Tuesday, August 3, 2010

august 2: día del campesino

Yesterday, August 2nd was a special day widely celebrated throughout Bolivia's countryside.

Women from the community of Choro Alto carry the Bolivian flag as part of an official parade. (To watch a 35 sec. video of the marchers, click here)

"El día del campesino," as its commonly called, is the day campesinos/farmers honor the agrarian reform of 1953 which, sparked by revolutions demanding equality for the oppressed indigenous people, resulted in the dismantling of the traditional haciendas (plantations), end of formalized indentured servitude, redistribution of land among sharecropping peasants, and a restructuring of the education system in Bolivia's rural area.

The day, celebrated only in the countryside, is a big one here in the community of Carmen Pampa. People come from approximately six other communities in the valley to participate in the day-long celebration which started at 9:30 am with a Catholic mass, followed by a parade up and down the road, an official flag raising and civic act ceremony, another parade around the high school patio, a traditional apthapi (Aymaran potluck), and presentation of traditional dances.

Grade school students, high school students, and UAC-CP's college students stand before the flag-decorated stage prepared to listen to local leaders speak.

At the flag raising ceremony and civic act, the patio of the local Carmen Pampa high school was filled with students dressed in official uniforms or traditional costumes lined up according to grade level. On one side of the patio were the little children of the elementary schools of the area, followed by the middle school and high school students of Carmen Pampa and the neighboring community of San Pedro. And at least 1/4 of the patio was occupied by the UAC-CP's college student and faculty population. About five students from kindergarten to college level took turns going on stage and doing national poetry--most of which was recited in Aymara, the local indigenous language.

Middle school students prepared to perform a native dance for the crowd.

Carmen Pampa kindergartners line up for the official procession. Traditionally, the student with the highest grade carries the flag in official parades.

Standing "at ease" the 1,500 person+ crowd listened as an older Carmen Pampa high school graduate and invited guest reminded everyone why we were there. "Today," he said, "we remember the people who fought so hard to give us the right to be free." As he gave a relatively brief history of the progress made since the revolution of 1952, he made special mention of the important role of education in the future success of Bolivia's poor, indigenous population. He spoke about the founding of the Carmen Pampa San Francisco Xavier High School and, later, the UAC-CP. He pleaded with parents to make sure education is a number one priority in the family. "The revolution isn't over," he said, "we are still fighting for our rights. And one way to fight is with the power of education."

Essentially, I believe, 2 de agosto is a day that provides hope for people living in the countryside that change is possible. In their lifetimes the older community members have fought for and experienced change in the form of social and economic liberation (albeit at a painfully slow pace), and it's been a lesson to them that change is not only possible, it's yet to come. An important lesson to pass on to the new generation as they become the new agents of change in the rural area.

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