 and 14 years of age. In rural areas of Bolivia, however, schools are underfunded, people are spread far and wide across the countryside, and children are needed to work on the farms.

Bolivian females tend to be less educated than their male counterparts. Only 81 percent of girls are sent to school, compared to 89 percent of boys. It is common practice for parents to send their daughters to government-run schools, while sons receive a better education in private schools.

Education levels among Bolivian Americans tend to be high. Most Bolivian immigrants are high school or college graduates, and they often obtain jobs in corporations or in government. As with other immigrant and minority populations in the United States, schools have been created that are specifically designed to serve the needs of Bolivian American students and preserve cultural traditions and values. For example, at the Bolivian School in Arlington, Virginia, roughly 250 students practice their math and other lessons in Spanish, sing "Que Bonita Bandera" ("What a Pretty Flag") and other patriotic Bolivian songs, and listen to folk tales in native dialects.


For Bolivians, birthdays are important events and are almost always accompanied by a party. The party usually begins around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. Guests almost always bring their entire families, including children. After dancing and a late meal at about 11:00, the cake is cut at midnight.

Children's parties, on the other hand, are held on the Saturday of the birthday week. Gifts are not opened at the event, but after the guests leave. It is traditional not to put the name of the giver on the birthday gift, so that the birthday child may never know who gave each gift.


Although the role of women in Bolivian society has undergone dramatic changes, much work still needs to be done in order to ensure that they achieve greater equality with men. From birth, women are taught to maintain the household, care for the children, and obey their husbands. Traditionally, families in Bolivia have been quite large, sometimes containing six or seven children. Sometimes, a household includes more than just the husband, wife, and children. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other relatives may also live in the home and women are responsible for maintaining the household.

Bolivian women have traditionally played an important role in commercial and economic activities. In poorer regions of Bolivia, women are often the main financial support for the family. Since colonial times, women have contributed to the economy through activities such as farming and weaving.


In rural Bolivia, it is common for a man and a woman to live together before marrying. The courtship process begins when a man asks a woman to move in with him. If she accepts his request, this is called "stealing the girl." The couple usually live in the house of the man's family. They may live together for years, and even have children, before they save enough money to formally celebrate their union.

Urban weddings among Bolivians of European descent are similar to those performed in the United States. Among mestizos (persons of mixed blood) and other indigenous peoples, weddings are lavish affairs. After the ceremony, the bride and groom enter a specially decorated taxi, along with the best man and parents of the bride and groom. All of the other guests ride in a chartered bus, which takes them to a large party.


Funeral services in Bolivia often include a mixture of Catholic theology and indigenous beliefs. Mestizos participate in a expensive service known as velorio. The wake, or viewing of the deceased's body, occurs in a room in which all of the relatives and friends sit against the four walls. There, they pass limitless servings of cocktails, hot punches, and beer, as well as coca leaves and cigarettes. The next morning, the casket is carried to the cemetery. The guests extend their condolences to the family, and may then return to the funeral celebration. The next day, the immediate family completes the funeral rite.

For mestizos who live near La Paz, the funeral rite includes a hike to the Choqueapu River, where the family washes the clothing of the deceased person. While the clothes dry, the family eats a picnic lunch and then builds a bonfire to burn the clothes. This ritual brings peace to the mourners and releases the soul of the deceased into the next world.


The predominant religion in Bolivia is Roman Catholicism, a religion brought to the country by the Spaniards. Catholicism is often mixed with other folkloric beliefs that come from Incan and pre-Incan civilizations. Bolivian Americans usually maintain their Roman Catholic beliefs after they enter the United States. However, once they leave Bolivia, some Bolivian Americans fail to adhere to indigenous rituals and beliefs, such as a belief in Pachamama, the Incan earth mother, and Ekeko, an ancient god.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Like immigrants from most Central and South American countries, Bolivian Americans have relatively high levels of income and education. Their median income is higher than that of other Hispanic groups such as Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans. The proportion of Central and South Americans who have completed the twelfth grade is twice as large as the same proportion of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Also, a higher percentage of Central and South Americans work in managerial, professional, and other white-collar occupations than members of other Hispanic groups.

