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Speaking with an afrobolivian leader

Monica Rey

The sound of African drums was heard some day of April about three decades ago. They were announcing the arrival of Mónica Rey in a town gifted by a lot of plants and fruits, Coroico, La Paz, Bolivia. Mother Earth had brought to one of her daughters who had come with a strong mission in life. As her ancestors, she has kept the strength that has allowed her during her life to defeat different barriers: unvisibilization, racism, discrimination. With a decision in mind, nothing stopped her to get her objectives to help her community.

According to the third article of Bolivian Political Constitution of 1880, “Slavery doesn´t exist in Bolivia. All slave in Bolivian territory is free”. Since the creation of the Bolivian Republic in 1825, all the power and money concentrated on the hands of certain families. As it had happened during part of the XVI century, afros had no voice. What is more, during the last census in 2001 they were not taken into account. So, to be born as afro and live in a society where afros had few or no opportunities to participate as citizens was a challenging situation that affected the afrobolivian community.

Mónica Rey, remembers that, “After 1980, with a small group of people of my community we started the first steps to organize ourselves with the objective to speak about our own realities in the cities of Bolivia”. As “Afro women we suffer a double discrimination, not only by our gender but also by our color.” she says. Due to this, “It was important for us to make actions according to our possibilites”. According to Mónica Rey, “there are different tools that afrodescendants started to use in order to become visible and to ask for our rights”. In Bolivia, “it has been music and dance that has opened doors through the Afrobolivian Movement”. “As soon as drums sounds people starts to dance and sing”, she adds. Thanks to music and lobbying, “we could make include some articles which later were included in the Political Constitution”, she continues.

Mónica Rey got a Licenciate Degree in Communication at Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. To obtain her degreee she wrote a thesis titled, Saya as a means communication and cultural expression in the afrobolivian community”. With some sadness in her eyes, she refers a passage of her life at university. “A girl from other university asked me to lend her my thesis because she wanted to read it. It was the last draft of my thesis and it was not presented yet to the evaluation committee. Time later, that girl was presenting a quite similar thesis including the information I had collected in my community. Although, I had presented a claim to the university authorities, nothing was made”. As one of the few afrobolivians to obtain a university degree, “I decided to continue working for my community”, she adds.

An spirit of colaboration characterizes Monica Rey who made reality thanks to an agreement signed with a private university the dream to take to the whole population of Tocaña and its sorroundings the possibility to access to odolontological services. Tocaña is one of the most important afrobolivian communities that survive since slavery times keeping its music, traditions and ethnic integrity. This town is about 70 kilometers from La Paz in Yungas, about 3 hours from La Paz city and about 40 minutes from Coroico. “Access to health services in small rural towns is always a problem-2, says Rey.

Step by step, afrobolivians have been getting some goals. In the bolivian case, the State Constitution approved last January 25th, 2009 recognizes all the rights of the afrobolivian people. It was something expected for a long time by afrobolivians because “we were never included before in any Constitution, what is more, during the last census in 2001we were not taken into account”, she says.

Other important step is that last March 2009, an afrobolivian woman, Mónica Rey, for the first time in the history of Bolivia was named as the head of a Direction that works towards the elimination of Racism and Discrimination, part of the Viceministry of Decolonization. “This is an honor for me to be in charge of this Direction”, she says. “All of us, who have ever lived discrimination and racism can speak about it”, she adds. Rey, points out that about three weeks ago “in Chijchipa, one of the communities mainly inhabited by afrobolivians, President Evo Morales assured that in the next Plurinational Assembly in 2010 afrobolivians would be included”. Bolivia lives times of change and probably in the coming years, underepresented groups such as afrobolivians will be able to access to occupy other important positions.

“She has been working hard to visibilize the afrobolivians”, says one of the members of her community. “Mónica had to face lot of difficulties to ask for attention to her community”, adds other person. Undoubtedly, Mónica Rey, an afrobolivian woman, knows how to live ignored by the society is. Now, that she is the first afrobolivian occupying a national position since the creation of the Bolivian Repúblic, new possibilities are open for members of this community to be heard and to be taken into account as citizens with all their rights.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.

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Jennifer Ruwart's picture

Dancing to African drums

I was immediately captivated by your opening line. I love African drums and felt my whole body sway to the beat of her story. In running, we would call her the pace-setter. Her work over the past decades is critical for the health and vitality of Bolivia. When every citizen is given voice and opportunity to rise to their higher self, the whole community benefits and thrives.

Jennifer Ruwart
Chief Collaborator
JR Collaborations

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