Final Projects: Graciela Lopez

Graciela wrote her final essay as a letter home, reflecting on her intentions for her time in Bolivia. Excerpts from her letter:

In this picture you can see my host mother, host sister and I. Although we may not agree on everything, I appreciate how open they have been about sharing their thoughts and opinions with me. During our lunches we have had the opportunity to discuss everything from Evo’s administration to what their everyday life consist of. During these interactions I have also been able to see the ways Bolivia’s current government and economic state effects this family at a micro level.

GFhost family

My host sister has a degree in industrial engineering from a private school here in Cochabamba. My host mother and her ex-husband both worked hard to be able to afford to take their daughter to both a private secondary school and a private university. After paying for Andrea, my host sister, to receive all of this education her parents as many parents in Bolivia expected her to become working professionals in her field.

My host sister has been trying to find an engineering job in Bolivia for more than two years. This has made her parents encourage her to move to Spain or Argentina to find a well-paid engineering job. This experience is very similar to a chapter I read for class called And Those Who Left from the book Dignity and Defiance. The parallels to the book are striking in that many of the Bolivians that I have talked to see migrating to other countries as something that would increase their chances of receiving employment. Stories like these give local unemployed professionals the motivation to leave the country in order to find a place where they can practice their profession. Through conversations with my host family, I have understood that many Bolivians do join the Bolivian diaspora not because they seek to leave but because they must find a way to use what they know to make a living. It is interesting that the economy is “even more acute in cities” since so many people move here to Cochabamba from the more rural parts of Bolivia (Farthing and Kohl 79). When my host family discusses the idea of Andrea leaving, it is clear other family members’ success stories, such as her sisters’, encourages my host mother to want her to emigrate. It is interesting not only to read statistics like “an estimated 2.5 million people, about one in five since the 1980’s” leave the country but also to discuss this issue with people what this entails in their everyday life.

When speaking to my host cousin who was here for a week visiting from Australia where he works as an engineer, he mentioned that he and his wife stayed in Bolivia for years as he tried to find a well-paying job. Yet, after not having any luck, emigrating seemed like the best option. He continued to say that he missed home all the time but that here he could barely make a living to support him and his wife while in Australia they live a stable life where money is not a constant worry. The fact that “unlicensed street vendors, workshops, garages and other small firms” account for “70 percent of all employment” shows that there is not a stable job market for professionals such as my host cousin to find employment (Farthing and Kohl 95).

My host sister, who attempts not to leave the country to find work, has started a job as a sales person in La Paz. This disappoints her mother as one does not need higher education to have this job, and it pays a very low wage. After being on the job hunt for two years, this job seemed great to Andrea. My host mother is also a part of this informal economy and makes cakes from her home for a living. People order them for different occasions and she makes them and delivers them to their homes. Through her experience, I have gained an insight into what working in the informal economy is like. When asked she tells me that she thinks it is great that she can be her own boss, but that there is no guaranteed amount of money she gets every month which can be worrisome.

GF women

…Through this mural, I am reminded of how on the surface it seems as though things are getting better in regard to women’s rights since there is a new law and efforts to have gender equality. Even with the law that was passed, it is great that punishment has gone from 8 to 10 years to now being 30 but if less than two percent of trials are being sentenced as Schwarz stated is this really effective? However when I have day- to-day conversations, it seems that not much has changed. In Evo’s Bolivia, it is stated that there have been some strides in women’s rights as there are more government representatives as cabinet ministers and there was a law that was passed in 2013 that “prevent[s] and punish[es] violence against women” which seemed to have reduced the amount of abuse (Farthing and Kohl 66). However as seen in the book these new women representatives in Congress are not really taken as seriously as the men. Although having women in the cabinet is the first step, I would argue that there is still a lot of work to be done to get these women to be seen as the men’s equals. Although domestic abuse has not been eliminated completely, it is clear that domestic abuse has gone down. The women in the Chapare attested to this fact. As far as funding, the amount given to women’s equality organizations has decreased from 1% in 2003 from the government and civil society disbursement to .9% in 2008 (Wolf 20).


…the more I read and ask people what they think the more I begin to understand how complicated things are. I do not want make generalizations on how effective Evo’s policies are but so far it is clear to me that they divide the nation. I think before I came to Bolivia I read about this indigenous President who has brought “Dignidad a Bolivia por Diez Anos.” I romanticized Evo’s role in Bolivia, for he is such a talented politician who speaks on the rights of mother earth, indigenous people, and campesinos in such a way that makes it seems as if change is happening. Due to these preconceived notions, I did not think there would be so much political engagement but was presently surprised to see such blatant opinions such as the ones displayed in this photo. I found that even the new requirement that students have to learn an indigenous language is seen as controversial. During my time in Bolivia, I think I have been reminded more than ever that one must be critical of what they read. Personally I think that Evo has made some important strides for the county doing things such as protecting the cocaleros rights, nationalizing indigenous languages spoken in the area, and improving women’s rights.

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