Many Bolivian Americans highly value education, which has allowed them to do well economically. Upon arrival in the United States, they are often employed as clerical and administrative workers. By pursuing further education, Bolivian Americans often advance into managerial positions. A large percentage of Bolivian Americans have held government jobs or positions in American corporations. Multinational companies often benefit from their skills and facility with foreign languages. Bolivian Americans have begun working at universities, and many teach about issues related to their former homeland.

Immigration into the United States is often tied to the economy of an immigrant's home country, and Bolivia is no exception. One measure of Bolivia's economic health is its fluctuating trade balance with the United States. In the early 1990s, Bolivia had a positive trade balance with the United States. In other words, Bolivia exported more to America than it imported from it. By 1992 and 1993, however, that balance had shifted, causing Bolivia to have trade deficits with the United States of $60 million and $25 million, respectively. These amounts are relatively small, but they added to a national debt that is staggering for such a poor nation. In fact, the International Monetary Fund and the United States forgave some of Bolivia's debt in the 1990s, releasing it from its obligation to pay. The United States in 1991 provided grants, credits, and other monetary payments to Bolivia totaling $197 million. Such economic difficulties have made it harder for Bolivians to save enough money to move to North America.

Bolivian immigrants are employed in a variety of careers in the United States. Among those immigrants who provided occupation information to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the largest single occupation category in 1993 was professional specialty and technical workers. The next largest group of Bolivian Americans identified themselves as operators, fabricators, and laborers. About two-thirds of Bolivian immigrants in 1993 chose not to identify their occupation, a percentage that is consistent with immigrants from most countries.

Politics and Government

For Bolivian Americans, the political system of the United States is quite familiar. Both countries have a constitution that guarantees basic freedoms, a government with three separate branches, and a Congress that is divided into two houses. However, while the United States has achieved remarkable political stability, Bolivia's government has experienced upheaval and several military coups.

In the United States, Bolivian Americans feel comfortable with the political process. Their participation in American politics has been focused toward improving the living conditions in Bolivia and other areas of South America. During the 1990s, Bolivian Americans developed a strong desire to influence politics within their homeland. In 1990, the Bolivian Committee, a coalition of eight groups that promote Bolivian culture in Washington, D.C., petitioned Bolivia's president to allow expatriates to vote in Bolivian elections.

Individual and Group Contributions


Eduardo A. Gamarra (1957-) is an assistant professor at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He is the co-author of Revolution and Reaction: Bolivia, 1964-1985 (Transaction Books, 1988), and Latin America and Caribbean Contemporary Record (Holmes & Meier, 1990). In the 1990s, he researched the stabilization of democracy in Latin America.

Leo Spitzer (1939-) is an associate professor of history at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. His written work includes The SierraLeone Creoles: Responses to Colonialism, 1870-1945 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1974). His research concerns have centered on Third World responses to colonialism and racism.


Antonio Sotomayor (1902-) is a renowned painter and illustrator of books. His work also includes a number of historical murals that are painted on the walls of California buildings, churches, and hotels. His illustrations can be seen in Best Birthday (by Quail Hawkins, Doubleday, 1954); Relatos Chilenos (by Arturo Torres Rioscco, Harper, 1956); and Stan Delaplane's Mexico (by Stanton Delaplane, Chronicle Books, 1976). Sotomayor also has written two children's books: Khasa Goes to the Fiesta (Doubleday, 1967), and Balloons: The First Two Hundred Years (Putnam, 1972). He lives in San Francisco.


Jaime Escalante (1930-) is a superb teacher of mathematics whose story was told in the award-winning film Stand and Deliver (1987). This movie documented his life as a calculus teacher in East Los Angeles, where he worked hard to show his largely Latino classes that they were capable of great things and great thinking. He now teaches calculus at a high school in Sacramento, California. He was born in La Paz.


