"¡Yo soy Aymara, yo soy calle!" : a study of young people re-imagining indigeneity and resisting marginalisation in El Alto, Bolivia
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This thesis explores the new self-narratives which are currently being created by young alteños with experience of living and/or working on the streets. These young people are projecting their visions for the future and challenging their marginal status by going back to their roots, looking to the history, myths, legends and practices of their ancestors for inspiration. They are constantly affirming and reaffirming their connections both to the older generations and to Pachamama (Mother Earth). These connections, rather than being threatened by the urbanity of their present existence, are actually enhanced by it. Specifically, this thesis addresses the creativity employed by young alteños as they make a claim to modernity through working as shoe-shiners, conducting rituals such as the ch'alla to Pachamama, participating in festivals to create collectivity and belonging, and politicising indigenous culture in hip-hop at La Casa Juvenil de las Culturas Wayna Tambo in El Alto. This thesis explores the hopes and ambitions of young alteños; the ways they conceive of the future. Whilst it is true that the Presidency of Evo Morales has acted as a catalyst in the processes of re-evaluation of indigenous culture currently underway in Bolivia, this thesis proposes that, in the case of young people in El Alto, they do not merely accept his authority, but are constantly questioning, challenging and - where necessary - opposing, the changes introduced. Therefore, this thesis investigates the ways in which young alteños navigate and re-imagine categories of “indigeneity,” “authenticity” and “modernity” - how they affect and are affected by them in their everyday lives. It asks what it means to be young and Aymara today, in El Alto, and argues that there is no contradiction being both 'Aymara' and 'Street.' In using a youth-centred methodology, this thesis aims to give a direct voice to these young people and weight to their claims as agents of change in contemporary Bolivia.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy