Bolivian identity versus current gov denial for who we are: proud mestizo!

Jorge Lazarte, a reputable Bolivian writes a wonderful article regarding our struggle to be recognized [most Bolivians] as mestizos and not as part of the indigenous ‘nations’ that this government stubbornly wishes to encapsulate us.

This cartoon portrays a Senator from the MAS with dark glasses and a cane. It  reads “we are all indigenous” printed on the side and in front of the glasses. As she walks by the Census sign. From El Dia, June 19, 2012.

Being mestizo, being Bolivian – by Jorge Lazarte

Finally the Government has formalized the population census to take place in November, and that the question of cultural self-identification will not include “mestizo”. It has strong political reasons for not doing so, but the non-inclusion of “mestizo” is a violation of a constitutional right (art. 21, CPE [Bolivian Constitution]), and is discriminating.

The only declared argument of the Government is that “mestizo” has racial connotations. If so, they would have the reason. But things are very different. The Government reasoned in “colonial” terms, because the word “mestizo” meant effectively in the Colony time as a blend of “races”, and this form of reasoning was dominant until the first half of the 20th century. Then “race” referred to a biological component, whose most salient marker was the color of the skin. But since the second half of the last century, human rights were acknowledged and made universal; and differences were taken out of the race context and differences were interpreted in cultural terms.

As it is known, in its Latin root mestizo means simply mix (“mixticius”, “mixtus”: half of one thing and half of another), and what before was the mix “races” is now a mix of cultures. In Bolivia, there are at least 200 years of interpenetration, mixtures and hybridization inter and transcultural between different cultures, who have completed producing a “mestizo” in different proportions and in areas of culture, mentality, forms of expression and everyday behaviours. The Spanish spoken in Bolivia is not Spanish from Castile, is the Boliviano with their regional and national slangs, many of them coming from the Andean cultures.

These historic-sociologic mixtures have not only been a mestizo identity, but they also have ‘mestizado’ [mixed] indigenous and native people [way of life]. No indigenous or native, or peasant is not only culturally, originating as their indigenous or peasant “ancestors” were: simply observe their clothing, housing, vocabulary, modes of life, and even aspirations. [to see how other cultures have affected their living]

This new cultural condition of mestizo self-identification is which is found in all polls that include the option “mestizo”, which are thousands or millions of mestizos who are recognized as such, and as not as “race” (if it were a “racial” identification would be interesting that the Government clarify the marker biological or pigmentation, that identifies which is [the race a person belongs to]). A considerable part of the population that is recognized with the mestizo identity is the language, the most important indicator identity: they are Spanish-speaking people, have Spanish as their mother tongue. Then mestizo is culture.

This mestizo identity that these Bolivians claim must be recognized by the “plurinational” State. But the Government continues in its purpose of denying it and has tried various redactions of the question on the ballot on self-identification to avoid the stinging word of “mestizo”. In what appears to be the latest wording, it will ask if “Bolivians” “belong” to “any nation, people of peasant origin indigenous or Afro-Bolivian”. Those who respond negatively, and they are a legion, do not have any cultural identity? Is being “Bolivian” only a “nationality” for the passport, but not a “culture”? Being Bolivian is “to be”, it is culture. These Bolivians do not produce culture? Where would we place the great works of the Bolivian literature?. Tamayo, Arguedas, Moreno, who did not belong to none of these ethnic options, are Bolivians who have produced culture, like so many others.

Bolivians without culture, is the same as to sustain that Chileans do not have a cultural identity; or Argentines, the Germans or the French, etc. What is absurd, only conceivable as a serious symptom of a pathology of power. It would be interesting to know where do they fit, those mestizos who now rule in Bolivia.

The Government’s undeclared political interest is its fear that any ideology that they both used and abused, will collapse, and with it their alleged historical legitimacy. But beyond these primary calculations, cultural self-identification is everyone’s right. To have identity, to build identity, is to exist. It is to be someone and not “no one”, which is to be no one or nothing. From this premise drifts, always an existing law, to resist those who seek to delete it from [their position of] power.

[this dilemma will go on until the Census takes place; current government has demonstrated to be as a stubborn as a…]

4 responses to “Bolivian identity versus current gov denial for who we are: proud mestizo!

  1. Why not accept the metis as part of the bolivian population? We have o good example in Canada:

    The Métis Nation (

    The advent of the fur trade in west central North America during the 18th century was accompanied by a growing number of mixed offspring of Indian women and European fur traders . As this population established distinct communities separate from those of Indians and Europeans and married among themselves, a new Aboriginal people emerged – the Métis people – with their own unique culture, traditions, language (Michif), way of life, collective consciousness and nationhood.

    • Elsbet: What a great example, thank you SO much!!

      • And we should remind that every “indian” (american indian, as they denominate themselves) is indigenous, but not every indigenous is indian, so asian, black african and white nordic people are indigenous too. Indianism defines who really is “indio”. It’s not only the color of skin, but their language, ideology and filosophy.

  2. Certainly, people tend to forget that!

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