Raquel Welch (1940-) is an accomplished actress who has appeared in a number of films and on stage. Her film work includes Fantastic Voyage (1966), One Million Years BC (1967), The Oldest Profession (1967), The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), 100 Rifles (1969), Myra Breckinridge (1969), The Wild Party (1975), and Mother, Jugs, and Speed (1976). Welch won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress for her work in The Three Musketeers (1974). She appeared on stage in Woman of the Year (1982).


Hugo Estenssoro (1946-) is accomplished in many fields. He is prominent as a magazine and newspaper photographer (for which work he has won prizes) and he has edited a book of poetry (Antologia de Poesia Brasilena [An Anthology of Brazilian Poetry], 1967). He has also written as a correspondent for numerous magazines both abroad and in the United States. In his correspondence, Estenssoro has interviewed Latin American heads of state and political and literary figures in the United States. In the 1990s, he was a resident of New York City.


Ben Mikaelsen was born in La Paz in 1952. He is the author of Rescue Josh McGuire (1991), Sparrow Hawk Red (1993), Countdown (1997), and Petey (1998). Mikaelsen's unique adventure stories do not focus on the battle between humans and nature. Instead, they appeal for peaceful coexistence between the natural and social worlds. Mikaelsen lives in Bozeman, Montana.


Jaime Laredo (1941-) is a prize-winning violinist who, early on, was noted for his virtuoso performances. He first performed when he was eight years old. His likeness has been engraved on a Bolivian airmail stamp.


Marco Etcheverry (1970-) is an accomplished athlete who is lauded by professional soccer fans. Before his stellar career with the DC United team, he was already one of Bolivia's most famous athletes. He played for soccer clubs from Chile to Spain and traveled the world with various Bolivian national teams. He is the captain of his team and a hero to thousands of Bolivian immigrants in the Washington area. Etcheverry led DC United to championship wins in both 1996 and 1997. In 1998, Etcheverry had a career-high 10 goals and matched a personal best with 19 assists for a total of 39 points. Nicknamed "El Diablo," Etcheverry and his countryman Jaime Moreno are the only two players in league history to reach double figures in goals and assists.


Bolivia, Land of Promise.

Established in 1970, this magazine promotes the culture and beauty of Bolivia.

Contact: Jorge Saravia, Editor.

Address: Bolivian Consulate, 211 East 43rd Street, Room 802, New York, New York 10017-4707.

Membership Directory, Bolivian American Chamber of Commerce.

This publication lists American and Bolivian companies and any individuals interested in trade between the two countries.

Address: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, International Division Publications, 1615 H Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20062-2000.

Telephone: (202) 463-5460.

Fax: (202) 463-3114.

Organizations and Associations

Asociacion de Damas Bolivianas.

Address: 5931 Beech Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland 20817.

Telephone: (301) 530-6422.

Bolivian American Chamber of Commerce (Houston).

Promotes trade between the United States and Bolivia.

E-mail: [email protected].


Bolivian Medical Society and Professional Associates, Inc.

Serves Bolivian Americans in health-related fields.

Contact: Dr. Jaime F. Marquez.

Address: 9105 Redwood Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland 20817.

Telephone: (301) 891-6040.

Comite Pro-Bolivia (Pro-Bolivia Committee).

Umbrella organization made up of 10 arts groups, located in the United States and in Bolivia, with the purpose of preserving and performing Bolivian folk dances in the United States.

Address: P. O. Box 10117, Arlington, Virginia 22210.

Telephone: (703) 461-4197.

Fax: (703) 751-2251.

E-mail: [email protected].


Sources for Additional Study

Blair, David Nelson. The Land and People of Bolivia. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1990.

Griffith, Stephanie. "Bolivians Reach For the American Dream: Well-Educated Immigrants With High Aspirations Work Hard, Prosper in D.C. Area." The Washington Post. May 8, 1990, p. E1.

Klein, Herbert S. Bolivia: The Evolution of a MultiEthnic Society (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Morales, Waltraud Queiser. Bolivia: Land of Struggle. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.

Pateman, Robert. Bolivia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1995.

Schuster, Angela, M. "Sacred Bolivian Textiles Returned." Archaeology. Vol. 46, January/February 1993, pp. 20-22.

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Bolivian Americans

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