16 de Julio: Entre cumpleaños y el cambio
This week, while Bolivia celebrated its antiquity, Argentina led the charge for progressive change in Latin America. Today, el 16 de Julio, marks the 201st anniversary of Bolivia’s revolution for national independence. While citizens of La Paz marched through the streets to commemorate the date, in Buenos Aires, gay men and women and their allies celebrated Argentina’s July 15 legalization of gay marriage. The confluence of the two dates makes me reflect on Latin America’s tumultuous history, and brings me hope for more positive changes to come on the continent.
Bolivia’s popular daily paper, La Razón, published a nostalgic piece on the anniversary of the revolution emphasizing the changing face of La Paz city and the tenacity of its residents. La Paz, originally founded inside a giant bowl, has seen its neighborhoods creep up the bowl’s sides and spill over onto the flatlands above. The settlements on the high plains, or altiplano, have turned into El Alto, currently the fastest growing city in Latin America. The residents of El Alto–largely indigenous migrants from the mines and countryside–have been involved in some of the most important Latin American political mobilizations of the 21st century, such as the 2003 overthrow of neoliberal President Gonzálo Sánchez de Lozada. Sian Lazar’s El Alto, Rebel City (2008) and Lesley Gill’s Teetering on the Rim (2000) offer insightful accounts of El Alto’s role in radical Bolivian politics. Back in 1809, El Alto did not yet exist, but the region’s radicalism was already apparent. On May 25, 1809, Bolivia’s city of Sucre hosted the first revolt for independence on the continent.
Bolivia’s La Razón also reported on Argentina’s historic passage of gay marriage, making it the first country in Latin America to do so. Argentina–likely the least Catholic of the nations on the continent–legalized gay marriage in a Senate vote of 33 “yay,” 27 “nay,” and 3 abstaining. Mexico City, which also allows gay marriage, immediately followed by offering the first gay couple married in Argentina a free honeymoon in Mexico. While in Buenos Aires 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the yearly gay pride parade, and was surprised at how small it seemed. Fortunately, much seems to have changed in the last decade.
In short, today is a good day. Working on issues affecting women in Bolivia, it is easy to become discouraged by stories about and statistics on violence, unwanted pregnancy, and death. However, the “norm” is changing. All over the continent, people are working to improve their own and other’s lives. And lately, these efforts are producing results.