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Andean priest and spiritual leader, Don Fabian Champi Apaza. Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Afroboliviana

Before coming to Bolivia I didn’t do much research about the black experience or racism in Bolivia. While on other trips and in my own life I expect racism. I didn’t think about it much before making my way down here. But from times in the market to Peru, to walking the streets of Bolivia, to even talking to my homestay family I have become hyper aware of the scarcity and ignorance surrounding blackness in the places we’ve traveled. So you can imagine my excitement to have Paola Pinto, a young Afrobolivian activist, come and address the history of black people in Bolivia. We learned that Africans were brought over to Potosi as free labor but 15 percent died during the trek and a vast percentage died in the mines. We learned how slavery wiped out most of the population leaving only 1.5 percent of Bolivia being of African descent. One thing I was surprised by was how recent everything is from Afrobolivians only being recognized by the state  a few years ago in the new constitution to the formation of the black community in Las Yungas. We watched a video created by a Harvard student interviewing lots of members of the strong community organizations that have created scholarships just for Afrobolivian students. In the video I was really moved by the stories of internalized racism such as bathing in bleach in attempts to become white and that same individual being able to say how proud they were to be Afrobolivian today. This charla has only given me more knowledge and context to compare and contrast racism in the U.S. to racism here in Bolivia.