by Jerome Crowder
The South American country of Bolivia is diverse in its people, geography and products. Ranging from the Amazonian rain forest in the north and east (comprising two-thirds of the country), to the high Andes of the west and dry deserts to the south, Bolivia's has a vast landscape about three times the size of Texas. Equally interesting and varied are the people who live throughout the country. In the eastern lowlands live cultural groups such as the Siriono, Tacana, Yabuti, and Chiriguano, while in the highlands the Quechua and Aymara speaking people are most common. Despite the many differences throughout the country, Bolivians share the basic necessities of food and shelter for survival. As the Bolivian infrastructure of roads, electricity and gas pipelines expand across the country, rural groups find it easier to travel, conduct business and learn about the world. Because of the difficulty to provide for one's family in countryside, people leave their rural communities and migrate to cities, where they hope to find employment and improve their financial security. Although different from that in the countryside, city life is equally difficult, as obtaining the basic needs now require money.
This photo exhibit explores the process of migration and urbanization in Bolivia by following my friend Alvaro from his Aymara-speaking rural community to his current home in the city of La Paz. Beginning in the countryside, Alvaro and his family engage in a variety of means for agricultural production and animal husbandry. For traveling to the city, Alvaro employs both modern and traditional forms of transportation. Once in the city, Alvaro, like other migrants, must have a number of jobs in order to obtain and maintain food and shelter for his family. Some of these jobs are associated with the large markets that draw people from all parts of the city to purchase and trade goods. Frequently, Alvaro and his neighbors deal with the demands of urban life by raising food and animals in the city. Equally important to Alvaro is his spiritual life, an integral part of his successful survival in the city, as these rituals and beliefs provide him strength and guidance in his urban life.
As an anthropologist, my goal is to better understand how Aymara migrants adapt to living in the city, while as a photographer, I want to illustrate this process. These images depict Aymara migrants and their everyday urban existence, exploring the beauty of the mundane: the slice of life we often overlook as we search for the excitement of more exotic occasions. As well, it is important to reflect upon how migration and urbanization are rampant throughout the Americas and affect the lives of thousands of people living across this state and in its cities. I present this essay of photos to stimulate one's curiosity for learning about cultures in other countries, but also as a mirror to view the processes as they occur in the United States.
Jerome Crowder is a native Houstonian and medical anthropologist who is currently a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Houston. He has traveled throughout Bolivia and South America, and most recently lived and conducted research in El Alto for two years (1995-97) with funding from a J. William Fulbright grant.
Permission to reproduce any portion of the exhibit Urban Dreams/Suenos Urbanos is strictly prohibited.